I stood in my bedroom, a pile of probably 100 shirts on the bed, along with many other pieces of clothing, reaching several feet high above the bed. I stood beside the bed with one of the shirts in hand, looking at it, then at the pile, then back at the shirt in hand, completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with shame, with anger, with stress. I was paralyzed, and couldn’t do anything. Should I keep this shirt, put it in the keep pile, or should I give it away, send it to the thrift store? What if I can’t get this type and size of shirt back again? What if I lose weight and will be able to wear it. What if I gain weight and need this other one? Total paralysis of indecision, brought on by too many decisions, one after the next. And too much deep shame brought up by seeing all the clothes I owned all together in one giant pile. When they were spread out across several drawers and closets it didn’t seem like much, but seeing every scrap of clothing all together in a pile was deeply shocking. Luckily my partner was there and encouraged me to just place the shirt down, take a break for a few minutes, be gently caressed and let my nervous system relax a few notches until I became a little more conscious.
At the end of last year I began my journey into minimalism in earnest.
This energy had been rising in me for some time – I wanted to simplify. Simplify everything. The office of the tech startup I worked at in downtown San Francisco was usually very quiet over the holiday break, hardly anyone came in, so I had set aside ten days for myself to take major action in clearing. Many of you may be familiar with Marie Kondo’s book and Netflix show on the magic of tidying up. I used her principles to tackle my clearing, addressing items category by category rather than by where things were in the apartment. So for example I tackled all the books together, all the clothes together, all the papers together.
The experience was fascinating, and immensely difficult. Clothes in particular were by far the hardest part for me. Unbelievably hard. Body shame has been a huge factor in my life, and I have gone through so many different sizes of this body, that I had a large collection of clothes that didn’t fit me. Several collections in fact, for different sizes. Generally I take what I can get, buying clothes that approximately fits me rather than really choosing clothes for enjoyment, as when I am larger as I have been for a while now, I have to go to special stores. So there was a worry of whether if I got rid of clothes would I be able to replace them.
But I got through it all – one piece of clothing at a time. Hundreds of them. It took several days. And the stress and fear became overwhelming many times. In the middle of it I could only spend about 5 minutes working before I would become overwhelmed with shame. Having my partner there for the hardest times was wonderful, he would recognize my state better than I could sometimes and would help me take a break.
But at the end I had a small, defined set of clothes, all folded and visible in my drawers, and the feeling of joy that came over me each time I went to get dressed was very uplifting. And it also gave me several empty drawers that I was able to use for other things that brought me joy. What an enormous win! And I repeated this throughout my apartment – the kitchen became completely cleared out and reflective of who I was then, not who I used to be. And I created a space for writing, a space for my blankets for sitting outside, a space for the sleeping bag I use to sleep outside on my deck. Things that reflect only who I am now, rather than the collected works of many previous versions of me.
Papers were another very challenging category to deal with. I had a filing cabinet with several drawers of papers, so physically they took up only a relatively small amount of space, but the amount of “stuff” represented inside that filing cabinet was immense. The volume was again pretty overwhelming, although by the time I tackled them I already had far more practice in releasing things. This again took many sessions to clear and clear and clear. So many past experiences brought back to mind – hard times and pleasant times. Previous relationships, houses, death, financial crises, health crises, etc. Our paper trail often documents the most intense periods of our lives. Letting go of both types – hard times and pleasant times – was probably equally challenging, but it became easier with each one that I did, shredded page by shredded page.
I made several trips to the dump and to the thrift stores, taking about 100 trash bags full out of my apartment. I would estimate this probably represents about 98% of everything I owned, which was amazing, as it didn’t seem at all a cluttered space before I started.
What I noticed from the experience
- The most impactful thing that I really noticed as each layer was physically removed from the apartment was an ever increasing clarity of vision. It was as if my sight was actually improving. By removing items from the visual field, my perception of what was left was clearer. Having more space around things, and having fewer things to place my attention on, meant that each one got more attention.
