“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” – William Morris, The Beauty of Life, 1880
Decluttering is a genuinely terrific process. Getting rid of what is needed and ordering what’s left, clears space and frees the mind.
But for me decluttering has both physical and mental aspects. Physically it is about ensuring that what you use frequently is most accessible and nothing is truly ‘hidden’. We don’t work well with ‘hidden’ even if we think of it and ‘stored away safely’. That’s why there is a pasta maker in your kitchen cupboard you’ve never used. An object can be ‘buried’ or ‘filed’ and the difference is a system. The former is just about finding a place for something, the latter is about creating a connection; perhaps logical, perhaps utilitarian, to day-to-day existence. This is true in any aspect of your life.
Mentally, many people think of meditation as the primary way of decluttering. Clearing the mind of thoughts, albeit for a short time, is for many people an essential part of their mental housekeeping. This is something I can admire greatly and adhere to infrequently. I only notice the deterioration in my mental state after weeks of neglect. But I certainly appreciate the value and science backs this up in a big way.
I want to briefly talk about a sort of decluttering that fits in the middle of ‘stuff’ and ‘mind’. This is a decluttering of how you interact with the world. This is something that must be carefully balanced. To over-simplify the world, in the belief that is how it really is, will result in disappointment and confusion. This is racism, pointless (rose-tinted) nostalgia, this is inability to change or learn. Instead my brand of simplification doesn’t deny the complexity of the world. It just doesn’t try to deal with it. John Kegan in his seminal work ‘In Over Our Heads‘ confirms what we all feel, but often fail to acknowledge: it’s all a bit much. It is my view that we are all in a modern technology-driven, human ego- originated, emperor’s news clothes phase. Everyone is trying very hard to appear confident and competent and believes, even though they often don’t feel it, everyone else is doing just a bit better than they are. If we all acknowledged that it isn’t the case, and that we need to deal with a simpler version of reality, I think we’d be a lot happier.
If we look to the world of business, many of the successful organisations are great at creating simple rules. They define how customers and in many cases employees can interact with them as an entity and the culture they are trying to create. Whether it is Google’s ‘Don’t be Evil’ or Bob Ferrel’s ‘Give ’em the Pickle’ it is about taking a large portion of the reality, which is impossible to hold in your head all the time, and creat a rule. The truth is that both of the above examples are open to interpretation. They have to be. We know the world isn’t that simple. But by creating the right rule, we can reduce trillions of choices down to millions.
Now think about life. Its chaotic complexity. Relationships, career, house, car, everything really. Religion gave us rules. But most of them haven’t moved with the times and too many religious leaders are hung up on the dogma not the message. So here is the challenge. What happens if you sit, meditate for a while, and ask yourself/universe/divity for a few simple rules. What are they?
I guarantee you might just see ‘decluttering’ as more like ‘reinvention’. And if you are leader, you may have just found a way to start a revolution.