The past few weeks have been amongst the most stressful of my life. Even if I weren’t feeling the effects in poor sleep and a general sense of bleurgh, I could measure it by that universal stress barometer – packets of Tim Tams consumed. I find Tim Tam therapy, where you discuss your feelings with a plate of Tim Tams, to be highly effective. No judgment. Unconditional chocolate. Or love. Which is the same thing, really.
Anyway, these last weeks have been an introvert’s nightmare.
It all began when we decided to sell our apartment. Because of several factors – spring being a good time, advice from property people, a complete failure to take reality into account – we decided to do it very quickly.
There ensued a head-spinning maelstrom of tradespeople to paint, re-carpet, change tapware, complete repairs, clean, spruce, refresh, style, photograph, and generally transform our apartment into a sparkling, updated version of itself. You can just picture the makeover montage with upbeat soundtrack, right?
Much of this process has been horrible for my home-loving, easily overwhelmed, extreme-introvert personality – strangers traipsing through my home, unbelievable amounts of dirt left by tradespeople, countless decisions to be made, endless costs, numerous phone calls ?, disruption to routines and comforts, paint fumes, allergic reactions to cleaning products (I currently have 3 separate rashes), poor sleep, physical exhaustion.
There’s also been the added stress of wondering whether people attending the open-for-inspections are peeking inside my cupboards and judging me for my apocalypse-ready stashes of chocolate, sweet potato crisps, and wine.
But amid the awfulness, one thing has been a delight.
No, more than that.
One thing has brought a joy that is profound, and honestly, unhyperbolically life-changing.
That one thing is stripping down our possessions.
I’d been wanting to declutter for a while, but something about the idea of leaving this apartment where we’ve lived for nearly two decades made me go extreme.
I didn’t just get rid of surplus stuff, unworn clothes, and busted appliances. I released entire lifestyles, whole classes of things, complete suites of furniture and everything that went in them.
And through the process I had several epiphanies that convinced me I was doing the right thing.
Here were my 4 lightbulb moments.
Epiphany 1: We Only Need Stuff For The Life We Want To Live
What do I mean by that?
For example, we had stuff for the lifestyle where we entertained.
When we were first married and I was still caught in the trap of doing things I thought were expected of me, we entertained a lot. This required multiple ranges of glassware, mugs, crockery, serving dishes, different-sized bowls, napery, a large buffet to store it all in, and most of all – an ability to spend hours at a time gritting my teeth and internally screaming.
But now we entertain rarely, and when we do have people over it’s casual and our everyday stuff is quite lovely and perfectly suitable.
Craig drinks scotch and I drink
great vats of a very occasional red wine and these are the only special-purpose glassware we need.
So that other life… gone. *puff*
I also had stuff for the lifestyle where I was a businessperson. I am literally yawning as I type this.
I had business books and folders of notes from training courses. I had uptight little outfits suitable for business events. I had a Herman Miller built-in workstation that was so cubicle-esque you could almost hear the pointy-haired boss talking about deliverables going forward. Totally corporate-looking. Totally not-me.
These were all vestiges of the days when I thought I was a businessperson who wrote.
But over the years I’ve realised I’m a writer who has a business – or will eventually when Louder Minds becomes whatever it’s going to become.
Now I learn things as I need to know them. I have outfits that are relaxed but perfectly fine for the occasional business thing I attend. When we move I’ll get a desk that suits me and feels more like a creative workspace and less like a Dilbert cube.
So that other life… happily, joyfully gone. *puff*
Epiphany 2: Keeping Things For Later Stops Me Acting Now
Another epiphany I had during my declutter was this: saving things for later stops me getting their benefit now.
For example: books. As I read, I used to highlight good ideas and dog-ear important things to act on.
But in all my decades of reading books and highlighting and dog-earing, I have never gone back and looked through these reminders.
And there’s something more.
The idea that I can go back later? That stops me doing anything now. By keeping the book for action one day, I let myself get away with changing nothing today.
Now, I’m already reading differently. If I see something I want to look up, or do, or whatever, I make a note on a post-it. In the morning (I read at night in bed) I stick the post-it in my diary and it becomes a to-do item immediately.
Now, once I’ve finished a book, I will actually be finished with the book. That feels… different. And lighter.
Hmmm, the present. It’s a place I’m hoping to spend a lot more time.
Epiphany 3: I Will Need Some Of This Stuff, But I Don’t Know What
As I released so much stuff from our home, I started to worry we might need things I was jettisoning with gay abandon. By which I mean, with hairbrush microphone in hand and Gloria Gaynor playing loudly in the background.
Until I had my third
glass of red epiphany.
Of course we’d need some of these things. No doubt about it. That tall vase or the really long extension cord or whatever. But when I thought about it, I figured there might be, say, 10 things we’d miss. Only we couldn’t know which 10 items they’d be.
And that realisation made the choice easy…
Would I rather keep all this stuff for the few things I would need again, or simply buy those particular 10 items as they were needed?
Would I rather pay for storage – both in physical terms of needing more space, as well as psychological clutter – or pay for occasional replacement items?
So all the stuff has now gone. I’m curious to see which items we end up missing – and happy to enjoy all the extra physical and mental space in the meantime.
Epiphany 4: The World Has Changed – Time To Catch Up
I had the most organised, tidy, colour-coded filing system. But I created it in the days when the only way to look something up was to go through your paper statements. You guys, I’m talking about pre-internet!
This antediluvian method of keeping records required a most heinous monstrosity of ugliness: a filing cabinet. *shudder*
So I extracted the really important documents – wills, passports, insurance policies, tasting notes on a recent wine purchase. I released the remaining reams of paper-cuts-in-waiting to be shredded. I set free the filing cabinet to blight some other poor person’s home.
We also had shelves of CDs and DVDs. A few were rescued – my boxed sets of art documentaries, some beloved DVDs of Craig’s – but in an age of Netflix and iTunes, the rest could be released.
Books have been harder. I’ve not made the transition to e-reader and I’m one of those people who gets tactile pleasure and psychological comfort from the look and feel and smell of books. We had a beautiful set of bookcases, an entire wall of books – now we’ve each kept only the books we’re currently using and a few more that are special.
The loss of all our books has been a little sad. But my new present-focussed approach to reading has made this easier, too.
With the cloud and streaming and everything online, it makes good sense to only keep physical versions of the essentials. Much easier to search for things, too.
The Joy Of Less
As an introvert I’m easily overstimulated and I’ve always taken pleasure in simplicity and minimalism. But this radical declutter has been on another level – it’s brought so much joy and been like a balm for my soul.
And the 4 epiphanies I’ve described have made it a simple decision to pare down our possessions to a fraction of what they were.
We now take pleasure in opening closets and cupboards and seeing… space. Of having fewer pieces of furniture because there’s so much less to put in them.
But even more wonderful than the liberated space has been the psychological benefits…
The shifting more into the present moment. That’s kind of freaked me out, in a good way.
The release of formats that are out of date. That has felt truly liberating.
The giving up of lifestyles that just aren’t who we are anymore. That has been nothing short of a thrill.
If you’ve been thinking about simplifying your life, of going minimal, then I encourage you to take the step. Especially if you’re an easily overwhelmed introvert, you will feel liberated by less. I promise – you will feel joy.
I hope my 4 epiphanies help you along the way.