“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” Leo Babauta, simplicity author and creator of Zen Habits, which is one of the most-read blogs in the world (next to mine!), speaks the truth. What a perfect way to introduce this blog, which is about decluttering. I’m not talking about decluttering your home, although that will ultimately help, but decluttering your life. You are retired. You don’t need to clutter your life with things that do not bring you complete satisfaction.
Recently, I looked at how I have been spending my time. Most things I do feed my soul, but one or two do not. Are they necessary? Do I have to be involved to have a fulfilled retirement? Maybe it is time to do some decluttering.
To validate my idea, I was chatting with a friend about plans for the rest of the week. I lamented the fact that I was playing too much pickleball (a first-world problem) and didn’t have time to do my art or blog, let alone try other things on my list. Her response was simple. “Welcome to retirement.” It’s true. I find that without one main thing to occupy my time, such as a job, I am a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The solution for me is to jump from one thing to the other. . . and feel guilty about the things I am neglecting.
The piece from Daily Om yesterday is entitled “Creating What We Don’t Want.” This piece suggests that when our thoughts are inundated with worry, we project that worry into the world and draw even more worry upon ourselves. I think this is the case with being busy. We are surrounded by things to do and don’t take the time to ask why we are so busy. We don’t look at whether these things are good for us. We just do them because it is easier than making a decision. Have you ever heard your inner voice say to you, “It’s all right. I’ll figure it out tomorrow.”? Uh-huh.
Maybe we need to be more mindful about what we are doing. Mindfulness allows the focus to shift to what is important at that moment. It brings our attention to one thing. Everything else fades into the background. This is a kind of decluttering, although only temporary. Once mindfulness evaporates, all those thoughts and things come rushing back into clutter our lives.
Decluttering is getting rid of the excess, the things that no longer have a purpose. We can divide it into four areas: physical decluttering, or organizing the home, workspace, or personal space; mental decluttering, or getting rid of negative thought processes that cause us to do a myriad of things that may not be good for us; emotional decluttering, getting rid of toxic relationships, saying no. Finally, there is spiritual decluttering, or keeping what fits with your life and getting rid of the beliefs that do not.
We all know how to physically declutter. We may not do it, but at least we know the process. You throw out things you don’t use, things that no longer work, things that don’t fit. I’d say (and I’m not an expert) that mental, emotional, and spiritual decluttering work on the same principle. You still need to look at what you use and get rid of the things or thoughts you don’t use. Look at what you are doing that doesn’t fit your lifestyle and simply stop doing it. Look at the people around you who bring you joy and sever ties with those who don’t. Yes, it is more difficult to do non-physical decluttering, but it is just as important.
Rev. Karen Fraser Gitlitz, of the Saskatoon Unitarians, delivered a service recently and although it wasn’t about decluttering your life, there was one section that really hit home. It was about knowing what claims you or to whom or what you are accountable for and how you manage that accountability. She said, “Of course, the belief content of your belief matters. It matters to each of us. It’s going to make a difference whether that which claims you is the natural world, the earth under your feet, the sky over your head, or if what claims you is your community or your family or your commitment to justice or an understanding of the spirit of life. Once you know what claims you, then the question becomes, how have I been faithful to that claim throughout my life? Was I able to do what I could? Was I able to let go of what wasn’t central to my life? Did I make time for the novel, the song, the music, the art that nudged me in the still hours of the morning as something wanting to be born in my life? Did I live my life compassionately? How did I care for my children or my parents or my grandchildren? How did I care for the environment? Lots of things are important but not everything claims us to the same degree. No, it’s not always easy or obvious to figure out what claims us especially when it is earlier in our lives but one of the ways we recognize it is that it challenges us in some way. It challenges us to let go of some of the structures that we have in our lives and in our minds. Perhaps we have to let go of the expectations that we have for what this time would look like in our life. Perhaps it means letting go of something that is central to our upbringing. Perhaps it is letting go of our own fears or our own habits that were created to help us manage those fears. It is one way we can recognize what claims us.” (The entire service will be posted on the Saskatoon Unitarian’s YouTube channel.)
I’d venture to say that a lot of people don’t even realize their lives are cluttered. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Okay, so, the next time you feel overwhelmed or stressed, take a moment to self-assess. What is happening to make you feel that way? Yes, it may be something major, such as your health or the health of a loved one. Or it may be something financial. Those can’t be decluttered. But chances are you will find that you have too much going on in your life and can’t deal with some of the curve balls coming your way. Decluttering your life will give you more space to focus on the things and people (and issues) that are important. Decluttering will also get rid of some of the negative thoughts and feelings that are holding you back and blocking your view of solutions to everyday problems.
There is some really good information about decluttering your life here. I especially like the first tip about reducing your commitments. The article says that we should look at each area of our lives (things to do at home, with friends and family, hobbies, outside activities, etc.) and write down all the commitments that are part of that piece. Consider how much time is invested in that commitment and ask the tough questions: Is it worth it? Does it bring me joy? If you hesitate, it is time to re-evaluate. Perhaps you don’t have to give up the commitment, but maybe it is not necessary to be the chairperson. Or attend every single activity. Or, if it doesn’t bring you joy, it could be time to resign. Tell your friend you have decided to try something else. Pick out the commitments that you really do enjoy and say adios to the others. The next thing to do is learn to say no. I know; it is so hard to do that. Whenever I say no, and it isn’t that often, I ruminate for days about the decision. Not a healthy practice! But if you do learn to say no, and say it politely, you will free up more time to do the things you enjoy.
Check this article out for how to say “no” politely.
Author Joshua Becker says it well: “Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we discover all the things that really do.” I’m going to try to take these words to heart and do some serious spring cleaning. It is long overdue!
Note: I just read about doing a calendar audit. . .what a cool idea! And of course, don’t forget about decluttering your social media. Scrolling through unnecessary ads, threads, and dare I say it, friends, can take up a lot of your day, time that you could be spending doing something else that will actually benefit your life.