I think now of the possessions that we have, all those things that are associated with us, as a field that surrounds us. It is like a dense asteroid belt, or the rings that orbit Saturn. All the thousands and thousands of objects – kitchen utensils, pieces of paper, clothes, all the things sitting in drawers – these objects float around us, hang around in a dense field, connected to each other and to us by our energetic association with them, that creates this field. My experience as I began to thin, and then continued to further thin this field of objects, was that I could see the world with far more clarity. The world around me seemed to become very noticeably brighter and brighter as each layer of objects was removed. In a quite literal sense, the field of objects floating and moving around me grew sparser, and I could see through it better.
- And in addition, I felt a noticeable increase in my appreciation. It was quite stunning. Each time I took out items and gave them away, my appreciation for everything in life increased in leaps and bounds. After a while it sort of became a game as to how much more appreciative could I get! It never failed that the more I released the more appreciative I became.
- And as the number of things around me reduced, I began to more clearly see each one, individually rather than in clumps, and really see what it was for. For example, as I cleared out the kitchen, I picked up some plastic funnels I had purchased years before. A funnel can be a very useful object when you need it. These funnels were made in a set of three, that’s how I purchased them. But they were so close in size to each other, that in all the time I had them there was never a time when I could not have used one over the other. I’m quite sure they were manufactured and sold as a set of three because three for a dollar or two would seem like better value than just one. But because I was now really looking at each object and asking deeply whether it was needed, I could see that only one – at most one! – funnel was needed. It became a really clear example for me of how such a vast number of objects accumulates over time in our swirling object-field around us.
- Another thing I noticed was how many aspirational objects I had. By this I mean things that I had purchased with a good intent to use, but never really did. Letting go of these objects was sometimes very difficult, because letting them go was attached to letting go of the dream that I had in mind when I purchased the object. But there is a sad falsity in that frame of mind. What happens is that we get some idea of something we would like to do, which is related to some identity that we would like to associate with ourselves. A common one for me was something like skin care. I would think that I am going to be a person that takes great care of my skin, so I would go buy some moisturizer, an expensive one since they are better. I might use it for a couple of days and then it would be abandoned. Some months or years later I would again want to be that type of person, so I would go purchase another moisturizer, since the old one was probably no good any more. The truth is that the purchase itself of the object was salving the mind’s grasping towards an identity, and so once it was appeased by the purchase, using it didn’t really matter and so it fell by the wayside. This is the core of consumerism. All advertising is targeted at first creating a sense of lack, especially a lack in our identity, and then showing the product that will fill that gap.
I had quite a lot of aspirational objects, representing all sorts of dreams I had, some fleeting, some very recurrent. But I had not grasped at that time the wisdom of one of my favorite teachings of all – “Be Do Have, not Have Do Be”. In purchasing an object, the thinking is that well if I HAVE this moisturizer, then I will moisturize (DO), and then that will mean that I will BE a good person who takes care of themselves. This is a fatally flawed philosophy. The truth is that we must first shift our beliefs, our identity. We must BEcome the person we want to be, then the DOing will flow naturally, and then we will HAVE whatever it is that such a person has.
And so this was a very powerful practice, to release these aspirational objects one by one. And to understand that letting these objects go, even though I had not used them in some time, even though I had every good intent that indeed some day I would, that letting them go despite all this did not change who I am. And what I found on the other side of all that letting go was a much clearer picture of who I am. And there was so much more space for me to actually enjoy and exult in who I am. There was space for the objects that remained that were deeply associated with my current identities to be used and loved and enjoyed.
At the end of the holiday break I had an immensely scaled-down, less dense field of objects around me, and I felt beautifully clear-sighted, joyous and free. And it was a huge step in the minimization journey that continued a couple of months after that with getting rid of the next layer of “stuff”! But that’s a story for another post….
Wishing you all peace, love, joy, magic, and PLAY