The yogis talk about humans as having 5 layers or koshas, from the densest – the physical body – to the lightest – the bliss self or light body.
I’m thinking that maybe we have a 6th layer: all our sh*t.
Seriously. Think about how attached you are to your clothes or your photographs or your books. Or maybe it’s something else that you like to collect or surround yourself with.
I learned in my early yoga training a long time ago that every object in my living space has an energy to it. A few things are pretty neutral, a zero sum, but most of my “stuff” either gives me energy or costs me energy*.
For me, my grandmother was the first bearer of “clean-space magic”. When I was a child, every time she came to visit we’d spend a portion of our time together systematically going through my room, closet by drawer, culling whatever was outgrown or worn out and laying everything else out in neat stacks or careful rows.
The powerfully soothing effect of a room that had been nanna-fied was undeniable, even to my protesting, disorganized, 11-year-old self.
Partly due to her patient persistence (we’d have to go through this ritual several times a year!), I grew up into a reasonably organized and tidy person. Not a neat freak, but I liked things to have their places.
Buying a big house and having kids changed all that.
I don’t mean I turned into a slob overnight, but suddenly there was stuff everywhere all the time – things and things in every corner of every room. Even “mommy’s special meditation spot” usually had at least a smattering of Legos on the altar (next to my “sacred” things).
I don’t think this automatically happens because “kids need lots of stuff”. I think the outside fills up simply because when you have kids, all of life fills up. I distinctly remember my inner life feeling so crowded with noise and worries and delights and kid-calls that I almost didn’t have one of my own anymore.
Anybody else ever sit on the pot for 20 minutes when you didn’t even have to go, just for a little me time…?
I have come to believe that in cramming our spaces inside and out, our whole self gets heavier and starts to weigh us down and choke off the Flow of our vital life force – like piling cement blocks on a garden hose.
Eventually I learned that when we, as a family, had the most space and storage, we also had the most stuff. For us, reducing our living space made it profoundly easier to lighten our load. That doesn’t mean it was easy to lighten up – just that that seemed to be an important factor for our family.
It took over 10 years, a few moves and several months of travel in a small RV for me to get from “maximum stuffage” to where I am today. I haven’t transformed into a minimalist, but I can say with complete clarity and honesty that nearly everything in my possession is now my “favorite thing”.
With repeated, progressive attempts, we sold, gave away or threw away close to three quarters of our stuff and eventually moved from a 2600 square foot house with 4 levels to a 750 square foot apartment with 4 rooms. With the kids grown and living on their own, our clothes now fit into 1 bureau and 1 closet.
We also have a little vintage pocket cruiser (sailboat) to get out on the water. I traded in my mid-sized SUV for a compact hybrid C-Max (which I LOVE and call Ruby), and my husband has a work truck.
And we both feel wealthy, full and blessed beyond measure.
For us it’s been a consistent algorithm: the more we let go of on the outside, the more lightness and joy we’ve felt on the inside. It’s very clear to me that releasing all the stuff was directly connected to a greater and greater experience of spiritual opening.
But it took a looong time. And it’s still a daily effort in some ways as I actually love stuff and there’s always new stuff to be found 🙂
And dumping three quarters of your possessions is definitely not a happiness formula for everyone. In the early stages it’s not uncommon for people to feel worse, not better, when they start clearing out. Part of this may be regret about giving away some things you wish you hadn’t, but I think the bigger part is that when you make space anywhere on the outside, more “self” comes rushing in.
If your inside self is super-cluttered with worries or unresolved situations or an unrelenting schedule, then that all moves in to the newly-opened spaces and can get louder for awhile. But that’s ultimately a good thing, because now you can clearly see and feel it – it’s no longer choked off by cement blocks – so you can begin to face into it and start to make some changes.
When people find out about what we did, they always ask me if I miss anything I gave away. My answer is “yes, I missed the little rubber scraper I kept by the kitchen sink for getting gunk off my enamel non-stick pans.”
So I bought a new one. Bright pink. $1.29 at Walmart.
*This is one of the central principles of the wildly popular Marie Kondo’s brilliant organization method. In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she suggests that we should simply choose to keep the objects in our living spaces that bring us joy and get rid of (or minimalize) everything else. There’s more to it than that, but this one guiding principle has been revolutionizing the way thousands of people are thinking about their gear. I loved her book and though I didn’t follow her specific method, reading it helped me ground my conviction into deeper and deeper action.
In our final downsize move, my “system” was to go room by room and give each one a full 3 rounds. At every round I had the intention of getting rid of everything that had to go, but that didn’t actually happen until round 3. The first round was “practical” and I’d often be able to cut things by half, but in the next round I always found more “obvious” gives. It was the last round that was always the most vital, though. In round 3 I finally had “clear eyes” – I could see through my entrained ideas about what truly mattered to the final truth: this can go.