Santosha: 5 Steps to Cut the Clutter and Be Content

Original Date: Sep 9, 2015

I am in the midst of a purge.  PURGE.  Defined: ” to rid yourself of unwanted items, feelings, etc… resulting in a cathartic release”. I would say I have been purging for about 6 years.  It was about 6 years ago that we put our previous home on the market and decided we better start dealing with the attic if we were planning on moving.  The attic had become the dumping ground.  It was a full standing attic and ran the full length of the house, about 1000 square feet of storage space.

Now, this may sound like a wonderful attribute to a home, but I assure you it only weighed us down.  Instead of deciding to be rid of a broken object, we were likely to “just put it in the attic”.  We stored a full glass table, with 4 chairs,  plastic tubs of baby clothes, a baby swing, a pack and play, and mounds of baby toys (the girls were in kindergarten and first grade when we moved, long past baby needs).  We hoarded stacks of books, an excess of Christmas decorations, piles of empty frames, “just in case we needed them”, stacks of paper pulp (I am also a papermaker), and all manner of unnecessary debris.  It took us 6 months to clean it all out!  We rented a dumpster, had a weekend yard sale, and put many items out for “free” on the lawn.

The home we moved into, while technically possessing more square footage than the previous home (we had 1,600 square feet, NOT including the attic, and moved into a home with 1,400 square feet with a fully functional basement of the same size) did not have storage.  No attic to store things, no garage, and the full basement was not going to be a repository of our unneeded belongings.  When we moved in, we didn’t want to unpack the boxes! There was no clutter.  The closets were empty, how could we fill them up?  We carefully chose each unpacked item.  Many more things were released after the move.  We decided they were not needed and only further distracted our lives.

Fast forward several years, and somehow, we started accumulating again.  The baby items were gone and in their place we had 4 different doll houses, and a number of inhabitants for the houses, stacks of books, closets full of clothes, etc…  I usually consider us to be a humble family, with limited possessions.  Living on a Public School Teacher’s salary, and a work at home Yoga Teacher Salary does not allot a great deal of extra funds for spending.  However, even in small amounts, accumulation happens.  A few items here and there will add up over a couple of years.

Upon returning from India in 2014, we reflected on our lives and realized we were drowning in abundance.  Acquiring more objects, even objects that seem necessary, contributed to a temporary sense of contentment.  We decided to minimize our belongings trusting the idea that deep contentment could be found in owning less.

Considering it took us 20 years to accumulate all this abundance, it seems fitting that we are taking many years to slowly be rid of the excess.  This is a process of letting go, and an exercise in “manas”, the mind.  I think its interesting the way my mind wants to hold onto items:  “But I purchased this item because…” , or “But so-and- so GAVE me this item…” or “But what if I want to wear this next week?”.

As we learn in our practice and teaching, Yoga is “stilling the thought waves of the mind”.   I recognize when my mind wants to hold onto something and makes an excuse or explanation for keeping it.  All this “stuff” is the ego reaching for contentment in the physical world.  But, we all know true contentment will never be found outside.  But how often do we act on it?  Purging my belongings is the action of  bringing contentment to the surface of my being.  I am finding an ease at not needing more.  I have enough.  I am enough.  All is well… as long as the thrift store is willing to take my old belongings.

Here are 5 tips for you to start your own purge to pursue contentment:

  1. Go through your pots and pans in the kitchen.  Do you really need 5 cooking pots?  4 muffin tins?  8 serving spoons? Can you make do with 2 or 3?  Maybe even just one pot?  There is no magic number, but try to recognize which items you can do without.

  2. Fill a bag with books.  Books are an area of weakness for me.  To be completely honest, I received a new book in the mail TODAY!  Yes, I ordered it.  “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar”.  But if one book comes in, at least 2 or 3 have to go.  I filled two bags with over 30 donation books yesterday. Josh took them away this morning.  I feel safe adding one more to the Vegan collection, and the girls are excited to try out a new recipe tonight.  Comb through your collection and see which books you can release.  ( And maybe you too will find you can make room for just one cookie book…)

  3. Release a few Knick Knacks.  Look over your shelves and see if you can fill a small box with unnecessary clutter.  You might find it easier to clean that shelf if it isn’t filled with belongings.  Empty spaces are helpful for clearing the mind.

  4. Go through your closet.  My clothing closet has been an area of particular focus for me over the past year.  I have been working on Project 333.  With this project, you create a “capsule wardrobe”, a seasonal wardrobe of only 33 items, and you rotate the capsule every 3 months. I can’t tell you how hard this has been for me.  I can’t seem to budge down past 50. This is total items, shoes, shirts, dresses, scarves, etc… But part of those 50 I don’t change per season (such as yoga pants and tank tops).  What I have found to be helpful is to go through my clothes, sorting into piles.  There is a “toss it” pile, and a “keep it pile” and an “I am not sure” pile.  The “I am not sure” pile gets put into storage.  Some of the “keep it” pile goes there too.  Maybe you store the clothes in an old tub. I am keeping mine in a duffle bag in the closet.  I have been doing this for over a year.  When I look in the bag many months later to adjust for the new season, I am always able to get rid of a few more items.

  5. Re-investigate the purge. Once you clear out some spaces, take some time, maybe a few weeks, or a month or two.  Then see if there is more you can part with. When you come back to the purge after a few months you will find new things to release.

Once you feel the joy of creating space in your life, refrain from letting more in. Ask yourself  WHY do you need to bring in more items? What hole inside is purchasing more going to fill?  Can you find a way to fullness with more time spent with loved ones, practicing a favorite hobby, or simply enjoying nature?  Recognize that this is a process, not a perfection.  Over time, you will create experiences, not clutter.