My Digital Declutter Experience
I began a digital declutter on January 1st. This experience was offered by the writer and professor, Cal Newport. In his book “Deep Work,” Cal tells us that the internet and addictively designed social media apps are robbing of us our time and making us unable to concentrate. These products are robbing our ability to work and think deeply, and affecting our ability to pay attention and be productive.
In yoga, the concept of Dharana is one of the eight limbs. Dharana is our ability to concentrate the mind on a thought or task as preparation for meditation. As I thought about digital clutter, I thought on the many times I have found myself wasting time scrolling on social media, or browsing the internet when I could have been doing something more productive. As I read “Deep Work,” I started to realize that these seeming harmless apps may be causing much more harm than I thought. If you are interested in learning more, you can watch his Tedtalk or, I suggest you too read the book as I won’t go into all those details here. When Cal offered a test group to participate in a January “Digital Declutter” I took the plunge and unplugged.
He gave us many choices for participation. I opted to completely stay away from all social media. For me that meant absolutely no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. FB and IG are my two big online apps. I removed all notifications from my phone so it wasn’t buzzing at me all day. I have been checking email regularly (that means several times a day, completely off by 7-8 PM each night). I feel that email is an area I could work on for myself, checking less frequently.
I use Facebook for a lot of promotional work for my home studio, classes, trainings, and special events. using their “Create Event” feature. Inevitably, event promo leads to needless scrolling and wasting of time. People do sometimes get in touch with me about classes through my studio page on FB. So this is my biggest area of struggle. I have not been on to check this at all and I do have some studio events coming up that I am not posting about. I do worry just a little bit that I am missing out on some dialogue and promo. But I am not worried enough to break this peaceful session away from distraction.
Benefits and Joys
I must say that I am actually enjoying this time away from social media; I am enjoying being more intentional with my online use. I love my head space right now! At first, I had this brief twitch whenever I turned on the computer to go check my page. But now I don’t even want to check. In fact, I am not looking forward to going back to these services once January is over! I enjoy not having to bother with those sites at all. AND, I am making TONS of art in between my teaching responsibilities- putting in 2-5 hours per day painting. I am thrilled with how frequently I am painting! I feel like I am being much more intentional and useful with my time.
My thoughts on going forward are to only allow myself to use social media once per week, strictly for promo and communication. I thought to myself, I use an online accounting service to log my income and expenses, why not think of social media like that? I don’t desire to use my accounting service more than once per week. Social Media should be a tool to help me promote when needed, but I suspect I can use it far less and still be effective. We shall see what happens.
I seek a sweet inner quiet space. I seek a time for deep reflection and deep creative, reflective, and spiritual work. I desire to spend time being creative and to cultivate connections with care and attention. I am participating in a January “digital declutter”. I hope to spend time each day out in nature and to be fully present with my family and loved ones, to not be distracted by tech devices plinking away with texts and mindless use of my precious time. I have already stepped back from social media use and it has left me with a much better sense of self and mind.
I will be stepping away from all social media use during the month of January and I will engage in limited technology use. I will check email, manage this website, and you may contact me here. I will also send a few hand written, and even typewriter typed, letters during the month of January. Remember when we had penpals? It may be time to return to that level of connection and attention.
I hope to do some deep work in this quiet time away from draining distractions. After January, I will revisit my usage and decide how to best move forward.
Be well, and use your precious time with great care.
“We breathe, we pulse, we regenerate. our hearts beat, our minds create, our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds well used is a lifetime.” ~Mr. Magorium
“May I have the courage today
to live the life I would love
to postpone my dream no longer to do at last what I came here for & waste my heart on no more fear.”
~John O Donohue
You who are reading this now — know that my wish and prayer for you in the New Year is for you to approach your life with courage and strength of heart. I pray that you will energize the will and determination of your fire center to make the life you have longed for and dreamed about. As we have turned the corner on the darkest days, use this growing light to set your seeds of new intention and inspiration. Create the life you have longed to live. Let go of what is not serving you. What would it look like if those things holding you back were no longer there? What would your ideal day and your ideal life look like? How could your life be simpler and more easeful? What is one step you can take today to move yourself in that direction? What can you do tomorrow to continue that journey?
May you have courage as you enter this New Year.
For The Love of Stuff
Over the past month, Josh and I spent nearly every day either packing up every item we own into a box, or deciding it was no longer needed and was to be recycled or junked. Every single item in our house. Luckily we had been downsizing and decluttering since we returned from India in March of 2014. We had reduced our book collection by 3/4, our clothes by about the same, and had removed many furniture items, children’s toys, and so much more. We thought we wouldn’t have too much to move and we didn’t have that many “things” left. Well, nothing brings the reality of your belongings right up in your face as much as having to pack them all up and move them.
After we packed, over the course of just under two weeks, we moved 98% of our possessions into a 16′ x 17′ storage unit. We are staying with family while we continue our house hunt. Moving your belongings into storage is a humbling, and very tiring, experience. Most of our belongings are sitting in a quiet and lonely storage facility. At least there is central air. Josh has said he has dreams of taking everything out of the unit and reorganizing it so it is packed more neatly. That is about the last thing I want to do! But I do think about certain items that would be better served by moving them on than by continuing to store them. I think when we finally get to taking them out of the unit, I might have two piles: one to keep, one to get rid of.
Why do we love our stuff so much? What drives us to purchase and keep so many things, from big furniture and appliances to little trinkets and items that we never use or don’t really need? What are we really holding onto? When I think about the energy and resources that go into making all these items, creating facilities to sell them, and then moving them about, I wonder what we are really trying to do. There are about 400 storage units in the facility we are using, and 90% of them are full. Our society is drowning in its own stuff, and we are stripping the earth of its resources just to spend more money on more things that we do not really need.
