"To find satisfaction, composure, and results – we don't need anything extra, fancy, or special. We don't need to do or add more; we need to do less. We just need to let go of some of our assumptions, particularly our thinking that our freedom and happiness lie someplace else, or during some other time, or with some other mind."
- Marc Lesser in his book, Less
It's all very well to want to look at the big picture of goals and projects, but what do you do when you're down in the trenches and the trenches are full of junk that's piled up while you were too busy?
First, don't beat yourself up. Everyone has things spin out of control sometimes, especially at holiday time. Major life changes, happy and sad, can pull you out of your routines of maintenance despite your best intentions. Other changes can come along which necessitate a new baseline of how much organization your home and life need for you to feel calm and on top of it all.
So, where do you start when you realize that you've got to turn this mess around and transform it into something that doesn't make you wince?
Looking at a room full of things which are out of place can be overwhelming. Don't try to tackle it all at once.
Decisions are tiring, so the trick is to make the most of every one you make. Look for the easiest possible decision and start there.
For example, that cough drop wrapper on the floor there by the sofa. That can go in the trash. There is no acceptable second use for cough drop wrappers. Mmmm, away into a trash bag with it.
But don't stop there: You've got a useful decision you can leverage, painlessly. ALL cough drop wrappers can go. In fact, since they're pretty much the same thing, all candy and food wrappers can go. Walk around for a couple minutes with that trash bag ignoring everything but dead wrappers of edible things.
Nothing else in the pile matters right now except those things that match the current game of Concentration you're playing. You don't have to play long, just start playing more often.
Decide one kind of thing on which you can take the same action and then see how many matches you can get in a few minutes strolling through the house. Here are some example rounds of the game:
- full trash and recycling containers get dumped in the big bins;
- used dishes not in the kitchen move to the kitchen;
- catalogs move to recycling;
- mail to be processed goes all together in one stack in your inbox;
- clothes that need dry cleaning or repairs go into a basket by the door;
- bills in your inbox go in one stack with your checkbook on your desk (everything that's not a bill can stay in the inbox).
Don't worry about the next round; just play this one, briefly, right now.
Tell me some rounds you've played today!
It’s a new year. Get it off to a good start by paring the things you always have with you down to just the right ones. Clear out the accretions of the past months and don’t weigh yourself down with the obsolete.
Take your wallet, purse, backpack, or any other container o’ stuff that you carry with you most of the time and empty it completely onto a table. Clean the container; shake out the dust, even vacuum the bottom of that big bag if it will help clear away the needless grit of the past.
Now take a moment to think about your true minimums. What do you always want with you? What routinely saves you from hassles? It’s very nice not to schlep around unnecessary weight, so don’t automatically put back in everything you were carrying before. Has your life changed such that you use different things while you’re out and about? Have you upgraded or streamlined any of your tools such that you can eliminate redundancy? Can you go to a smaller wallet or bag and lighten your load?
Set yourself up for having just what you need, both in the sense of “exactly” and “only” what you need.
Maggie Mason, when speaking on finding your passion, suggested that you ask, "What do I do when I'm sick and I have no energy to do anything and can't sleep?"
Look for the thing you'll do even when you're tired.
See where that intersects with the skills on your resume. Notice topics you keep going back to, even as other aspects of your life and career change.
It's this "core of who you are" stuff for which you want to be making space.
Here's a new year's experiment. Empty one drawer or shelf. Leave it empty.
Do the same with an hour in your calendar every week. Keep it unscheduled and available to you.
Create the openness now. Live with it a while. See what you really want to be there.