The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Focus

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If you really get to know me, you’ll find out that I’m a curious mix of distracted and obsessive. I can go from forgetting to eat in the midst of a mission to darting my attention around in conversations like a squirrel in traffic. I can get nothing else done until I finish that book or stream an entire TV series, and then again I’m capable of hopping from one uncompleted cleaning task to another until I’ve stirred up more dust and chaos than when I began.

Part of why I love practicing minimalism is the clean slate that comes after a total purge of all life’s unfinished tasks and cluttered surroundings. Then there’s a chance to introduce projects one at a time, while establishing a balanced routine that doesn’t neglect eating, sleeping and human interaction. I say there’s a chance, because more often than not, my mind remains cluttered and my attention span scattered enough to undo that lovely empty potential that I’ve cleared.

But the very act of purging has been a meditative focus for me. For years, as I sat in my 1985 suburban tract house that was carefully organized and way too big for the three of us, I would mentally sort through all our possessions to see if they were still needed and necessary, using this purging visualization to calm down my squirrel mind, give me hope for a fresh start and put me to sleep at night. That way, in my dreams at least, I could trash all the unrealized hopes, unfulfilled goals, and creative disappointments in the big subconscious recycling bin in the sky, ready to be reincarnated into some new piece of writing or artwork.

Then came the great Purge and Merge of 2014, when my family unloaded many possessions to move into a small apartment and blend all our activities into shared space. My minimalist meditations were finally manifested, and for months, I was at a loss on what to visualize. Even though there is always something to organize and purge (hello junk mail!), I couldn’t get my teeth into the physical stuff anymore–it was all gone.

And going any smaller right now wouldn’t be wise or practical. So, it gradually dawned on me that what I need to let go now is all that mental clutter I’ve stored my whole life, from revenge for that playground group I was kicked out of in 5th grade, to the college anxiety dreams where I didn’t study for the final exam of the class I hadn’t dropped, to a kick-ass response for the woman who screamed at me in front of my child for parking too close to a school fire hydrant  (I don’t have unresolved anger issues, do I?), to a rebuttal for the speeding ticket I didn’t deserve during a speed trap (my first and hopefully my last).

Well, that last run-on sentence is a perfect example of what my squirrel mind is capable of creating every waking moment if I’m not careful. My new reality is this: now that the physical clutter has been downsized and minimized, I have nothing left but to face my mental mess. Even though this is a life class I never signed up for, it would serve me well to attend all the lessons and face that final exam, however long it takes, with or without the speeding ticket.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, and Dwindling Decorations in December.

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9 thoughts on “The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Focus

  1. What an excellent piece of writing! I’ve only just begun with tiny baby steps towards minimalism; I even hesitate to call it minimalism because I’ve only purged the contents of a small planting shed and several bathroom and kitchen cupboards so far. I can see that this is going to be an ongoing process and not just a quick bit of organization. One of my goals is to try and get to the place where I might have a chance to clear some of my mental clutter. Right now all my extra stuff is heaped on top of my old anger and resentments, but I’ll be unearthing them. Wishing you the best on your final exam; you’ve studied long and well!

    1. Hi Bonny! Sounds like you’re off to a great start, and I’m with you about the ongoing process. In fact, my bathroom drawers need a good sorting already and we haven’t been here a year! Next month in the downsizing series, I’m tackling our kitchen cupboards and all the food we brought with us that hasn’t been used yet. Embarrassing! So stay tuned, and thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. When your blog popped up yesterday morning with its new photo, I was at attention immediately. Acorns? Crystals? And some kind of incense burner? The post was already speaking to me and I hadn’t even got to the text yet, which I read twice. Then I gave myself a day to think about — a lot.

    I am right there with you on the relationship between physical and mental clutter, but your insight that the loss of physical clutter means the facing up to mental clutter is something new. While I freely admit I will likely never be free of the physical clutter, I know that facing the mental clutter is inevitable. How to de-clutter that mess in the head and send it — as you so picturesquely put it — into that “big subconscious recycling bin in the sky” is the dilemma. And maybe we never do. Maybe we just have to do something creative with it. Like write a really compelling blog post.

    “Like a squirrel in traffic” — yes, I think you’re back.

    1. The new-agie term is usually “monkey mind” but I think my squirrel mind suits me better, considering my long-standing feud with squirrels, of which you’re well aware, Maureen. Anyway, I agree that we never really do fully de-clutter the mental mess, but just sending off the really old, worn-out or just plain embarrassing stuff would be helpful. But I hope to save the really choice bits for creative work or at least a humorous anecdote. Thanks for your insightful comment as always, Maureen.

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