Seeing the Forest for the Trees

18 October 2011

I first began to be seriously interested in shedding the unnecessary ‘things’ in my life when moving last November. I was moving somewhere temporary, of unknown duration, after splitting with my wife. A couple of boxes at a time, over the next several months I packed up and moved the things I had accumulated over the last 18 years since initially moving away from my parents, and most of the boxes ended up in the basement where I was staying. Unexamined, unfiltered, unprocessed, unvetted.

In March, I was finally able to move into a more permanent living situation, and most of the boxes followed me here without having even been opened since the first move. By this time, I had spent approximately 5 months slowly moving my life.

Then it occurred to me, why had I moved everything without question instead of throwing, giving, or selling away those things I no longer needed? I still don’t have a good answer for that, but now, having an entire basement to myself, why should I simply use it for storage rather than actually having it available as usable space?

I know from experience that I am happiest when I have a dedicated space to retreat to, where I can be free to waste or use whatever time I have available there. I’m envisioning space to spread out on a couch, read, listen to music, do yoga. A space where I can do one thing at a time, and involve all of my attention in it.

So, my initial impetus for this was the realization of excess physical clutter. This is probably a pretty common starting position….but what if the idea were taken further?

What if the same principles (finding the essential, discarding the unnecessary, caring more for and devoting more attention to what is left behind) are applied beyond just the crap that is in the way of doing yoga in the basement?

The possibilities for further application are endless… friendships (online or not), organizational affiliations, workspace/office setup, choice of vehicle and options, diet, etc. Clutter may be the gateway, but if clutter is the only focus then I think something essential is still missed. The things that divide our attention take away opportunities to be ourselves. They become externalities that we focus on, and express ourselves through, rather than concentrating on more fully realizing what is internal. They turn the focus of being outward toward object rather then inward toward subject.

The reason I don’t want to focus on numbers is because I am going beyond just trimming the number of ‘things’ in my life. Having too specific a goal tends to encourage lust for result, which derails the other possibilities that may arise from the quest. Plus, I don’t want to end up having to arrive at a plausible number for how many friends I need, how much digital music, etc. The essential shouldn’t need specific numbers, because what is essential will vary according to my whims and will (as it should vary for others).

With physical objects, I expect that I will come up with a ballpark number, but only after having shed many things which are clearly not essential. I also don’t want to (yet, at least) get into the internal debates about what constitute a ‘thing’ (Is a pair of shoes one or two things? Do I have one ‘collection’ of necessary socks, or eight different pairs? Are my guitar and its case one thing or two? What about the keyboard, mouse, monitor, cables, etc. for the computer? You can see how straying into this area too soon can basically derail the whole thing from getting anything done). Before you can decide how many trees you need, you have to be able to see the forest.