Simplicity is more about focusing on keeping what’s important than on what we are giving up. Once we clarify our life goals and identify what’s important in reaching them, everything else becomes little more than distracting clutter that’s actually quite easy to let go.
For much of 2013, I’ve been pruning my life. I use the word “pruning’ deliberately, because I haven’t just been giving things away. Instead, this has been a careful and gradual process of editing the items in my home, the information I take in, and the ways I choose to spend my time.
I’ve stopped telling people how much I’ve given away because their alarm tends to derail the conversation. I’ve emptied out closets, sold about 200 books and reduced the mail that comes (in both paper and e-mail) in my home by about half. People get squirrely when you tell them you haven’t turned on your TV in weeks or that you’re considering deleting Facebook.
This process is less about getting rid of clutter, and more about detaching from the stories I’ve told myself about possessions. It’s finally facing the bad shopping decisions, the books that will never be read, the gifts that I’ve never liked, or the fact that I will never be a cook who requires much more than a pot, a knife and a wooden spoon.
It’s about thoughtfully curating the things I read, trying to minimize those magazines, blogs and websites that tweak my desire to acquire, or make me feel like who I am and what I have isn’t good enough.
I suspected it would make my life simpler, and it has. But it has had another, somewhat unexpected effect.
Less distraction makes it easier to see what’s not working.
When your focus narrows, you notice what’s broken. You taste and hear and touch and smell more vividly. Your definition of “good enough” starts to shift.
And you start to get serious about change. Suddenly the tasks of removing clutter make way for the sea change of redefining yourself. When you don’t have the busy excuses, you’re forced to take on the bigger issues of your heart.
Perhaps that’s the real reason why people keep themselves surrounded by stuff and numbed by a constant flow of media. It’s easier to make a new pair of shoes a goal than to have a serious conversation with yourself about your role in third world poverty, climate change and fiscal responsibility. It’s paradoxically easier to fill the holiday season with a litany of to-dos and ignore the bittersweet memories or the places that feel hollow inside.
Editing pares your life down from blowzy prose to the cracking whip of poetry.
Proceed at your own risk.