Less can lead you to a more meaningful life
Ryan Summerlin March 7, 2014
It’s in our nature to collect things. We’ve been doing it for tens of thousands of years. It started harmlessly enough: some kindling, a throwing stone, a hollowed-out coconut, a club made from zebra bone, perhaps a scrap of fur to throw over ourselves at night. These things were practical, useful and worth carrying about. Then people started staying put. We began harvesting plants, building small brick huts, and breeding animals, all requiring various implements, or as the French would say, accoutrements. After a while, we grew tired of sleeping with our rudimentary gardening contraptions, the tools to form bricks, and cutting utensils used for our animal butchery. So, people invented junk drawers, storage sheds and plastic bins to contain it all. We and our increasingly advanced cerebral cortexes have never looked back.
Our taste for the minutia of collectables has evolved a bit since then, but not much. In standard primate fashion, we still gather the useful bits that float by. Trash bag ties, rubber bands, dead batteries, lint rollers, lip gloss, and broken flashlights. We hide away board games, sporting goods and electronics, and their respective accessories, from every genre and era since grade school. We stockpile cassette tapes, toothbrushes, worn socks, knitted scarfs, and spandex pants as though they could be eaten in an apocalyptic scenario, perhaps in a not too distant future. Our consumer-centric culture has us amassing obscene quantities of everything from the destructive to the irrelevant, so much so that we have collectively manifested a $22 billion industry dedicated to locking our personal collection of things in big metal boxes, where they remain conveniently out of our way, indefinitely. In grotesque fashion, we more commonly dump our things out of sight into endless seas of landfill and oceans desperately clinging to life.
A natural instinct for survival has become a manic fascination that often leads to a distinct sensation analogous to drowning. At one time or another, we have used the euphemism, “drowning in stuff.” Thinking about the tragedy of that statement, when was the last time we stopped to consider, how did we let it get this far? How did we lose sight of the value in ourselves, irrespective of the sprawling volume of shoes, Tupperware and television channels at our disposal? To figuratively suffocate in a heap of unopened mail, work projects, antique sewing parts, or VHS tapes, all while desperately searching for the car keys, is to understand the burden of this fixation. When the tangible clutter in our space overcomes our ability to think clearly, to reason on our own behalf, at the expense of our relationships, our families, our very sanity, we begin to understand the value of less.
Less. Not a word typically spoken with trendy acclaim, not even with the advent of home improvement reality television. I challenge you to evaluate your relationship to the stuff in your space. Are there spaces in your home you avoid because you know what sleeps in the darkness? Do you neglect the relentless embankment of bills growing on your kitchen counter? Have your children routinely misplaced assignments mysteriously lost to the void of their cavernous book bags? Has the quality output of your business or organization inexplicably plateaued under the weight of inefficiency and complacency? If you find that you are uninspired by your spaces, that you lack intentional systems designed to simplify and streamline productivity, that you are unable to implement your schedule with precision and reliability — less may be your solution.
When we simplify our world, our existence, the scope of our being down to the most fundamental essence of who we want to be and what we want to do in this lifetime, the weight and value of our things tends to fall away. When we simplify our stuff, we make room for a more meaningful life.
— Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email Evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com.