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Our Insides and Our Outsides
If I know someone’s spiritual life well I am rarely surprised by their home. There have been artists whose houses were as wonderful and quirky as they. And more than one geeky professor types who lived amid piles of books. But almost all of these people were over the age of 50, and they’d quite clearly done their work. By the time I’d met them they’d done some serious decluttering, and I don’t just mean their sock drawer.
What I’ve come to realize is that our outsides and our insides tend to reflect one another. Messy interior lives lead to messy exterior lives. If we hoard feelings and emotions we tend to also stuff our bookcases full of papers, pictures, half read books, and maybe the odd rubber chicken. But the opposite is also true, those who have done their work, who have cleared out their interior lives tend to find it much easier to clear out their outer lives as well.
And it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario.
I don’t think there’s any way to prove that decluttering helps your spiritual life, or that cleaning up your mental space helps your living space become more comfortable. But the two so often go hand in hand that I have to conclude there is a connection. I’ve experienced it myself, that wonderful feeling of space and freedom that follows getting my office into shape. I am happy when I have sorted everything away and I can actually see my desk. Suddenly, I am free to light a candle, spread out some crisp clean paper, and dream up new things.
It’s a freeing feeling!
And the opposite has been just as true. As if by magic my home space stayed clear and free of clutter, in those seasons in my life when I was doing what I was meant to do. I suspect a great deal of that was because I wasn’t buying shit I didn’t need to cover up being unhappy. Do you know what I mean? How many times have you gone shopping because you were miserable? And what were the results?
Thankfulness Let’s Us Let Go
I’ve always appreciated a neat and tidy living space. (My mother just raised her eyebrows, six doesn’t count Mom.) First, it just makes it faster and easier to find the things I need, which makes everyday chores take less time. When I own only what I need and love I get to avoid a whole lot of shame and guilt! When my interior and exterior spaces are in order I don’t find myself staring at that expensive coat that I never wear (because it itches) and feeling like a fool.
I have learned a valuable lesson about letting go, it requires thankfulness. If I can be thankful for an object I no longer really need, I can more easily let it go. Does that make sense to you? How about an example: I bought a rather expensive eyeshadow palette at one of those discount stores for a discount that still made it stupidly expensive. The palette was beautifully packaged and looked so pretty that I ignored the the colors inside, and bought it for the brand. The problem? I never wore it, the colors didn’t suit my style and every time I tried to make it work it left annoying sparkly fallout all over my face. Fail.
Which all sounds like something to not be thankful for, right? I could have just felt bad for spending the money, and foolish for buying such a thing. If I’d thrown it away it would have still been cluttering up my memories. Until gratitude and thankfulness comes along. Now I look at that silly purchase and I am thankful that it taught me a couple valuable lessons. It taught me that I do not need a designer name on my makeup. (duh) And even more, it taught me that I should trust my own tastes more than some designer.
I tossed it without guilt, and won’t make that mistake again.
My November Practice
We are now well and truly into November. Most of us set aside this month for our yearly thankfulness practice. What if this year we went a little further and did some internal, and external decluttering? The concept is simple, we remove those things from our life that no longer serve us. These could be memories we are clinging to, or clothes that no longer fit. Usually, there is some internal component for every external item and visa versa. (Well, not for every paperclip. Let’s not nitpick.) This month I have been paying attention to the places in my life where I feel most uncomfortable, where I constantly have that urge to go out and buy something (despite already have 10 of whatever it is here at home). I’ve been paying attention to feelings of guilt, shame, or dis-ease and noticing if they are tied to objects.
Every day I am do one thing to lighten my physical and mental load. There are some practical reasons for this, it’s almost the holidays when most of us end up getting more stuff than we had before. When we clear out clutter (those unneeded or unwanted items in our lives) we make room room to joyfully accept gifts we are given in December. Fall is also the time I turn to “nesting,” to create a cozy and welcoming space to spend the winter. There’s no better way to do that than to put the house in order.
