A few years ago, in my early 50s, I downsized all my possessions to the contents of two suitcases. For a few months I lived a minimalist existence that many in the Western world would label extreme. The home I lived in was all but empty.
My only furniture during that time was a mattress on the floor, and one wooden stool that I carried around the house with me. I had one knife, fork, teaspoon and one plate. And the barest amount of household linen. I walked everywhere because I did not own a car.
Yes, this downsizing was a radical move but not as hard as you might think. On the contrary the lightness of being that came with it was so liberating. I have never forgotten the sweetness of moments spent lying on a mattress on the floor in an otherwise empty room, watching the autumn light play on the window pane.
Just to be alive felt like poetry.
As time moved on I allowed stuff back into my life and it’s unlikely I’ll live such a minimalist life again. But I will be forever grateful for lessons learned and insights gained during that time.
1) You are not your stuff
I knew this earlier on in life, when I was a young women. Somewhere along the way though, I forgot. When I gave away most of my possessions I remembered it again. When you clear away the clutter in your life the spaciousness outside you reveals a spaciousness within as well. And it is within that spaciousness that the truth of who you are can be found.
The clothing labels you wear, the car you drive the neighbourhood you live in ~ all are adornments of the ego. But they are not who you are. Who you are is beyond anything material. Living with nothing for a while helps you see that in fact all you are is love, peace … and joy.
2) An empty room is a beautiful thing
That minimalist experience has left me cautious now about letting material possessions back into my life. Of course I need some things, but I also need the me that I found within those empty rooms.
If you’re lucky enough to have an empty room in your house consider leaving it that way. Throw a few big cushions on the floor, or drag in a comfy chair ~ then sit or lie down, open your heart wide and just breathe. Spend enough time in this room and you will find yourself in ways you could never have imagined.
3) Stay aware when you’re shopping
As the months went on and possessions trickled back into my life I noticed that the things I had loved and chosen to pack into my two suitcases weren’t singing quite so sweetly anymore. They were becoming ~ well, just stuff. Now clutter was starting to rule and the irrational craving for more was starting to drive me.
This was an eye opener for me. It’s clear that in our relentless pursuit for stuff we have all passed this tipping point – beyond which we are no longer in control. Staying aware is so important. Knowing WHY you buy is crucial. Knowing what you love about what you own is important. And understanding that without ALL of this you are still a beautiful worthy person is the most important realisation of all.
4) Choose selfcare over retail therapy
When you live without clutter there is space for reflection and I did a lot of that over those months. I thought about the many times I have bought things I didn’t need at expensive New York stores and then arrived home, dumped the bags on the table – and moved on to some other distraction. Why did I buy, I asked myself?
Because, in the instant that it is happening, shopping is euphoric. It’s like reaching into a candy store. It numbs things you don’t want to feel. But not for long. Retail therapy won’t fix you and neither will the suffocating clutter it creates in your home. If you’re feeling sad, abandoned, unworthy, lost or bored consider staying away from the shops. Practice loving self-care instead, by walking the beach, spending time out in nature, colouring a mandala, writing in a journal or taking a gratitude walk..
5) Give the gift of spaciousness
Foremost in my mind at this time also was the whole subject of gift giving, and the role it plays in cluttering our homes and our lives. The true value of any gift surely lies not in its monetary value but in the heart to heart connection it nurtures. Living as we do in a consumer culture it is easy to forget that there are ways of making that heart to heart connection that won’t contribute to the clutter in anyone’s world.
Maybe you don’t have to give at all? Maybe you can give of yourself? Maybe your loving presence alone is a source of joy no gift could match? Or maybe you could give to your favourite charity in honour of your loved one. Remember too that however you give to others is how they will give to you. Take the lead in minimizing the clutter in others’ lives, and your own life will breathe easy too.
It is not easy to come back from the clutter driven by our culture of consumption, but it can be done. It’s all about becoming a conscious consumer and living from a deeper level of awareness. As that time in my life taught me, becoming a conscious consumer and limiting your material possessions is not deprivation ~ it is a path to the wealth that lies hidden within you.