If you believe that everything is connected, then it makes perfect sense that doing even one small thing can improve everything else.
Let’s just take the example of our home or work environment. If it is messy, chaotic or disorganized, it tends to make us feel lazy, lethargic or overwhelmed. Cleaning it up leads to clarity, and calm. If we feel peaceful and clear-headed, we do better work, make better choices, perhaps even eat better. We feel better.
While working to meet my writing deadline, I’ve let some other things go for a while; seemingly less important things like chores and organizing my workspace. I noticed this was fine for a few days in a row, but then I’d hit a wall. I needed to simply give time to the tasks I’d fallen behind on in order to have clarity of thought and continue being productive. Doing so felt like a shot of good energy to my creative brain. It was so worth the time it took to rewrite my writing task list, clean off my desk, put the laundry away, update my calendar and return the pertinent emails or calls.
Taking fifteen minutes, an hour or even a day to regroup can really recharge our mindsets, our energy, our motivation; it’s all connected.
One of my favorite and most challenging areas to simplify is my writing life. My memoir coach, the talented and magnificent Marion Roach Smith, has told me that every scene should move the story forward. (You can find Marion here: https://marionroach.com/)
The writing advice that we should kill our darlings, a phrase coined by William Faulkner, is ever-present in my mind these days. It means that writers “must ruthlessly eliminate any words, characters, side plots or turns of phrase that we personally love but that do nothing for the story.” Memoir should not be a recounting of everything we remember. It needs a theme, and the particular scenes that support that theme. Everything else needs to go.
Rather than calling it killing my darlings though, I prefer to say clearing out my writing clutter. It suits me better. And a major part of my revision process has been to do just that. Chapter by chapter, I am applying my love for decluttering, clarity and simplicity, so that every scene is poignant and nearly every word is necessary. Who would’ve thought my passion for decluttering and organizing would serve me so well in writing? I think Marion will be proud.
*Note: About three weeks ago, I mistakenly included a post about a new site with book information. That note was meant for readers of my old site. This blog which is part of danalaquidara.com is indeed my current site and it will include all updated book news. You are in the right place! Read on.
Most of the time, before we can take on the world, we need to deal with what is right in front of us. It is my experience that in order to meet our goals and aspirations, or to simply live by our values, it serves us well to narrow our focus.
I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t have big audacious goals or that we need to play small. I mean that taking the obvious, sometimes monotonous, small steps is the surest way to clear our own path.
These small steps could mean meal planning, or spending just fifteen minutes on a project, or even cleaning out a closet. It could mean resting or making a to-do list or doing the laundry. We’ve got to manage our selves and our immediate environment if we are to be any good to others.
I can think of at least three well-known creatives who called out to God in times of desperation, from their bathroom floors. Why do women tend to cry on bathroom floors? It’s kind of gross. Anyhow, the answers to their cries came as directions or powerful urges to GO TO BED, and CLEAN YOUR ROOM.
We make life more complicated than it has to be when we try to skip the next right thing; the thing that is so simple, so small, that we are tempted to dismiss it. When we do this, we miss out on the clarity, momentum, and peace that is meant for us.
I am revisiting the topic because I keep bumping up against the truth of it in my every day life, and especially lately in my writing life. Being on deadline to complete my memoir, I cannot afford to waste time, indulge in distractions or vices, or be anywhere but here in the present moment, doing what needs to be done. The only “extras”, if you can even call them that, are staying connected to my loved ones and taking care of myself in ways that preserve my energy and my health; but I prefer to think of these as non-negotiables.
Even though writing typically makes me feel fulfilled and whole, sometimes it can leave me feeling raw, and vulnerable. The very act of working on my memoir can leave me with the desire to waste time, indulge in distractions, and escape to anywhere-but-here. After all, memoirs contain some tough topics and mine is no exception. But when I resist the urge to escape, I start to feel the most me I’ve ever felt. I feel liberated.
What is your craft, or your passion? What is the deepest you can go with it?