Sure, I recognize that we do actually use some of these items, and that some items may improve our quality of life or even be very necessary. But then I think about other countries where they make do with very little resources and seem to get by just fine. Maybe there is a middle ground out there? Maybe we could find a way to manage with just a little of what we need — think of all the time we would save by not purchasing, fixing, storing, and moving all of those unnecessary items. Maybe we could start examining what it is we own, what it really costs us, other cultures, and the planet to have those items, and perhaps start to envision a new way?
Let me ask you: When was the last time you went through every item you owned and questioned its true need and value?
Minimalism and Mindfulness.
I might be tempted to call myself a minimalist. Yet, I still want things. I still crave and feel discontent. My home has many belonging and I haven’t emptied out all my closets. I hope to be satisfied with what is, yet find myself curious about what might be better. I find myself in shops and stores, making purchases when I already have similar items at home. I try to make certain that I remove from the home the same number of items I bring in, a sort of net zero shopping experience, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, that tiny space of continued longing remains. Perhaps it is my own personal struggle, those more successful or better stationed might not find these moments in their lives. But I suspect that there are far more people who strive for minimalism and find they struggle (however they might define the words “minimalism” and “struggle”) than there are people who feel success at minimalism, have mastered discontent, and no longer want for anything.
How do we navigate this seemingly human need to seek, improve, create, and accumulate? It can be all too easy to feel like we are swimming in the outcome and effects of our wants (the clutter and more stuff) but also the wants themselves (never being happy, always seeking the next moment, the next thrill). Where is the midpoint? Minimalism is not about emptiness. It isn’t about negating the natural urges, it doesn’t have to be about stifling needs and getting rid of things you enjoy. Instead I would say there is a mindful “less-ness” to minimalism. A slow sloughing off, a carving away of what is unnecessary. When practiced regularly, minimalism engages our awareness and practice of mindfulness in a way that extends beyond a 10 minute meditation. It takes the practice of mindfulness into our daily living and asks us to think about our actions and choices.
How to be mindful
A few years ago, I noticed a post on social media where someone asked: “What the hell is mindfulness suppose to be? I think it’s a complete waste.” I was immediately drawn to attention. It feels like my duty to explain to others what mindfulness is and to convince others of its importance. As I recall, I didn’t do a very good job at explaining or convincing. I don’t think the person wanted an explanation. But the question remained in my mind. What is mindfulness suppose to be? To be mindful is simply to be aware of our thoughts and actions, and to take steps to build and spread that awareness. This is a process that grows over time, and like any skill, one that requires practice and patience.
We might begin to practice mindfulness by simply noticing a habit. I think most of us are aware of habits that do not serve us. Maybe we have a habit of snacking when we are not hungry, or shopping for shoes or sweaters to feel happy, or buying one more book we may never read. Maybe the habit is to look at social media while we are in the middle of a project, or to scroll online for no apparent reason. These habits may not be directly harmful- but they are a bit mindless, and they could be harmful. They are distractions from responsibilities or problems that require our attention. When we first notice these habits we might feel guilt and the inability to change anything about them.
But noticing and being aware of the distraction is the very first step in mindfulness. Once you know there is an issue, you can make a plan. Maybe I am sure to only have healthy snacks around, or I know that I will start to feel hungry at a certain time and a cup of hot tea might divert the need to snack. Perhaps instead of buying new clothes and shoes, I take inventory of what I already have and make certain I don’t go into the store (its easier to avoid the store than it is to not buy once in the store). Perhaps I try to fit in visits to the library so I can browse as many books as I like and I return them once I am done. Or perhaps, you notice the urge of wanting, whatever it is, and you simply sit with that want for a bit, you take a few deep breaths, and in time you observe its transience. These actions can be effective steps to stop or redirect the mindless habits, and in turn the habits becomes less mindless. Now, this stage can take diligence and there will likely be setbacks. But remind yourself that this is a practice, not a perfection.
Mindfulness and minimalism are perfect companions. They are the natural outcomes of one another. Through taking inventory and redirecting, not just with physical items but also with habit patterns, we become more mindful of our actions and perhaps in time we can find a deeper contentment. The work of mindfulness and minimalism is to find more joy in what we already have, to shave off what is simply a distraction and isn’t really needed, to see and feel the contentment of life’s small and simple pleasures.
What is one step you can take to begin this journey?
*Photo credit: Tammy Strobel, Rowdy Kittens
This past week was full, with both leisure time, work, and planning. We celebrated a birthday for Josh, I dealt with preparations for my 2 teacher training program weekends coming up, and worked on organizing sharing our big events hosting Swami Gurusharanananda in just a few weeks. I like to stay inspired by my rural world and the world at large so I keep note of inspiring moments. Here are five inspiring moments from my week:
1. The Standing Rock Protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. If you haven’t heard about it, read this article by Bill McKibben.
And if you feel moved to help this cause, if water, air, and land are important to you, Donate $5 to the Standing Rock Reservation.
2. Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens. She lived in a tiny house for a while, and now blogs about living big with a small impact. In part, this post is inspired by her emails. I hope to continue to include regular inspiring moment lists.
3. Because of a post by Tammy, I was inspired to create a “What I’m Doing Now” list. It is a post on my blog. I encourage you to make your own list, read more about why it’s a good idea.
4. Project 333. I’ve talked about it before, and now one year after learning about it I am finally, actually, following through. Thirty three articles of clothing, for 3 months. Think about it…
More reasons why we should simplify
5. “Eating You Alive” looks like an interesting movie. Check out the trailer.
There was a lot more that caught my eye this week. But one can only take in so much information at a time. If you feel moved, share one thing that inspired you in the comments below.