“Simplify, Simplify” is Henry David Thoreau’s famous message from his retreat on Walden Pond. This the perfect time of year to take a look around to see what might need attention – especially if the holidays have introduced extra clutter and chaos. If it’s your sanity coming into question, here’s a measurement you can use from Victoria Moran; she says, “You know your life is too complicated if you feel overwhelmed more than twice a month. That allows you one exception for PMS and another for living in a complicated world.”
Taking time to evaluate ourselves is important because the last thing we want to do is turn simplifying our lives into another impossible goal to meet. This doesn’t need to be stressful. The key is to have clarity about our life purpose and priorities. Once that is clear, it is a painless process to discard what no longer supports these. It doesn’t matter if it is clutter in closets or a calendar full of commitments. By simplifying we will relieve ourselves from the problems of having too much stuff (that needs taking care of) or of making more promises than can be kept.
Between 2001 and 2004 my husband and I had the adventure of living in England. The little house we rented offered us 800 square feet of living space. That was considerably smaller than our American home. Much to our surprise, we were perfectly content in that small space, and grateful we did not have more to take care of. That was the beginning of a major lifestyle change for us. Since then we have continued to downsize in every area of our lives.
The reward is a feeling of lightness (like we have just lost 100 pounds) that comes from being unencumbered by anything that doesn’t fit who we are now. Time that was spent taking care of things is now spent taking healthier care of ourselves and each other. Letting go of what is no longer needed frees us to embrace more personal time, more couple time, more friend time, and community service. Our purchasing rule is that if we bring something new into our home, then something we already have is donated to a community organization that reuses things like Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity. This eliminates clutter collections which, in the past, have been a little scary.
If we as survivors are in the middle of medical procedures, the need to simplify is even greater. All our energy needs to be focused on our steps to recovery, and clutter (mental, physical, emotional) is an energy-stealer. To preserve our energy for what is needed most, we can prioritize and begin with the very simplest, smallest steps. Peter Walsh, a professional home organizer, says that our homes are an outer reflection of our inner life (hard to believe, but true). So, clearing emotional clutter out of our mind closet is a good place to begin simplifying. Katherine Paterson says, “What a gift to be able to take the chaos from within, and from it create some semblance of order.” One exercise that aids this process is to take ten minutes at the beginning and end of each day for reflection and gratitude.
Order within then begins to materialize in the order of our outer home. We can continue to simplify by eliminating one stressful item from the calendar, going through one shelf or drawer, stepping out of Facebook for a while, or streamlining self-care so we feel good without being exhausted. Other changes that help simplify include slowing down, doing one thing at a time, resisting interruptions, taking time off, shortening phone calls, putting people first, and practicing polite refusals to people requesting more time and energy than we have to give.
Sarah Ban Breathnach offers this suggestion: “This week, consider that with a little courage and creativity you can find the breathing space you crave. You may think you’re only clearing clutter from a junk drawer, or juggling commitments to find a few hours to get your home in order. But your soul knows better.” Let’s support and encourage each other to let go of what no longer serves us well, and embrace the simplicity that is vital to our health and well-being.
Until Next Time – Sylvia
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