personal manifesto: live uncluttered

disciplines - UC

Uncluttered: trump wastefulness

My dorm room in the residential college at university was cluttered with stuff. I liked having bits and pieces around me, symbols of things, posters, ornaments … stuff.

Maria was a minimalist. I’d never heard the word or even knew of the concept back then, but I was drawn to the simplicity of her living. If she hadn’t worn an item of clothing for a while, she would give it away. Somehow, bare rooms still had character … it was an odd and attractive characteristic.

I was slow to learn, but over the years I have loved learning the discipline of purging our lives of stuff. Books have been very important to me, so the three occasions when I have given most of my library away have been emotional. Before the days of digital music I similarly purged my record, cassette and CD collections. I am attracted to the idea, not of ‘how I could live with less?’, but with, ‘what can I not live without?’. When we moved to the Sunshine Coast a few years ago, we took some favourite kitchen equipment and personal belongings that fitted into two cars (and a caravan). We put some photo albums and kids toys in a very small storage unit and gave the rest away … a house load of furniture and memories. So liberating. It was an exercise in determining what we wanted to keep to enhance our lives, and to discard the rest, despite the financial loss.

It is hard to get unstuck when our lives are cluttered with stuff that ties us down.

Busyness is a curse. In a well lived life, it is not worn as a badge of honour. Busyness normally refers to the volume of activity relative to the allotted time, but can also describe the state of my inner world. Cluttered usually means scattered.

Paradoxically, it seems to me that the highest achievers say ‘no’ habitually, in fact they say ‘no’ most of the time. Some people say ‘no’ as a power play, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the crystal clarity that comes from determined focus; a simplicity about choices that reflect the underlying outcomes that are being pursued.

A well lived life is characterised by a determination to know the essentials and discard the rest. This commitment to embracing what can’t be lived without, is not an austere minimalism, it is a robust appreciation of what enhances ones experience of pleasure, pursuit of betterness and engagement with meaning.

I accumulate stuff relentlessly. The only antidote is to abstain from my accumulation impulses (committing to not replacing items and making purchasing decisions that will last the long haul) and then periodically doing a de-clutter. The de-clutter can be applied to stuff, to activity, to responsibilities – to anything that hinders my capacity to focus on the things that matter most to me.

The skill to effectively juggle multiple tasks, and the ability to absorb and respond to the complexity of hectic urban living is admirable. But there is an inherent attractiveness about clarity. It betrays a quality of life that charts an intentional course, one that knows where it’s going and what it needs (and doesn’t need) to get there.

Questions to help me stay uncluttered

1. What is essential for me to optimise pleasure, betterness and meaning?

2. What other things are cluttering my life? What could I get rid of?

3. What will I get rid of?