Simplifying Your Life – Letting Go Our Need For Stuff
Simplifying your life – does it feel like an impossible dream? Have you sometimes found yourself surrounded by chaos and clutter – on your office desk, in your home, in your email in-box, and perhaps, worst of all in your head? Perhaps even to the extent that you feel the desperate need to sort yourself out, ‘de-clutter’ or tidy up, or in the case of those racing thoughts, to organise and simplify your thinking before you can move on to the things you need to do?
Since I first learnt about Mindfulness I have accepted the idea that thoughts, feelings, urges, sensations and other ‘mental events’ just turn up in our heads – it’s not like we invite them in. But when it comes to the world of physical ‘stuff’ sometimes it feels like mischievous forces are at work resulting in ‘stuff’ turning up uninvited or parking itself in strange places.
The ‘Stuff’ Elves
I guess, when I think about it ‘stuff’ happens like unconscious thoughts – all those many moments in the day when we are not being intentional, and are in a state of ‘auto-pilot’, we collect stuff, store stuff, use stuff , move stuff, and put ‘stuff’ on the ‘backburner’ – somewhere where we’ll deal with it later, as we do with thoughts. It can almost seem as if we didn’t invite that ‘stuff’ into our lives when we accumulate physical belongings without conscious and wise awareness. And just like what happens with ‘stuff’ inside our heads, if we do that for too long with physical stuff, at a certain point we realise it’s driving us crazy and we need to take some time out to sort ourselves out and to simplify our lives.
“For the longest time I thought I needed to be more organised. Now I know I just needed less stuff.” Inspiredrd.com
Simplifying and de-cluttering our Physical Stuff
When practicing Mindfulness the goal is to neither pursue thoughts, feelings and other mental events nor push them away. We aim to just ‘let them be’. Now, that is challenging enough to do in a 20 minute meditation, let alone in every moment of our everyday lives.
And if we want to ‘simplify’ and de-clutter our physical ‘stuff’ then we need to have this same attitude of non-attachment.
Think about the benefits if we were able to do this in every moment. If we were able to just notice, when we see some ‘new shiny thing’ without craving or attachment. And if we were able to just register whether we need it or whether it is just our ‘greed’ speaking. I don’t mean greed with a capital G. I mean that normal everyday human urge to ‘have’ something for our very own, just because we want it. That ‘child-like urge’ to have it as ‘mine’. I’m not talking about greed as bad or immoral here, just as a natural human desire that I am sure everyone has to some degree. Perhaps it harks back to ancient times when for survival we feasted when food was available because we didn’t know when we’d next suffer a famine. Wherever it originated from, this kind of ‘grasping’ seems pretty universal to me.
With conscious awareness we can ‘just notice’ this desire to have stuff. We can use our Mindfulness toolkit and ‘Notice and Name’ – ‘there’s desire’ or ‘there’s wanting’ and just ‘let it be’. That is, let the thought ‘be’, so we don’t act on it, and thus letting the shiny new thing ‘just be’ so we don’t find ourselves taking it home!
Simplifying, Letting Be and Letting Go
“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
― Jack Kornfield
I am not deeply schooled in the wise and ancient Buddhist teachings about Mindfulness, having learnt about Mindfulness through my study of psychology and counselling – I have taken the main principles and general philosophy, as I understand it, and made these ideas my own. So please be aware that what you read from me is my ‘take’ on Mindfulness. So, I have to say that I find the idea of ‘Letting Go’ hardest of all. But I can more easily go with the idea of ‘Letting it be’. Perhaps this is my ‘Clayton’s’ ‘letting go’ – that is ‘letting go’ without ‘letting go’. (See my last blog for the origin of the ‘Clayton’s’ analogy). Working on our ability to ‘let be’ or ‘let go’ is critical to simplifying our lives.
