Ever feel like your stuff bogs you down? That keeping up with all this stuff holds you back from being your best self?
I truly believe that simplifying and minimizing our “stuff” has tremendous health benefits, by giving us a sense of freedom, order, and control in our lives.
TOO MUCH STUFF
When I think about too much stuff, the Christmas season comes to mind.
There are many things I love about Christmas... like spending time with loved ones, celebrating traditions, and creating memories.
But after a while, all the “stuff” starts to get to me.
I recall a Christmas when my daughter was six years old. She was really into art. As a result, we ended up with just about every art supply under the sun. (Admittedly, I bought the majority of them.)
There were art supplies strung all over our house. I found myself constantly asking her to pick up after herself and keep her things organized. After one such lecture, I watched as she tried to shove her supplies into a large drawer in our dining room. The drawer was too full. It wouldn't close. (This was a drawer I had just cleaned out a couple weeks ago.)
I realized that she simply had too much. It was more than she could take care of. It wasn't making art more enjoyable for her.
To the contrary, this excessive stuff was just bringing clutter, too much responsibility, and stress.
After the overflowing drawer incident, I asked my daughter to pick out her favorite 20 markers, favorite 20 colored pencils, favorite 30 crayons, one paint set, and her favorite two art books. That's what would be staying in the drawer. The rest would be put up in a closet for a while, to be revisited as her artistic needs evolved. :)
I expected resistance from her. But to my surprise, she actually seemed relieved.
Then I thought, Why wouldn't she be relieved? After all, she would have her favorite art supplies to use, there would be less to take care of, and most importantly, she would have me off her back! Furthermore, the excess supplies would be "like new" down the road, instead of getting jumbled with everything else, lost, or destroyed.
My daughter's art dilemma reminded me of a great book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
In the book, McKeown explains:
"The Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things effortless."
McKeown explains that a NONESSENTIALIST is characterized by:
All things to all people - "I have to. It's all important. How can I fit it all in?"
The undisciplined pursuit of more - reacts to what's most pressing, says "yes" to people without really thinking, tries to force execution at the last moment
Lives a life that does not satisfy - takes on too much (and work suffers), feels out of control, is unsure of whether the right things got done, feels overwhelmed and exhausted
In contrast, the ESSENTIALIST is characterized by:
Less but better - "I choose to. Only a few things really matter. What are the trade-offs?"
The disciplined pursuit of less - pauses to discern what really matters, says "no" to everything except the essential, removes obstacles to make execution easy
Lives a life that really matters - chooses carefully in order to do great work, feels in control, gets the right things done, experiences joy in the journey
OUR NONESSENTIALIST CULTURE
Our culture often encourages us to say "yes" to everything, to cram more and more stuff into less time, to spread ourselves too thin, to constantly be busy, and to acquire as much stuff as possible.
But this doesn't lead to happiness or good health. It leads to stress, fatigue, burnout, and illness.
A PERSONAL GOAL
As it turns out, my kids aren’t the only ones with more stuff than is essential. It’s an ongoing struggle for me too.
I always benefit from clearing out the unnecessary stuff (whether it be excessive material objects or unnecessary activities). This frees up time and space, allowing me devote more energy and attention to the things that are truly important.
A goal of mine is to become more of an Essentialist. I want to discern "the vital few from the trivial many." Instead of making "a millimeter of progress in a million directions," I hope to make "significant progress in the things that matter most."
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Does this sound like something that would benefit you too?
Perhaps some of the most important goals we can make are LESS about acquiring/achieving, and MORE about letting go of the things that hold us back from our best selves.
What nonessential things are taking a great deal of your time and energy? How might letting go of these things improve your sense of health and well-being?
This post was originally published on December 29, 2016 and updated on December 23, 2018.