When Less Is More
March 8, 2016
Transitioning to Transit
March 8, 2016

Culling the Past

Opening image for article in AARP Magazine on the social and psychological effects of clutter in the home.

Dr. Andrew Thorn explores why, when it comes to the “stuff” we surround ourselves with, sometimes less really is more.

BY: Dr. Andrew Thorn, Ph.D.

Here we are again. Staring in the face of a brand new year and wondering what we might do to create greater happiness and well-being as we move forward.

While many of our thoughts are focused on the future, we know it is also a good time to pause and consider what keeps us from getting what we want. Through this exercise we might discover that there is some tidying up that needs to be done.

But, before we can resolve to be better, we must let go of what is holding us back. The resolution of current and past affairs creates order, and illuminates the potential offered by our brightest future.

This year, Stacy and I are facing the challenge of letting go in a very real and significant way. We are getting ready to move.

We have lived in the same house for 25 years. This stability has resulted in an incredible accumulation of stuff, most of which we no longer need.

Our stuff makes our house feel cluttered and disorganized. We have thought many times about thinning things out, but a lack of urgency and an abundance of new storage techniques always kept that project waiting for another day. We can no longer put it off. We must engage now.

The more we examine what must be done in our living space to make it attractive for someone else, the more we discover the psychological connection we have to what is currently being stored in our home. A big part of our identity is found in our dwelling place. We collected all of these things because at one point, they made us feel connected to life. Each piece is a nostalgic reminder of the past. We may have forgotten that it exists, but as soon as we touch it, the meaning flows back into our present. As we seek to clean, sort, eliminate, gift and preserve, we realize that we have too much. If everything is meaningful, then nothing has meaning.

This act of cleansing brings much anxiety as we deal with the emotions of turning the page and moving on to a new way of living. Yes, the future calls us with great purpose, but the past feels comfortable and lived in. We know we can survive in this place—the uncertainty that waits, however, is not so reassuring. Yet, we are compelled to move on. Something new is pulling us out of our comfort zone, and we must heed its call.

A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming. You don’t have to be moving to experience this transformation. Cleaning up your living space may be one of the most exciting adventures awaiting you.

I know I have personally run away from this challenge many times. Maybe you have too. There are some common thoughts that prevent me from engaging: “I can’t do this alone. This is not my mess. I don’t have time to start and finish today. I don’t know where to begin. I am not ready to let go.” All of these thoughts are running through my mind. They are debilitating.

The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue. When our living space is clean and uncluttered we have no choice but to examine our inner state. This is why we avoid it. We don’t want to know what is really going on in the living space we call our brain. The stuff we keep around us keeps us focused on the unimportant.

Cleaning up is merely an event or a tool, not the final destination. The true goal is to identify and establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.

Now, I see the connection between an organized living space and the life I hope to enjoy in 2016. I want a simpler life. I want to spend my time living instead of taking care of stuff I no longer need.

Our pending move is calling us to action. As I sit and examine each saved item, I am also examining my own existence. I realize that simplicity is a voluntary action that cannot be thrust upon me by someone else.

Simplicity is a discipline that results in greater levels of personal freedom. Masses of things that are not needed complicate life. They must be sorted and stored, dusted and resorted and stored again. These required actions lead to a busy life and the busyness of life often prevents us from being available for the things that really matter.

Simplicity is about choosing the authentic life that we are meant to live. It means shedding obligation and pretension. It means spending our time, energy and money, in ways that sustain us, instead of drain us. It means being intentional about what we do, who we are and how we live.

As we move forward into this new year I invite you to pause and consider the things, (both personal behaviors and belongings) that must be left on the side of the road in the name of quality.

As you do so, you might want to ask, “What can I let go of that will simplify my life?”

Doing this means that you are choosing to let go, instead of having things taken away from you when you are too old or too tired to hold onto them any longer. These acts of voluntary release will keep you focused on growing whole instead of growing old. Now that, is resolution worth pursuing.

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