For me, I can see something beautiful, useful (handy), time-saving, funny, or quirky in a shop (these are some of my biggest ‘hooks’, and you will have your own), or on-line, and in my more Mindful moments, I can notice that urge, I can name the desire to ‘have’ it, and can then ‘let it (the urge) be’, without acting on it. I often am not quite able to ‘let it go’ – instead I’ve just ‘bought time’. Created a pause. And told myself that if it really is a good idea, when I’ve stepped back and thought about it wisely, as opposed to being caught in the excitement, enthusiasm and desire of the moment, then I can always come back another time to buy it. So I can ‘let it be’ – stand back from the urge and let it pass. And very rarely do I decide something is worth going back for.
But that’s in my more Mindful moments. Then there are the other times …
When I can hold onto this way of being, I can still enjoy the shopping experience, but in the same way I enjoy going to an art gallery. Somehow, the need to ‘own’ stuff doesn’t turn up when I go to an art gallery. I can admire the beauty, the creativity, the inventiveness, quirkiness, power etc. of different works of art, without feeling I have to ‘have’ them. And I can do that in shops too, when I’m being Mindful. But I guess I’m lucky that way, in that the only kind of retail therapy I’ve ever found to be really therapeutic, bringing me a sense of joy and aliveness, is playing ‘Little Shop’ with my grand-children! So I acknowledge it will be a lot harder to kick the habit if you are a bit of a shopaholic. But if you seriously want to simplify your life, it will be well worth working on. And I have to say, I’m not sure it’s really possible to beat the shopping habit without digging deeply into the Mindfulness toolkit, with tools like ‘Noticing and naming’, self-compassion and urge surfing, to name a few.
If you’re up for the challenge of simplifying related to ‘having’ stuff or ‘things’, you may find Courtney Carver’s writing (Be More With Less) – and the challenges or missions she posts to be both inspiring and helpful. I particularly enjoyed this post ‘My Favorite Things Aren’t Things Anymore’.
Image Credits – Dollar Photo Club
Simplifying Our Life-styles – by reducing the ‘doing’ stuff
Are you a person who finds yourself over-committed? Or tries to squeeze so much into your life that you don’t have any ‘time for you’. Do you also need to let go of some of this ‘doing’ stuff as well as letting go of some of the ‘having’ stuff? In this way you can really simplify your life.
And that is the far bigger challenge for me, personally. I often joke with my colleagues that when I don’t watch myself carefully I am very easily ‘seduced by opportunity’. I’m not so much a person who gets pulled into saying ‘yes’ through guilt, expectation or obligation (although that definitely does happen at times). But I am a sucker for an interesting project. I see so many possibilities for making a difference in the world, so many interesting, rewarding and exciting possibilities, and I am a glutton for them. I want to do them all. I fear that if I don’t say ‘yes’ now, the opportunity may pass. I am seriously greedy. And possibly, it’s Greedy with a capital G. Greedy for excitement and sense of satisfaction and probably also for acknowledgement and recognition if I’m totally honest. And so I end up saying ‘yes’ to more things than will comfortably fit in my life. And my biggest hook – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – what if this opportunity never comes around again. And chances are, the Fear of Missing Out probably makes it harder for you to resist your particular brand of ‘bright and shiny new thing’ too. But more about FOMO another time.
For others of you this ‘greed’ may be for other types of goals – desire for adventure, for artistic or creative activities, for fun, for travel, for more destinations or adventures on your bucket list, for meeting more people, for more achievements, for more successes. We all have our different ‘hooks’. And as I said, the desire for these things isn’t bad or wrong. Lots of the activities we desire are very worthwhile. But it can be detrimental when it gets out of balance.
