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We all know how good it feels to open a wardrobe and be able to easily see everything inside it, or to sit at a desk that isn’t cluttered with papers. On the flipside, do you remember the last time you walked into your kitchen after someone else had been cooking to find dirty pots and pans everywhere?
How did that make you feel seeing that chaotic kitchen? For many of us, that scene (even thinking about it) can create anxiety and stress. Yes, we know (or at least hope) that he or she will tidy and clean it all up but the mess makes for a pretty tense moment where you may have to exhibit a great degree of stress control until it is resolved.
Over the past several years, the trend of minimalism has taken hold in the mainstream. Television shows feature people downsizing to smaller houses or doing away with a large chunk of their material belongings. Social media accounts focus on tips for paring down.
It’s no wonder that there is increased contentment associated with less ‘stuff’. Evolutionarily our ancestors owned considerably less than we do now – a chaotic home filled with ‘things’ contributes to our own disorganisation.
This may be contributed to by the fact that ‘stuff’ contributes to our mental load. Yes, we may love a given sweater or a piece of art hanging on the wall but when we form an attachment to so many different objects, is that attachment healthy for our soul? Are ‘things’ really what we should be so fond of, rather than people, relationships and our own wellbeing?
Parenting experts have started to exalt the need for children to have less stuff and fewer activities and instead to focus their energy on uninterrupted and unstructured play.1
How many of your things in your home do you rarely or never use? Taking a weekend to go through your things to determine whether you still truly need or want them can help you decrease your clutter and help reduce stress levels. If you can’t stand the thought though or don’t know where to begin, you could hire a professional organiser to come to your home and help you sort through and categorise all your things with, or for you.
Famously Marie Kondo first wrote a book and then was featured on an internationally successful television show during which she worked with various people to sort through their things.2 The beauty of the show is that these were ordinary humans, not just people who hoarded due to their mental perspective. Many of us could relate to several of the real-life people featured.
Capsule wardrobes have been trending in the eco- and ethical fashion realm for the past several years. The basic premise is to curate a small wardrobe full of high-quality clothes that are classic and the pieces all mix and match. Pinterest, blogs and Instagram accounts are great places to look in order to get started. Some wardrobes are as small as ten pieces for year-round use!
If whittling down to a dozen items of clothing seems a bit much or if you don’t like the idea of only having a couple of colours of clothes in your wardrobe, then consider another activity. Similar to Kondo’s “does it spark joy?” practice, try on every single piece of clothing you own and look in the mirror to see if it sparks joy. We can see a skirt or a dress jacket on the rack and love it. But do we love it as much when we see it on ourselves? If it doesn’t spark joy, put it in the charity shop pile.
Decluttering our social lives may be a daunting task, while many of us may have the opposite concern of loneliness. But taking an inventory of our social engagements and friendships can clear our calendar for more soul-enriching activities (stay in and read by candlelight anyone?) and help us focus on the relationships that truly reduce stress levels and feed our soul. One idea is to only go out once or twice during the workweek. If you give yourself a limit, you will be more selective over where you choose to go and who you choose to see.
Children of all ages, but particularly young ones, need unstructured, uninterrupted play.3 What that means is that they have space to create and imagine with their toys (or household items, or nature or the boxes that the toys came in!) without an adult coming in and placing their expectations on the child. When an adult gives an item (toy, tool, etc.) to a child and tells or shows them how to use it, the child is limited by these rules, whereas on their own they may come up with different ways to use or play with the item.
It can be hard to know whether we should hold on to something we use perhaps only once or twice a year. Take the examples of your fondue set you got for your wedding or the ice cream maker you bought several summers ago with the determination to make culinary desserts. Do you really need them?
If you have a good relationship with some of your neighbours or with a close-knit group of friends, discuss the idea of group ownership of some items. Exchange the use of that fondue pot or ice cream maker to whoever participates in the group share. They may have something you would like to use occasionally too but not enough to justify buying it. Maybe you could use someone’s tall ladder for your yearly roof gutter clean-up? Or you could use the lace tablecloth that someone owns for that once-a-year special dinner party you host.
Try to think of minimising less as taking something away but more of ridding yourself of things to feel better in the long-term. It could be considered as the intermittent fasting of materialism. People who practice intermittent fasting attest that the human body evolved and thrived during times of extended hunger and then followed with satiation. Food was not always in abundance, particularly sugar and sweets. Similarly our ancestors lived with less stuff in order to focus their energies (as well as their resources) on more important needs.
When it comes to stress control, having less ‘things’ could just well be the key.
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