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.
Hi, I’m Angie. We are selling our house and home based studio. All studio classes will end, and Angie will be on a partial sabbatical, cutting back on her weekly teaching and offerings. She will continue to run her teacher training program.
- Teaching 1 weekly yoga class
- Organizing and leading a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Programs
- Monthly Kirtan and Studio Events- no more than 2 per month, ideally 1
- Maintaining two websites and blogs: The one you are reading now, and my art site.
- Opening a new yoga studio in Brownsville, VT! Classes Start September 9!
- Writing projects: YTT manual, daily writing, monthly newsletters, guest posts, etc…
- Art Making: Creating and making in my art studio each week: Finding show exhibition opportunities
- Driving my two teen daughters to and from school, and tending to their various activities
- Tending to the needs of my home, husband, and family
- Making time to hike and walk outdoors
Inspired by a post by Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens, I decided to make a list of my current projects. This originated with Derek Silvers who encourages everyone to make a “NOW” page. This list will help me to stay focused, and it will be a reminder of my need to say “no” to things that are not in support of this list in an effort to simplify my life.
I will update this list as events change, and I refine my projects and goals.
Thanks! Share your own NOW page with me below!
Mid Summer is a time of Nature’s joyful enthusiasm. Gardens are at peak. Flowers bloom at all colors, bees, bugs, and butterflies flutter about all day long. Sitting outside in the sun or shade can rejuvenate your soul. There is a deep whispering peace that we soak in at this time. Our yoga practice emulates this joy in the many shapes and postures that are inspired by the natural world. By taking on these shapes, we invoke the many myriad qualities of nature’s joy.
Let this joyful abundance seep into your pours from all around. Approach each new day with warmth, calm, new beauty, and and unrolling in glorious exuberance. May your practice renew your joy each day. Expand deeply into the breath like a soft summer breeze. Feel grounded in your seat like an old oak tree. As you rise, float into the space like a winged creature in air.
John Muir Poem
My first Summer in Sierra
“How deep our sleep last night in the mountain’s heart, beneath the trees and stars, hushed by solemn-sounding waterfalls and many small soothing voices in sweet accord, whispering peace!
And our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless, -how immeasurable it seems, how serenely wild! I can scarcely remember its beginnin. Along the river, over hills, in the ground, in the sky, summer work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, – new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.”
A valuable lesson taught to my by one of my beloved teachers has been that we can not make up lost time. We often struggle and worry over loss of money. But the truth is, we can make up the loss of money. It is possible to make more money at another time, or to save it up. But we can not make up for the loss of time. We can not save up time. When you miss out on an event or opportunity, you simply miss out. There is no going back. I like to believe I live my life fully, but I am certainly prone to the money vs. time conflict. My biggest regrets have always been when I chose to not do something because it was “too much money right now,” or “maybe I can do it later.” Then that “later” never came. My greatest joys in my life have been when I trusted in my path and chose to live in the moment, to make the best of my allotted time.