Downsizing and Focusing on What Matters Most

July 31, 2015 | By Cecily Montgomery

silhouette of a person meditating with sunset in the background Image courtesy of HaPe_Gera (CC).

The first week of August marks “National Simplify Your Life Week”, a time dedicated to eliminating unnecessary chaos, things, and stressors from your life. While this week of recognition was created in the U.S., it is a good time for people in any part of the world to consider downsizing.

Benefits of Downsizing 

Fewer material possessions results in a healthier planet because of the large toll the process of producing consumer goods takes on the environment. Additionally, a recent study found that household clutter is a major source of stress for Americans. Owning fewer things thus isn’t only beneficial for environmental health but also for mental health.

Some people have taken extreme steps towards simplicity such as moving into Tiny Houses or tossing their smartphones and returning to cellphones with only the most basic functions. There is also a trend of people moving to walkable neighborhoods, making them less dependent on private automobiles and eliminating the complications of owning a car. However if these major changes seem like too much or are not possible for you, there are smaller steps that anyone can take to shift to a less overwhelming, more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Figure out What’s Most Important

The first step to simplifying your life is reflecting upon what makes you feel the most fulfilled. Is it spending time with family? Going on long runs? Cooking meals with your friends? Whatever it is, it most likely isn’t scrolling through social media or thinking about what to buy to “complete” your house. Use this week as an opportunity to commit to ensuring that you are prioritizing activities that fill you with profound joy.

Once you have given this some thought, creating a simplicity statement is a straightforward way to make your priorities clear. In order to do this, write positive statements about standards you will hold yourself to. For example instead of saying “I won’t spend Sunday mornings checking work email,” you could say “Sunday mornings will be family time.” Then place these statements somewhere you will see them everyday.

Only Own What You Really Need

Buying unnecessary items not only takes a toll on your wallet but also on the planet. It requires approximately 700 gallons of water to make just one tee shirt and 2,600 gallons for a pair of jeans. Excess possessions also bring clutter into the house, which can be a source of stress.

Try creating “rules” around your consumption habits to train yourself to buy only the essentials. This will help avoid accumulating clutter in the first place. For example, when you’re at a store and see something you think you might need, give yourself a 48 hour “wait time” to see if it’s actually worth purchasing.

You can also take steps to borrow, rent, or stream items instead of purchasing your own. Instead of buying books, which many people likely read only once, borrow them from a public library or set up an exchange with friends. And with movies and music available for streaming online, owning DVDs and CDs is no longer necessary for those with access to the internet.

To de-clutter your house of items you already own, set aside some time this week to sort through your belongings and sell or donate what you no longer use. If your pantry is full of canned or dried foods that you will most likely not eat, consider donating them to a local food bank. For more inspiration on creative ways to de-clutter you can read some steps a family took in their efforts to minimalize.

Learn to Say "No" in Favor of More Time for Solitude

While socializing is great, make sure your life isn’t so busy that you forget to spend time with yourself. There is nothing wrong with saying no to invitations to social activities if you feel like you need some solitary time instead. It’s much better to initially decline an invitation rather than deal with stress of cancelling last minute.

Try allotting yourself at least a little bit of time everyday, and a longer chunk of time once a week, to be alone with your thoughts. If possible, it’s helpful to be in nature during this time. This is a great opportunity to be mindful, in touch with your feelings, and analytical of events currently taking place in your life.

Another thing to do during this time, especially if you are out in nature, is to remind yourself of your interconnectedness with the web of the cosmos and tap into the spirit of Mother Earth.

Limit Time with Electronics

While technology plays a vital role in our lives, too much of it can be harmful to one’s inner peace by creating a feeling of always being reachable and "on." Create a time to be outside and totally free from virtual communication. This could be during your walk home from work, on an evening stroll at the end of the day, or any other time that works with your schedule.

Leave your electronics at home (or at the very least turn them off if you are coming from somewhere where you must have them) and fully immerse yourself in your surroundings. Pay attention to the sounds of your environment and try to notice something interesting in plain sight that you might have missed had you been staring at a screen.

This is a simple way to incorporate mindfulness— a state of mind where you are in touch with your feelings and fully aware of what you are doing—into your day-to-day life.

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