The downward spiral – towards complexity and away from simplicity
Then, of course, if we get into ‘busy mode’ and become stressed or overwhelmed with all these exciting, satisfying, noble, enjoyable or worthwhile activities, our minds are less and less in that ‘place of perspective’ where wisdom and wise choices and simplifying are possible, and more and more in tunnel-vision and urgency. Less and less in the moment, open, gracious, compassionate and kind. More and more driven, goal-oriented and narrowly focussed – and I’m not saying goal-oriented and narrowly focussed is a ‘bad’ thing, but if this is our only mode of operating, we can lose perspective. We can find ourselves driven and goal-focussed on things that don’t serve our overall wellbeing and purpose well. We need to be able to step into both perspective and focus, choosing whichever is most appropriate to our intentions at any given time. When we are overly goal-focussed we can end up being less able to enjoy the many rich moments of beauty in our everyday lives, less able to really ‘be’ with our partners, children or friends. Less able to see the wood for the trees, and less in touch with the things that are important to us and less able to prioritise the important things… and onwards down the spiral. Simplifying can help us to clarify what are the things that are most important to us. And simplifying can ensure we are less often distracted by the things that are less important to us.
The Mindfulness Toolkit for Simplifying
Simplifying and letting go the desire for more of the physical ‘stuff’:
- ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to have that thing” (or whatever is applicable).
- Surf the urge. No feeling or urge will persist for ever. Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
- Remind yourself of your most important values. If Simplifying is one of them, that will help you to stay on track. But be clear in your mind – what is simplifying in the service of, your you? Focussing on these reasons will empower your effort to make this change.
Simplifying and letting go of the ‘desire’ for experiences / ‘doing’ stuff
- Breathe and slow down. Remind yourself that there will be many more opportunities which will be at least as rich as this one. It won’t be the exact same package – and that’s O.K. Who knows, it may even be more satisfying. And if you slow down enough to take one thing at a time, you’ll be able to enjoy it, and the rest of your life, a whole lot more.
- ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to say ‘yes’ to that thing” (or whatever is applicable)
- Surf the urge. No feeling or urge will persist for ever. Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
- And keep coming back to your values. If you know this is a pattern you really want to get on top of, choose a word or short phrase that really captures it for you. And regularly, during your day, any time you start to notice ‘rushing-ness’ and ‘busy-ness’ creeping into your day, repeat your phrase to yourself and bring to mind either a memory or an image of what this state is like, to ground you back into this state that you value. Examples might be ‘Peaceful’ or ‘Calm and Grounded’ or ‘Gracious and Wise’ or ‘Calm and Organised’ – give this some thought until your goal becomes clearer and you have found the state that you want to hold.
Mindfulness Attitudes and Simplifying
I consider the Mindfulness Attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn identified in his book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ as also being Mindfulness Tools. When we consciously focus on these attitudes – that is, Non judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non-striving, Acceptance ( getting real about ‘what is’) and Letting Go, this can help us to stay on track with any challenge we take on – whether it be a relatively focussed habit change such as consuming less sugar, or a more pervasive habit change such as simplifying our lives. I find all of these are useful attitudes to touch base with when a battle is playing out in my mind over the desire to ‘have more’ or ‘do more’. I love the idea that the more we cultivate these attitudes, the more we cultivate Mindfulness. And the more we practice Mindfulness, the more we are cultivating these values.
” You don’t have to have it figured out to move forward” – The Art of Simple
Mindfulness Attitudes and Skills? Or Simplifying and De-cluttering Techniques? – Or both?
There is a lot of useful information, tips and advice available on how to go about the simplifying or de-cluttering process. And it is my belief that without bringing Mindfulness to the process as well, we will inevitably ‘re-complexify’ and ‘re-clutter’ after our initial burst of simplifying or de-cluttering enthusiasm. If you haven’t already learnt about Mindfulness and begun to implement Mindfulness meditation and Everyday Mindfulness techniques in your life, I encourage you to do so. Check out some of my previous blogs – and you might also like to consider registering for The Change Academy’s Everyday Mindfulness on-line course.
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences). Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.
Do you get ‘hooked’ by a desire to ‘have’ stuff or ‘do’ stuff? Share your experiences here. Or do you have useful tips or advice on using Mindfulness for simplifying and de-cluttering? We’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on simplifying your life.