Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Freeing Up Space (In 1500 Words- Oxymoron?)

As you may have noticed, I have been on one heck of a purging kick lately. (But not in the eating disorder sense, that would just be gross.) There was the clothing purge where I relegated the clothing orphans to the guest room closet (and so far I've only pulled one thing out that I decided to keep- there will definitely be one other sweater I need to hang on to but the rest will probably go to Goodwill). I've slowly been getting rid of books that I never will read/re-read/need- in the past few years I've gone from filling 3 large bookcases to about 1 1/2 if they were all in one place. I've also been getting rid of kitchen items that I never use, and yarn and fabric that isn't appealing. This is slow going, but mostly I've realized that having stuff for the sake of stuff doesn't make me better or happier- it just makes me a person with crappy stuff. If I had antiques or family heirlooms it would be different, but ratty old blankets that I've had for 10 years are not exactly keepsakes! (I am hanging on to a good sturdy one for quilt batting. That quilt will be finished one day!)

So I thought it was really interesting when I ran across this article about the ways in which people spend money because it sums up what I have been learning all along: happiness does not come with stuff, it comes with experiences. If you spend your money on stuff you won't be as happy as you would be if you spent it on planned vacations. Planned vacations because when you have time to build anticipation, that adds to the experience. And make your trip sort of short because if you get used to a new place then the novelty wears off and you lose your excitement, so the experience isn't as meaningful and you don't have as much fun. Absolutely fascinating. Bottom Line: Don't take a last minute 2 week trip to ANYWHERE.

Did you know there are people out there who take the whole "6 Items or Less" clothing challenge to a whole new level? They live with 100 items. That's it. (Okay it depends on your own personal definition of this- are you going to count things that are shared between people? Cleaning supplies? Books? Dishes? Collections? Furniture? You get the idea here.)

Like a lot of people, I think that as humans we were not meant to live in huge houses- I for one am always more comfortable when I am aware of my perimeters. I know some of this has to do with my place in college getting broken into. The apartment was small but it was a straight shot from the front of the house to the back so I couldn't hear the back window being opened as it was 3 rooms away. Since then I have always subconsciously favored living quarters that were easy to keep an eye on. If our ancestors were used to living in small spaces with lots of family members, I don't think modern man could feel safe in a space that is too big. So, even aside from the fact that McMansions are huge and expensive and bad for the environment (think of the wasted building materials on wasted space, the expense of heating and cooling and lighting and cleaning and decorating places that are never used) I bet that people in them don't feel very secure. I also think that we feel isolated when we live in huge spaces because everyone is far away from others in the household and the neighbors. Humans are social creatures- this can't be good for us.

For the same reason I think that we have to be careful of how much stuff we have. Again, our prehistoric families probably only owned possessions that were convenient to pack up and move to wherever the food was. So if you could only keep whatever you could carry on your back, how different would your life be? VERY! You would know what was absolutely essential and what you could do without.

But I think that you can take simplicity into so many other aspects of your life besides clothing and belongings. Recently I unsubscribed from a ton of retail emails that were either convincing me that I needed new shoes or that my skin could be so much better with a $300 brush from Sephora. I didn't get too many apps on my new phone because I didn't want to clutter up my space and use up the battery, but I also just don't care to learn a whole new app for something when I don't really need it.

I have cut back on how often I look at CNN's homepage because the news is overwhelmingly frustrating and/or bad. We are trained to want to know things immediately and we expect reaction immediately. In some cases instant reaction is good- bomb threats, oil spills, major disasters. In some cases we are reacting to things that should just be noise. There's another filibuster on another bill in the senate. North Korea is threatening to do something stupid. Go figure. This isn't news, this is sensationalizing discord. It's the same with kids who go missing- for the most part these are local news stories and they should stay local. Otherwise the media is just distracting valuable search and rescue resources and the nation is needlessly alarmed. But back to the point- when you are expected to react instantly to something there isn't time to think over the situation and really consider all of the angles. Remember the Beer Summit? All of that was the result of improper analysis of the situation by everyone from the police officers to Dr. Gates right on up to the president. If there had been more time to gather facts before a position had to be taken how differently would that have turned out? And don't even get me started about Fox News reporting first and getting the story straight later. We all just react. Right this second.

I know I mentioned this when I talked about the total number of books people read a few generations ago, but we're not really prepared in an evolutionary sense to process all of the information constantly being thrown at us on a daily basis. I've come this close to closing out my Twitter and Facebook accounts for this reason- too much input about things that aren't all that useful or important.

Food is another insidious area of clutter. Besides fast food which everyone knows is absolute garbage, there's also the low-carb, low-fat, high protein, high fiber fake processed food that lulls you into a false sense of health. This isn't Food, it's "food", surgically enhanced to look better, chemically altered to trick your brain into thinking it is okay. But processed foods high in fat, salt, sugar, high fructose corn syrup- eat too much and they will throw a body out of balance because they are cheaply reproduced "food" versions of real Food.

So I am finally understanding that simplicity isn't just about using and having less. (I grew up Quaker and simplicity is one of those major Quaker values- but I haven't really understood it until now.) It's also about being able to let go. If you aren't weighed down by your belongings and your clutter and your toxic friends, you can open up your life to what is really important. Simplifying the physical aspects of life is great- it's easier on you and your environment. But you have to simplify mentally as well. (And I'm not talking simple as in Forrest Gump, I'm talking simple as in meditation.)

The most surprising thing is that simplicity SHOULD be easy. It should be the easiest thing to downsize and free up physical and emotional space for whatever is next. But it is anything but easy. As the Buddhist Nun says, "It takes tremendous effort to become effortless." We all have holes in our lives that we are trying to fill with other things. We all want to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe we all want new cars and lots of money and fancy houses because ultimately we want love and safety and comfort. But as a society we don't know how to get them, so we give up and try the easy route- more stuff. And when you look at that accumulation of stuff, some part of you knows that it's a substitute for what you don't have- and that is terrifying. A physical manifestation of what is lacking in your life. I say get rid of it. Quit wallowing in the sadness or loneliness or anger that all of that extra stuff represents. When you get to the point that you are controlling your stuff instead of your stuff controlling you (and the size of your car and the size of your home and the cost of your electric bill and the cost of your therapist bills and the wear and tear on the planet and on and on and on), I think you are winning. And when you and I win in this war against all kinds of clutter, we will be able to see the good things coming to us.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Lots of valuable points.

You say, "If you aren't weighed down by your belongings and your clutter and your toxic friends, you can open up your life to what is really important."

There is the rub. We don't know what is really important, or, if we do, we find it a whole lot easier and immediately pleasurable to buy that new gadget, hang with a useless friend, or even work 60 hours per week.

Doing the right thing can be hard and people tend not to like to do hard stuff, especially if it does not have a direct personal benefit.

Heather said...

Agreed! I think that what is really important varies a lot not just from person to person but from day to day. It's hard to focus on the big picture when the little things are nagging at you. Sometimes it is less scary and lonely and overwhelming to do the easy thing.

There's a song by The Fray that goes, "Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same." I think that's the song of the day!

Anonymous said...

And let's also not forget that the economy we live in (and benefit from both directly and indirectly) depends on us buying lots of STUFF. If we all decide to simplify, our economy as it is currently structured will go down the toilet and with it will go many of the niceties of a wealthy society.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and there is this....