In the pursuit of the simple life, most likely, the first thing we focus on is our physical space, our home. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to “space” as not only the physical aspect, but also, the space that extends to the mind, being that anything that occupies an important part in our life – goals, dreams, values, interests … I am not a minimalist, neither a tightwad, although sometimes I would like to be, but someone who likes and enjoys simplicity and strives for balance.
The desire for simplicity moves us to start decluttering our physical space. We start with the things we own, and by the time we are done, we find ourselves looking into other areas of life that go beyond – our future plans, finances, work, habits … In my experience, letting go of things could be overwhelming, more so if circumstances at the moment challenge other areas of my life. Change is never easy, even when it is welcomed. Sometimes, there is a catalyst to that change, an event, a person, or any other circumstance that might induce change at a quick or slow pace, and of course, that comes with a set of emotions and responses attached.
When striving for a simple life, decluttering our space is a good place to start. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore or doesn’t honor our space anymore is a first step in the pursuit of simplicity. This step will prove challenging but necessary because it will exercise our will, as well as test it, and serve as training for when we move into other areas of life that are more complexed – habits, finances, goals and dreams, health … It is a process that will take some time and varies by individual. It is also continuous because we evolve in time. I can say that I am still in the process of letting go.
The items that are the hardest to let go are sentimental items, or represent a memory, even when these don’t serve us anymore. Instead of owning the sentiment or memory, we have placed it on the item. Letting go of gifts or things that cost much money is also challenging. Things that represent for us an ideal place or time in life are difficult, especially if it is something that we see ourselves doing/being in a future that is generally not planned for or mapped. We tend to internalize that ideal life as part of us even when it has not materialized. Even when we know that these things do not fit our lifestyle anymore, or are not being used anymore, or ever used, we want to hold on for fear of losing the dream. One thing that helped me in letting go of items in those categories was realizing that I was hoarding an item that someone else needed, and I did not need. When we can easily meet the need of another by letting go of something, we operate from a place of generosity as opposed to selfishness. Understanding this concept makes it easier to let go of these things that have a hold on us but do not have a place anymore in our home and life. During this process, I understood that I owned much more than I needed. I understood that my physical space should be a representation of where I am, not where I was or some distant place in my mind. That would be like living in my past or in a future that has not/will not materialize. This can be tricky because if my present circumstances are crappy or less than ideal, I don’t want things to be a representation of that; I want out of it. That is when the process of simplifying helps. Instead, I surround myself with the things that serve me now, have a purpose, fit my lifestyle better at the moment, and honor the person I am now. There is no shame on it; we all want to be better, and even when circumstances are not ideal, we can certainly “make room” in our lives to welcome better days. Living now doesn’t mean to stop dreaming and hoping. It is a spiritual journey, undergoing change.
Having less has made life easier and simpler in many ways; however, I am not done. I honestly can say that if I were to place all the items that I have let go in the past seven years in one location, I would be able to open a small thrift store. I am not proud of that. Although I am not a minimalist, I do live simply, and what is in my home has a purpose and is being used at the moment. When an item stops fulfilling its purpose or functionality, now I know it is time to let it go. When everything has a defined purpose and a place, I end up with less things to handle or that occupy my time and energy. At this point, I am comfortable with letting go of anything I don’t use. That includes things that will only have one use. For example, a kitchen gadget that I let go was a garlic press. It is something that has a single use, but not necessary, as I can do the same thing with something else. Another one was a lemon squeeze gadget. For me, these were not necessary items. Now, if I had a problem with my hands, arthritis for example, those items would be needed and would make life easier. This is an example of how individualized this process is.
The longer one lives, the more things one accumulates, and most of those items are not used anymore or do not fit an actual lifestyle. That is a green light to let these items go. Things that bring to mind bad or sad memories, regrets, guilt, or any less than positive feeling don’t belong in my space as well. Those feelings occupy valuable space in my mind/heart, space that is better filled with positive and good feelings/emotions. So where did I start? For me, clothes are one of the easiest things to let go as long as I keep only what fits me now, feels comfortable, and looks good on me. Anything else must go. Most likely, what has not been worn in a while will not be worn any time soon, another sign that it stopped serving its purpose and must go. If you don’t know where to start, this is an easier and less painful way to start.
We are conditioned to own things since childhood, and it is also in our nature as gatherers and collectors. Many of us follow patterns throughout the years, and for that reason, it is harder sometimes to let go. Where we come from, culture, socioeconomic status, country of origin … it all has to do with how we deal with stuff. If we want to live a simpler life, we can start one day at a time, one item at a time. One thing I understood and found interesting during this process is that there are items that we own out of habit or conditioning. An example for me were metal dishwashing pads. Although I found that they clean well, I really did not like them that much but used them and kept buying them. I did not like the metal/rusty smell and that some rusted fast. These also hurt my sensitive skin when I washed dishes. I don’t wear gloves and do not own a dishwasher. I was using these out of habit, but most important, there was a beautiful memory attached to these that I wasn’t aware of until I asked myself this question, “If I dislike them so much, why do I keep buying them?” The answer surprised me. It was the memory of my grandmother. She used them all the time, and I could visualize her in my mind, washing dishes in the kitchen. These metal sponges or pads had a pleasant memory attached that I would revisit in my memory every time I used them, whether I realized it or not. Once I understood that, I was able to keep the memory and ditch the sponges. That is just a simple example of how we end up keeping things we don’t even like in our space. Sometimes, it goes beyond the “use it or lose it” because it goes deeper than that. I was using the metal sponges. That is why looking for our responses to these situations is important and an eye-opening experience.
Moving to this place was a new beginning to a much simpler life. Every year I let go of more. Despite all the items I let go before the move, I feel that there is more room for improvement. So far, I have let go of many things since moving here, and over the past month I have boxed many more things that I don’t need anymore. We are planning a yard sale in the spring, and the proceeds will be used to fund a new workshop. The things that did not serve a purpose anymore will have a new one – make us some money for that project. These objects will serve a purpose in other people’s homes, whether these are sold or donated. These objects get a second chance, and so do I, living a much satisfying simpler life, and what can be simpler than that?
Whether clutter or habits, getting rid of these gives us space in our lives for inspiration, creativity and the pursuit of a more satisfying life.