About five years ago, I convinced my husband to move from our four bedroom home to a smaller townhome. Our kids were grown, and we were tired of mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and raking the snowdrifts off the roof. We are now tucked into a place with a lot less stuff, nestled in the woods with a creek running near our front door. Life is simpler.
While this sounds idyllic, cleaning out our home of 18 years was no easy task. It took a lot of sorting, donating, tossing, and packing. During that process, several of our neighbors expressed that they wanted a simpler life. They, too, wanted to downsize, but they had too much stuff and were paralyzed by the thought of going through it all. Essentially, they were trapped by their belongings.
Don’t misunderstand me; we also had our share of junk amassing in the basement. My husband is especially fond of holding onto stuff for reasons I cannot fathom. One theory about why people hang onto things like scrapbooks, kindergarten artwork, programs, ticket stubs, and grandma’s gewgaws is that it’s a way to remember the past. Another theory is that people store things because they are looking to the future—you never know when you will need 300 marbles or that scrap of green carpeting.
But most of us crave simplicity. We don’t choose to be overwhelmed, to live in clutter, or to be held hostage by our stuff; it just seems to happen. This process, and the ensuing breakdown, reminds me of digestion, its main function being to discern what is useful and nutritious and to let go of what is not. When you’re unable to separate what you need from what you don’t, accumulation happens.
The ability to sort and let go also occurs in your mind. As you take in ideas and knowledge, you put the helpful ones to use, and discard those that don’t serve you well. The inability to sort and let go becomes the stuff of worry, anxiety, and harboring grudges. It’s good practice to clear space both internally and externally on an ongoing basis—before it becomes a problem.
Simplicity Action Plan
So, how do you find simplicity in a complicated, cluttered life? There are no easy answers, and sometimes trying to fix the problem can intensify the feelings of being overwhelmed. Here are a few suggestions that you may find helpful, with the caveat that you should choose only one or two at a time, go slowly, and be kind to yourself:
Start With the Obvious Stuff. Begin the purge with the things you can let go of painlessly. This is the low-hanging fruit: the old newspapers in your entryway, the junk mail sitting on the table, and the old jacket with the broken zipper. These are easy, so just set them free.
Put Stuff Away. Again, start with the easy stuff, like putting your dirty laundry in the hamper, the dishes in the dishwasher, and the recycling into the bin.
Get Really Good at Donating. Find a Goodwill near you or, better yet, a charity that will pick up your stuff. Knowing that getting it out of your house is easy makes it easier to let it go. What should you get rid of? A good rule of thumb is, if you haven’t touched it in two years, set it free.
Create White Space in Your Home. Clear out an area that has nothing in it except a few things that you love. While clutter feels stressful and overwhelming, an empty space to yourself is incredibly relaxing.
Create White Space in Your Life, Too. Prioritize your time commitments and learn to say no. Do you have to go to events that you don’t enjoy or spend time with people who drain your energy? Some may be non-negotiable, but some may be easy to drop. The end result is that you will spend more time with the people and activities that are meaningful to you. If you’re feeling busy and overwhelmed, scheduled time alone with permission to do whatever pleases you.
Practice Gratitude. Maintaining a habit of thankfulness helps to keep worry and anxiety at a distance. This may be as simple as acknowledging three things for which you’re grateful each morning before getting out of bed.
And finally, just slow down. Spend some time doing nothing. Think about what your life would look like if you owned less, if you strived for less, and if you started simplifying, in baby steps.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com