Buddhism and Clutter-free Living: The Middle Path to Minimalism
Buddhism and Clutter-free Living: The Middle Path to Minimalism
I first embraced the idea of clutter-free living due to the influence of, surprise-surprise, a man. Though the gentleman I lived with for four years made very few efforts in this area other than to pack one room of our home with wall-to-wall stuff (proper storage was the key, he said), I began a process that has resulted in me being able to live comfortably, with four pets, in a 549-square-foot house – with a bedroom to spare and my house on the market so I can scale down to a small apartment.
Though not everyone (hi, Mom) agrees with my lifestyle, I’ve arrived at a comfortable middle path to minimalism. My reference to a “middle path” comes from my interest in Buddhism, which I studied as a graduate student at the University of Florida. Briefly, and greatly oversimplified, Buddha was born wealthy, renounced his riches when he began his spiritual pursuits, and then began advocating a “middle path” after realizing the difficulties of following one’s spiritual quest on an empty stomach and while exposed to the elements, such as biting insects and inclement weather, when wearing very little clothing.
The Man Himself
Buddha’s commonsense approach appeals to me. Though I’m not so minimalist as to wash my body, hair, and dishes from the same bottle of detergent, as if I were on a long and difficult camping trip, my home is a neat, easy-to-clean place with a surprising amount of open space. Arriving at this space, however, took years and a near-constant, sometimes brutal attentiveness to avoiding “too much stuff.” If you’d like to try it for yourself, here are the steps I followed:
- To alleviate the fear of losing yourself when you give up your things and to realize the commitment you’re making, promise yourself that your path to minimalism will happen in stages. You’re not going to put all your stuff in your best friend’s pickup truck and donate it to Goodwill or have a giant garage sale one blessed Saturday morning and be “free of stuff once and for all.” We live in a materialistic society; you will see things you want to buy and backslide a little; people will give you gifts you want to keep, at least for a while. Like many worthwhile efforts, such as a trip to India or a cure for cancer, minimalist living is a journey.
- Minimalist living is best achieved in layers of giving (or selling, depending on the quality of the item). Look around your home. What do you see, right now, that you could give away without ever thinking of it again? Grab a box or bag and put those items inside – now, before you change your mind. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes collecting items – this is not the time to sit on the floor of your closet, rereading "2 Sweet...2Be...4 Gotten" notes from your friends on the inside cover of your high school yearbook. Scurry, quick like a bunny, to the nearest Salvation Army or consignment store. Done? Congratulations – you’ve taken the first step on your journey to minimalism!
- Once you’ve made a few of these fifteen-minute excursions (how many depends on how much excess stuff you have), you’ll find that they are becoming more and more emotionally difficult, and eventually impossible. That’s because you’re layering down to the core of what you own and are about to begin getting rid of items for which you have a genuine attachment. This is when minimalism becomes a challenge, and, frankly, a lot less fun; it’s a good time to take a two- to three-month break from decluttering if you need one, but be sure not to accumulate more things in the interim. If you get a new book, a book goes out; the same goes for t-shirts, plates, throw pillows, hair products – everything. The idea is to develop the habit of trading one item for another instead of adding more to the pile.
- When you’ve recovered from your initial decluttering phase, it’s time to get serious. I did this by continuing to layer down, but instead of walking around my house with a trash bag, I concentrated on one area at a time – a set of bookshelves, a cabinet under the kitchen sink, even my jewelry box. The process of decluttering can get messy at this point, because you may want to sell items of value on ebay.com or craigslist.org instead of simply giving them away. It’s helpful to have an area of a closet or a cabinet cleared out, so you don’t have to look at these items while you have them listed.
- As you let go of excess stuff and your life becomes more streamlined, you’ll start to appreciate the beauty, convenience, and ease of minimalist living. This is the point at which I began to get addicted to the process of decluttering; it became emotionally easier to let go of things and more gratifying when I realized how pleasant it is to live with more space. My house is so much easier to keep clean; now, even if I let things go for a few days, the house looks relatively neat because of the lack of clutter, and a perfectly tidy home, including closets, drawers, etc., is no more than two hours away.
- As with weight loss, the real work with minimalist living begins with maintenance. You’ll want to create some guidelines to assist you with that process. For example, all my clothes, except for underwear and socks, must hang in my closet – which is not a walk-in. My books are limited to what fits on four shelves in the one piece of furniture I’ll never get rid of, a beautiful secretary that’s been in my family since my childhood. I have four plates, two bowls, and two coffee mugs – always (if you run out of dishes, you’ll wash them instead of accumulating a large pile in the sink). My particular rules won’t work for everyone; the point of the middle path is to tailor the process to your comfort level and lifestyle so that the overall quality of your life is improved by your definition of minimalist living.
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