How To DeClutter Holistically
Decluttering in a holistic manner is pretty similar to any other sort of decluttering, the difference is we aren’t just focused on the stuff in your life, we’re also focusing on why you still have that stuff in the first place. I tend to start these sorts of decluttering practices in areas that are easiest for me to declutter, like my clothing, or my office space. I leave things like photos, art, and books for days I’m really feeling up to wrestling because that’s where my real attachments are found.
Here are my simple rules for decluttering holistically.
Step It Out!
- Empty everything out where you can see it. No picking through half open drawers! All your clothes go on the bed, or every desk drawer gets dumped on the floor.
- Move quickly, don’t stop to read a book or look through your old yearbook! Don’t try every piece of clothing on!
- Ask yourself why you own this item. Your reasons might be varied and complicated. Maybe you spent a lot of money on it and it feels like a waste to get rid of it, perhaps you once loved it but no longer do, maybe there are memories tied up in the object.
- If the item is something you love, and that you use and enjoy on a regular basis store it back in it’s place.
- However, if you’d forgotten you even had it, or you are now feeling guilty all over again for buying it, it’s time to do something about that.
Letting Go As Spiritual Practice
There was a reason you ended up with whatever is in your hands right now. Maybe it was a gift from an old lover. Or it could be that you bought it on impulse, or in a fit of mood lifting shopping. Either way, for whatever reason when you picked this item up you didn’t feel joy at seeing it. Mine was a car key, a really, really old one. Just a few days ago I was clearing out my desk. There in the pile of stuff was the key to my very first car, a 1985 (I might be off on the year, it’s been a while people) Volkswagon Jetta. Car keys have changed a lot y’all, but I got all misty and nearly stuck it back in the drawer.
But then I stopped myself and remembered this exercise and asked myself: why are you keeping the key to a car that has been in a junkyard (one assumes) for almost 20 years? And I really thought about it I realized that key symbolized a thousand memories of my high school and college days. But here’s the thing, tossing the key wouldn’t actually throw away those memories.
Long before I’d found that key I’d remembered how the seal around the back window and trunk went. I found out by soaking half my belongings moving home from college in a torrential downpour. Or the time I tied a rug the size of my dorm room across the trunk and drove the other way across the state hoping it wouldn’t go airborne. There were more, many more and they hadn’t been lost when I didn’t know I still had that key. I threw away the key, laughing a little that I’d held on to it for so long and moved it across the country twice.
I kept the treasured memories, I let go the physical item that was no longer good for anything.
Letting Go For Healing
That was an easy one, but there are harder things as well. My most recent example is a stupidly slinky, super fancy dress. I bought the dress the first year my husband and I were married. I wore it once. It isn’t the sort of thing I’m comfortable in, or that fits the life we live. But there it hung reminding me of how much it cost and taking up closet space.
Getting rid of it felt like wasting money. And it was also giving up the idea that we were stylish party animals ready to hit the town.
(Hahahahahhahahahahhahah. We’re not.) I gave it away this year. I was able to do so because I named the gift it had given me. It had helped me understand what wasn’t my style at all. That dress had freed me from the fiction that we’d be out in a tux and a killer dress at fancy restaurants. It had reaffirmed that I’d rather wear jeans and a t-shirt to a baseball game with my husband than go to the opera in high heals and that dress.
And off it went to teach someone else whatever lessons they had to learn from it.
This becomes spiritual practice when you pay attention as you declutter. Pay attention to the things you have a hard time parting with, there are almost certainly patterns to what you hang onto and what you easily let go. Now’s the time to bring out your journal and see if you can’t get to the root of why you still have your college textbooks from the 1990s (that you haven’t opened since). Most of what happens in our life has a reason, we might think we’re just toting a box full of college books across the country but there is usually more to it than that.
By journaling (I find doing a stream of consciousness session for five to ten minutes works well) it is possible to uncover the unconscious reasons we hang onto possessions we really no longer need. When we know the why we can make a conscious choice, maybe you chose to keep something; maybe you don’t. But either way, it will be a choice made from knowledge and you will know yourself a little better than you did before.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve uncovered while clearing out old things?