‘The more you know the less you need.’ Aboriginal saying
As our world becomes ever more complex and demanding by the day, it is clear that many people struggle with keeping on top of things. Attention-grabbing events, devices and to-do lists are so far beyond what our primitive neurology evolved to be able to handle that we now live in uncharted territory regarding the potential long- term effects. The ability to disconnect from the experience of seemingly stressful events and overload could well be the most important lessons to teach our kids in future generations. For many busy people, staying sane and thriving is a matter of getting more organised and automated. But we might also be missing a considerably more elegant and rewarding solution of reducing our external needs so that there is less to be done in the first place.
I know that when I start to daydream of living in a tropical beach hut, sleeping in a hammock and watching the sea lap against the shore that my life has become too complex.
Our dreams hold within them the very qualities that our lives are missing in the present moment. So anytime you find yourself wishing for a less complicated existence, the useful question is, how can you produce some experience of that dream, now?
There are potentially many benefits awaiting the person who simplifies their lives. Here are four for starters:
- More time: Let’s assume you step off the buyers’ treadmill and reduce your time spent shopping and consuming. Similarly you say ‘no’ to all of the people who do not enrich your experiences. You reduce your time on social media and reading about other people’s lives (including blogs like this). Maybe you get radical and sell your TV, along with all your excess stuff. Once-bulging cupboards are now neatly ordered and after a brief period of reduction, many of your previous time-consuming distractions have disappeared. The consequence? You now have time to engage in the most meaningful/fun/rewarding ways you see fit. Though, admittedly, some folks find that shopping, TV, cleaning clothes and tidying cupboards are THE most meaningful/fun/rewarding pastimes in their life. Normality can come in varying forms of insanity.
- More contentment: When we shift our perspective so that minimising is what we actively seek, we’re more likely to liberate our thoughts from discontented, ‘I can’t afford that’, or ‘I really want one of those but it’s out of my range’ to ‘I have a perfectly functional car/bike/home/husband already. If we set the intention to live with less and be more grateful for what we have, we’re far more likely to achieve the outcome of that intention. Consequently the satisfaction of achieving ‘having less’, might be more satisfying than not having the latest, newest, and shiniest of things that you keep working to get.
- More wellbeing and longevity: ‘Healthy people have many wishes, the sick have only one’. In some work cultures there seems to be an almost competitive need to be busier than the next person. But busy often comes with the experience of feeling stress (though in no way should this be a given). When our nervous system is regularly in a fight, flight or freeze mode, we may end up in a deficit of vitality. What enables us to positively respond to stress is sleep, rest and relaxation. It’s probably no coincidence that the oldest lived people in the world have not been running global empires. And even small changes can make a difference. If we minimize late-night sessions of Internet, TV, texting and stimulation and get an extra hour or two of quality sleep, get ruthless with our to-do lists by only focusing on the essential, and take time out every day to just be present to the simple pleasures, its quite likely that we will experience more simple pleasure. Not least of all the pleasure of feeling well.
- Discover more. There’s a big world out there just waiting for our attention. Likewise, there is a big world inside of us, waiting for even more. When we choose not to focus on consumption and accumulation as dominant activities, we can create the space to answer better questions, such as what’s really important to us, what are our most important values, what are our true passions, and maybe even how can we contribute to making positive change in our world, rather than just collecting stuff and a never ending stream of tasks that are often far from fulfilling?
The simple way to minimise:
On a large piece of paper/spread sheet, create three columns with the following headings:
- Essential for survival or specifically useful for a task.
- Enriches my life with beauty/pleasure/development.
- Everything else.
List all of the items and physical stuff that you own, rent or exist alongside.
List all of the main activities that you engage in each day.
Place the items or activities in one of the category columns.
Once you have audited and assuming you’d appreciate more time and freedom, what would it take to go about stopping, selling or giving away every object or activity in column three (this includes handbags and unwanted spouses/partners) that no longer benefit you in some way?
‘The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.’ Henry David Thoreau.
Or as a waiter once said to me as the table next to us left a barely drank bottle of expensive champagne, ‘some people are so poor all they have is money and stuff’.