by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Throughout your day, ask, "Is this necessary for the life I want to live."
When my father was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, I found myself with the challenges of trying to sort through and organize his finances; figuring out what benefits he was getting from Medicare and the Veteran’s Administration; and cleaning through a house with 39 years of paper, knickknacks, dishes, linens and other items that my parents, as hoarders, had insisted on holding onto.
A friend suggested that I try meditation since my thoughts and energy was scattered and stressed (putting it mildly).
I’d sit down to meditate and the next thing I knew, I was cleaning the kitchen or making a phone call. Basically, I’d wandered off without really noticing what I was doing. Since sitting and noticing my breath wasn’t working for me, I started crocheting incessantly.
I treated crochet as an active meditation. I found it relaxing (I still do) and counting stitches meant I wasn’t ruminating on tasks.
Then, my husband had to retire at age 52 to go on oxygen 24/7 and we were going to doctor appointments as well as meetings so to get his disability retirement benefits. My father died leaving my brother and I to tie up the estate. I moved into my first house. And on, and on. (I crocheted A LOT.)
“If it’s not one thing; it’s another.” I heard that a lot. And, it’s true. With all the demands on our time and the things we want to accomplish, living a simpler, less cluttered, life may seem like a foolish dream.
Living a Simpler Life Isn't about Ignoring Responsibilities
It isn’t about owning and doing nothing. Living a simpler life isn’t about shirking requests for your time, energy, and attention. It’s about being more mindful and intentional about what you say yes to so you can focus on the things, people, and actions that are most important to you. (Yes, I finally learned to sit still for ten minutes and develop a meditation practice.)
At times, living a simpler life may look like moving nonstop to do those things that are essential to your values. Sometimes, changing your attitude, from feeling as if you're being dragged around by your circumstances to noticing that you're making choices can help you realize you're on the right path.
So, how can you simplify when you have more on your schedule that sitting at the coffee shop for the morning or going to the beach?
Simplify by Forming Habits and Routines - Although habits and routines sound boring and limiting, they save you time and energy. You don’t waste the mental energy on less important decisions such as what you’re going to have for breakfast or what you’re going to wear.
Simplify by Decluttering – When you declutter physical items from your home, you’re also creating limits. “No, I’m not going snowshoeing ever again; no, I don’t plan or rereading those books; I’m done with knitting; I’m no longer hosting dinner parties that require that I own place settings for sixteen.”
Simplify by Clarifying How You Want to Spend Your Time - Stuff is often connected to actions, how you once spent your time (or how you thought you’d spend your time). Clearing physical objects helps you clarify what you don’t want to do with your time. You then have the space and time to explore.
Living a Simpler Life Is about Making a Daily Decision to Simplify
In retrospect, I think that if I'd gone through the situations with my father and my husband from the perspective that I was choosing to do these things instead of feeling as if I was being forced to act, I would have felt less stress. It's one of the reasons I focus on clearing clutter and distractions from my life now. My life might not look simple, but I'm committed to acting with more intention.
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You won’t end the year sprawled on the beach without a care in the world, but I do hope that you’ll clear objects that no longer have meaning and use for you; you’ll develop habits that save you from making decisions that senselessly wear away your energy; and you’ll have more time for the people and activities most important to you.
The Organized Squirrel, Susan, shows you how acorns (small habits) can grow into oak trees (a better life).