Is anything preventing you from going there? Is it fear?
I hope you let everything else fall away as you go into the wild places of your heart. I bet you’ll meet your Self there, and what a reunion it will be!
What I love most about a minimalist philosophy is that it can cover our inner and outer worlds, our belongings, habits, thoughts and defenses. It is not a mindset in adding, doing, changing, but rather one of uncovering. Simplifying is subtractive, not additive. It is stopping the critical thoughts, removing what is blocking your innate joy, peace, and authentic self.
Here is an analogy: If your diet was poor and it caused your body to feel bad, and so you added some healthy food on top of your daily junk food, that would not solve the problem. But if you first eliminated what was making you feel unwell, you’d start to feel better pretty quickly. That is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.
There is so much information available on how to improve ourselves, and information is good. But it also makes it easy to busy ourselves with strategies and distractions while avoiding what we need to stop doing, saying, thinking, judging, avoiding.
I think we are already amazing, powerful, creative and good. We just have to remove all that stands between us and our true selves.
I want to pivot back to the kitchen today and express my love for a clean and organized refrigerator. I know it may sound trivial to some, but if it is true that “how we do one thing is how we do everything”, then I declare our kitchen habits are important.
A simple way to stay on top of refrigerator hygiene is to get in the habit of checking it before every grocery day. The thought of adding more food to a fridge that may have expired items, sticky shelves, or condiment chaos, is unappealing. On the other hand, emptying groceries into a clean and well organized fridge is a pleasure.
If we have tidy fridge habits, we will likely also have tidy pantry habits and organized shopping lists, and sensible meal planning patterns. One small area can have ripple effects in other areas, on peace of mind, time, energy, and health.
I invite you to try on this belief: Your best, most authentic life and Self are lurking just beneath the clutter and baggage.
If that is true, what is one thing you could do today to excavate what is buried? It could be something big or small; give something away, delegate a task, clear out a closet, throw out the junk food, face the old wound, have the conversation.
What would you do tomorrow and the next day to keep the momentum going? It’s okay if you don’t know what you might find. Sometimes we have to get through some sludge before we feel lighter. Just stay curious and allow the treasure to reveal itself.
My husband and I are helping to move our youngest daughter out of one apartment and into another. Due to the nature of medical school, and now residency, this will be her fourth move in four years. Moving is a lot of work and the more stuff there is to move, the harder it is. She has learned how to make do with the essentials and not accumulate – and therefore move- more than is necessary.
It got me thinking, doesn’t it behoove us all to live like we are moving? I don’t mean that we should never get attached to a place, or that we ought to deprive ourselves of things we really enjoy. I just mean that if we thought about what we’d really want and need to bring with us if we moved, what would we choose to leave behind? Can we let go of those things now?
It’s a lot of work to move. Packing and unpacking forces us to face every single thing we’ve accumulated. How much freer would we be with less?
I have been very fortunate in motherhood with three wonderful, grown daughters whom I adore. Mother’s Day is a happy, celebratory occasion for me.
But last night as I was going to bed, I was thinking of all the moms who have been alienated from their children after a contentious divorce, as my mother had been when I was just four years old (the topic of my memoir-in-progress). I personally know a few of these mothers, and occasionally hear from others whom I’ve never met. They are loving, kind, deeply saddened mothers who desperately want to reconnect with the stolen hearts of their children.
I will not go into detail about ‘attachment-based parental-alienation’ because it is beyond the scope of this blog post (*It happens to dads too). But what I do want to tell you is that last night, without overthinking it or even pre-planning it, I reached out to a large number of these parents on a private online group, and shared my heartfelt thoughts with them. I just couldn’t let Mother’s Day go by without offering my understanding, empathy, and love. And they deeply, sincerely appreciated it.
What does this have to do with decluttering or minimalism? When we are doing our best to get rid of all that does not serve our best lives, including old beliefs, fear, and overthinking our heart’s desires and impulses, often what comes through are the most natural, aligned and effortless words and deeds.