It’s easy to live under the illusion that more is better. This “quantity over quality” approach can creep into our social lives, our material possessions, and our time commitments. But amassing people and things is a way of avoiding the simple silence that remains if we start to shed the extra baggage. It’s a way of placing “having” and “doing” above “being.”
A beautiful way to begin to step out of this mindset and to bring more space into our lives is to simplify. When we begin with small things, like decluttering our work space, donating clothes we haven’t worn in two years (but that we keep telling ourselves we may need some day), or unplugging from the addictive habit of hoarding information from the internet, we start to liberate ourselves. Each small act of simplifying our lives allows us to gain enough momentum to ultimately be able to discern and discard the habits, relationships, and activities that don’t serve us. And when we can say goodbye to the extra baggage we used to think we couldn’t do without, we start opening up spaces in our lives for things that do nourish and delight us to enter.
To embrace simplicity and the peaceful sense of freedom that comes with “cleaning out” our lives, focus on the following areas:
- Possessions. Donate or sell what you don’t absolutely need. The optimal way to shed the stuff that takes up space but offers little value is to first make a list of all the things you absolutely need and begin to get rid of everything else. If you approach decluttering the other way around by picking up each object and considering its possible future uses, you will convince yourself you may eventually need it, whatever the improbable reasons. So make a list first and stick to it. You may find that having more physical space open up around your home will bring a subtle sense of space to your mind. Reducing the external stimuli can help quiet our thoughts and bring us more calm.
- Activities. Consider everything you commit your time to on a weekly basis. With each item, ask yourself two questions: “Do I enjoy doing it?” and “Is it absolutely necessary?” If that time commitment doesn’t pass both of these with a “yes,” it’s time to reconsider. If changing your schedule to one that serves and fulfills you means you’ll end up with more free time on your hands for now, then see if you can embrace the empty spaces in your schedule rather than scrambling to fill them. Ultimately, simplicity entails spending time on things that are important and allowing some gaps in your day to just be. Today, it’s become easier and more tempting than ever to constantly fill each of these gaps with technology or social media, to the point where checking Facebook or your email becomes an unconscious reaction to a deeply-rooted need to seek fulfillment outside of yourself. But when you start to fill these moments of free time or boredom with either a nourishing activity or nothing at all, your initial aversion to space can subside and give way to a sense of inner peace.
- Relationships. Does your social life deeply fulfill you or does it simply keep you from being alone or bored? Do your friends support your highest good? A challenging but highly rewarding practice is to start being selective about who you spend your time with and who you give yourself to. If there are relationships, whether with friends or family or your partner, in your life that drag you down or aren’t compatible with your deepest ideals, then acknowledge this. Attachment and fear of loneliness can compel us to keep tolerating friendships and relationships that are so-so or even downright unfulfilling or hurtful. Letting go of your connection to these relationships can be one of the hardest but most powerful decisions you can ever make. It’s a crucial practice in self-love. And when you begin to release old connections whose time has come with a clear vision of the kinds of people you do seek to spend time with or to love, you will begin to see changes in the kinds of relationships you begin to attract.
Another way of expressing “simplicity” is selectivity. It’s not necessarily giving up what you want; it’s letting go of what you’ve been holding on to out of fear and attachment. Initially, it can be challenging to muster up the courage to let go, but once you do, you’ll be empowered to exercise this courage with more and more ease until you find that you no longer accumulate things and people that fill up the gaps in your life without providing much value. Instead, you’ll be surrounded with only what caters to your deepest desires.