Measure once, cut twice.
I’ve written quite a bit about clutter recently. Clutter is on my mind. My brain has been cluttered with thoughts of clutter, and yes, I do appreciate the irony. Clutter limits our freedom and happiness by stealing our time, money, energy and maybe more importantly, our attention.
Recently I’ve been reading more articles about minimalism. Minimalism is cutting out this unnecessary clutter. What remains actually brings us more freedom, more joy.
Subtracting things from our lives is much more powerful than adding things. They do not balance each other out like a mathematical equation. The bad things in our lives make the good things…not as good.
No matter how peaceful, serene and beautiful a walk, the pleasure ends the moment a skunk sprays you or if you fall and break your ankle. When our life is cluttered we have difficulty seeing and appreciating the good things through the noise of our distractions.
There was a time with fewer distractions. Once there were three channels on television, none of which was on demand. You couldn’t record anything. You couldn’t decide on a whim to sit down and watch one of 100,000,000 YouTube videos. There were no social media feeds, text messages or email.
Clothes were expensive so you had few of them. Stuff was expensive so there was less of it. Technology has brought us more wonderful things than we could have imagined, but it has brought with it an incredible amount of clutter.
Clutter: Round 1
When I decluttered my house last year it was like peeling thick layers of grime off my senses, that feeling when you clean your windshield and marvel at how much filth was there. I felt like I was seeing my ‘stuff’ for the first time. As I learned to appreciate what I had, I realized much of it was superfluous. Following the popular Konmari method I used joy as my guide. If something did not ‘spark joy’ it was eliminated.
This was a difficult process. It took many weeks, if not months, to go through everything in our house. I used more physical and emotional energy that I anticipated. There were piles of things scattered everywhere. We slowly nibbled away at them as vanloads of bags, boxes and other odd shaped clutter was driven to local charities to be dispersed to others that may find joy in them.
I knew there was a risk that our stuff would just become clutter in someone else’s life, but I simply could not think of a better way to get rid of it. I have a difficult time sending those things to a landfill. It was my responsibility to at least try and find them a home. Reusing, repurposing or repairing is what real environmentalism is, not just minimizing our stuff or throwing it in the trash bin. That is for another essay though.
Looking back though, I’m not sure I used the proper definition of joy, as a year later I look around and realize my life is still a bit cluttered. I have less stuff, and what remains is definitely an improvement, but there is still work to be done.
I watched a movie that inspired me to dig a bit deeper.
I dug even deeper as I started reading and listening to stories about minimalism, and I reexamined my relationship with material things. I became inspired to start asking the ‘what and why’ of…
You see, things slowly crept back in to my life. Our house was starting to look cluttered again and I was once again ready to start letting go. I didn’t miss one thing I got rid of in those dozen minivan loads full of stuff. Maybe there was something small, but what I needed back in my life I added back, maybe without even knowing I had already let it go once.
The really interesting thing is I don’t use most of the stuff that remains. It turns out most things didn’t really spark joy in me or serve any useful function. I was simply keeping most of it ‘just in case’. But it turns out that ‘just in case’ rarely came. It was this mythical creature that I was scared of but had never actually seen.
I was also keeping items that I wasn’t ready to get rid of, the sentimental things that one just keeps because that’s what everyone else does. I lied to myself about these items bringing me joy because I wasn’t ready to let them go.
Happiness is usually found when we don’t do what everyone else does. The average person doesn’t know how to be happy. When I look around me, many people don’t look all that happy (except for their Facebook feed which is all roses). When I really pay attention I see people living lives of quiet desperation. Don’t be average. Be happy instead.
So I’m in the process of doing it again. I’m not putting everything in neat little piles and measuring joy on a 1-10 scale, but I am slowly going through my items and letting go. It’s easier this time. I have fewer attachments, fewer things that I can’t live without.
It doesn’t exhaust me like it did the first time. The process feels like release rather than tension and anxiety. It is enjoyable, whereas last time it was only the end result that made the process worth it.
The journey is the destination
I am realizing that decluttering is not a method, but a philosophy; a way of life. One does not simply declutter and move on. Instead one strives to live a decluttered life, constantly evaluating the things that vie for our attention and asking the fundamental question; does this add value? It is not unlike diet, exercise or meditation. These are lifestyles, not things to check off a to-do list.
All diets fail unless we change our fundamental relationship with food. All exercise regimens fail unless we change our fundamental relationship with movement and activity. Decluttering will fail too unless we change our relationship with stuff.
I’ve moved onto physical decluttering 2.0. This is the new and improved version. I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last upgrade. If you have decluttered and found the stuff creeping back into your life, join me on this journey.
Measure once, cut twice.