Zen And The Art Of Decluttering

Article in the Mindscape Section of the March 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

A friend of mine who lived in my city for several years, recently shifted back to her country and I was at the cusp of the shifting process. It was shocking to see how much stuff someone can have with them that they might never use and sometimes have never used at all. One of the interpretations of the Pareto principle says that 80% of the time, we might keep wearing just 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes. I think this pretty much applies to all other things that we stock up for eternal non usage. In my view, decluttering is not just about getting rid of junk but it is also about getting rid of your baggage. Here is how you could go about doing it in a progressive fashion.

First, start by looking into your shelves, wardrobes, attics, draws, lofts and closets. Take out everything that you haven’t used in a year and are not likely to use in the next year and put it into a large bag that will form part of the junk that is “to be disposed”. Keep doing this till you can’t find anything that falls under the “to be disposed” category. Then get rid of that bag by selling the stuff in it, donating it to an orphanage or giving it to someone who you think might need it. This is not a suggestion to get rid of something really precious like your ancestral family jewelry or something like your wedding gown that has real sentimental value even if you might never wear it ever again. If you’re one of those people who treats every pin and empty perfume bottle like it was your wedding gown, then try this. Take out those things that you are trying to hold on to anyway and put them into a “to be disposed” bag. Zip up this bag and keep it aside for six months. In six months if you never use any of the things in that bag, then without a second thought, pick up that bag and get rid of it. If you did use any of the things in the bag in six months, then keep just those things aside for later disposal. While getting rid of useless things is just the first step, it’s a great way of not just clearing up physical space in your house but also mental space in your head. It’s like the difference between sitting at an over cluttered and dusty desk versus sitting at an organized and clean desk. Decluttering actually helps you think more clearly.

The second step of decluttering is to look at how you spend your time throughout the day. Stop doing all those things that you do that have no meaning or purpose and don’t add any kind of value to your life. Whether it is talking on the phone unnecessarily, mindless watching of television or channel surfing, cyber loafing and just jumping from one website to another, or checking out what everyone under the sun is up to on Facebook. Just stopping these activities will free out time to do the things that really matter to you, that make you feel good and ones that actually add value to your life.

Thirdly, start decluttering people. We all have people in our lives who really matter to us and who care and reciprocate our feelings and gestures toward them. They are the ones you should be spending most of your time with. Scan your life and identify those people who you might be talking to or interacting with on a regular basis, but who are absolutely wastes of your time. There could be people who just talk to unload their burdens on you, there are some who call you only when they need something and are never there for you when you need them and some others who want someone to while away their time with and in the process sap your energy dry. The idea is not to call these people up and severe all relationships with them in one shot. Rather than pulling the plug abruptly, slowly stop entertaining them and keep your interaction with them to the minimum. This will either keep them at that minimum interaction level or cause them to fade away on their own.

If you’ve managed to do this much, then you’ve really made headway and I’m sure the quality of your life would have increased several fold. Just to add some whipped cream and cherry to your decluttering exercise, you could also try mental decluttering. Watch your thoughts throughout the day and start to identify all the useless, unproductive and unconstructive thoughts that you have. If you like, you could start journaling your habitual thoughts through the day. After a couple of days, if you look back at what you’ve captured you’ll clearly be able to identify the useless and unsupportive thoughts that you are indulging in. This self-awareness really helps because then, every time you catch yourself thinking one of those lousy thoughts, you could quickly and deliberately replace it with a positive one. I’ve tried this myself and in the beginning it’s easier said than done. But with practice, you will start to find it a lot easier to do and the benefits of decluttering your mind and dwelling on the positive and supportive thoughts far outweigh the benefits of merely clearing out the clutter from your closet.

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The Two Things That Wellbeing Is All About

Article in the Mindscape Section of the February 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Ask five of your closest friends or relatives what wellbeing means to them. Make a note of what they tell you. I’ve done this exercise myself and have heard all kinds of responses like wellbeing is about living a happy life, wellbeing means being fit, wellbeing means not falling ill, wellbeing is being physically and mentally strong, etc. It doesn’t matter what the response is, I’ve always noticed that there is a projection of what people say into the future. Nobody wants to be happy just for the next 5 minutes or be mentally and physically strong just for today. There is a definite undertone of wanting any of this along with a certain level of permanence. At the heart of the feeling of wellbeing are two ideas, Predictability and Control. People really want to have control over their health, their relationships, their lifespans and sometimes even the lifespans of others. While at the same time, a lack of predictability and control can sometimes send the lives of people spiraling downward. Just not being certain that you might have your job a month from now or that you might not enjoy a healthy life for the rest of this year could cause a lot of stress and people even lose sleep over such apprehensions which in turn impact their wellbeing.

People want to control all kinds of things in their lives, starting from the temperature in the room, to their weight to their blood sugar and cholesterol levels, their spouses and sometimes even the lives and futures of their children. It is no wonder that teenagers feel a sense of control and empowerment when they start working and making their own money. One of the things that any illness does is that it rattles you off your sense of control over yourself. The journey to find and experience a cure is really a journey to gain back control over your life. The other side of the same coin is predictability. The best diets in the world are the ones that give you the most predictable outcomes. Exercises where you can predict the number of calories lost which eventually translates into getting into the desired shape are invariably the more popular exercises. There are several parts of the world that believe in some sorts of horoscopes, oracles and prophesies and the unsaid message from people who believe in them is “we want to predict our future”. In fact the whole “happily ever after” phenomenon hugely leans on the idea of predictability.

Predictability and Control might make us all feel a little more safe and secure but it certainly isn’t something to fret and fume over. Sometimes it’s good to let go because the fact is that stock markets do fluctuate, economies do collapse and people eventually do fall sick or die. Don’t be so obsessed with predictability and control that it starts controlling you. Your relationship with life is like any other relationship. The more controlling you get, sometimes the less control you actually end up having. As one famous Chicago tribune columnist Mary Schmich, put it,

“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday”.