In our culture, the answer of "I’m so busy" to the question of "How are you?" is respected, even revered. We admire people who cram as much as possible into their days—and this glorification of business can also contribute to an unhealthy obsession with "stuff."
While most of my partner Kyle's and my work at New Minimalism involves dealing with people’s physical possessions, we’ve learned that it's impossible to thoroughly declutter someone’s space without first getting them to slow down. And we don’t just mean pausing on emails or online shopping for the day but making a habit of clearing up space in their days.
Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things.
From where we're standing, busyness is one of the most pervasive and relentless diseases in modern culture. While it may give us a fleeting sense of accomplishment and importance, in the long run, frenetic business leads to a profound lack of clarity.
Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things: actual physical items as well as relationships and commitments. It arises when we lose track (or have never clearly uncovered) what is most important in our lives.
Why busyness and clutter are inextricably linked.
Clutter is the result of business because it's the result of deferred decisions. Mess accumulates when we put off dealing with objects because we simply don’t have the time or energy. Clutter, in that sense, is physical manifestation of all the things we need to do (aka busywork).
Likewise, clutter is the cause of busyness. Having so much stuff for your space requires constant maintenance. Whether that maintenance is direct (managing things, searching for items, storing and maintaining them, purchasing new objects, working hard to afford more stuff) or indirect (distracting yourself with other forms of busyness instead of dealing with them), it fills our time.
The whole point of decluttering is freeing up time and energy to spend doing the things you actually want to do.
that the time and energy you save not managing and dealing with stuff is time and energy you can spend actually living life. You know, taking photos, being in nature, laughing with your favorite people, and making the world a better place by just being pleasantly not-busy.
So how can you end the cycle of busyness and all the clutter that comes with it?
1. Build in negative space.
We’ve all become so accustomed to "accomplishing things" that even previously relaxing periods of time (the moments before bed, the first light of the morning) are now used to Get Stuff Done. Instead, practice intentionally building in space. Walk your dog without a podcast blaring in your ears. Drive the car without talking on the phone.
2. Automate basic tasks.
Making decisions requires lots of time and energy. One of the simplest ways to create space and remove unnecessary busyness in the day is to automate your life, or remove active decision-making. Some great places to start? Eat the same smoothie or omelet for breakfast every morning. Create a work uniform that you feel great in so dressing each morning becomes effortless.
3. Take the time to figure out what you love.
It's hard saying no to things when you don't know what you want to shout YES to. But when you know how you want to feel, you'll know immediately, at your core, if that shirt or work commitment or relationship is serving you. Marie Kondo uses the standard of "spark joy," which is a great place to begin. Even more powerful? Taking the time to choose those feelings you personally desire most.
4. Say no to things that do not support your best life.
Clarity turns the process of decluttering, which can otherwise feel like a painful parting with things you used to love and items you might need someday, into an empowering—dare I say enjoyable?—exercise in shedding the things that are not adding to the life you want to create. When you know how you want to feel, you can easily identify the things that help you feel that way. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that will allow you to live with more clarity.
Looking for more practical advice on how to simplify your life? Check out this guide to decluttering every room of your house.
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