May 27

The Art and Practice of Decluttering – By Nan Goldstein


 May 27

I am truly delighted to have this opportunity to contribute a Lite Bite. Though to be honest, the prospect of sharing my writing with you all makes me a little queasy.

“Recognize the voices of self-doubt and self-pity that work hard to keep you entrenched in your old non-serving habits.”
 - Kavitha Chinnaiyan  

Believe it or not, the above quote can be found in the chapter on decluttering in Kavithaji’s incredible guide to life, The Heart of Wellness. It’s this teaching in the context of other wonderful and life-changing teachings that helped me move beyond my self-imposed limitations to slowly emerge, take some chances, and come out of my shell and be whoever I want to be. I am filled with glee being out and about in the world in this way. As we like to say here, while I am still a ‘work in progress’ and as I like to add, a ‘piece of work,’ I am getting increasingly braver, having more fun, and not getting caught up in the outcome and, the next one is a big one, far less paralyzed worrying about what others might think. Decluttering is in large measure what allowed me to come out of hiding and submit this blog! In retrospect, it’s hugely entertaining to observe how I pivot from excitement about something to spiraling into self-doubt and dread, to finally embracing the idea in a New York minute. This in a sense is decluttering on display. Going from patterned automatic ways of reacting to catching myself, stepping back, taking a breath, and finding enough stillness to realize, hey, relax, I can do this! Decluttering creates that kind of space and best of all, it’s easy to apply in everyday life. Did I say easy, I meant simple, which isn’t always easy but I’ll let you be the judge. Eventually, I hope the day will come when I can respond to life without any of the aforementioned and altogether unnecessary self-doubt. In the meantime, I am learning to laugh at myself and am immensely grateful for this opportunity to re-immerse with Kavithaji’s teachings on this most spiritual of topics. 

“When our environment is clean and beautiful, our state of mind reflects that harmony.” 
 - Kavitha Chinnaiyan

I remember when the concept of decluttering was first introduced in Heart of Wellness: The Practice (HTP) program last summer. The first thing I did was take stock. I considered myself to be a purger in a world that I neatly divided into purgers and hoarders. Moving several times over the last dozen years provided me with ample opportunity to take stock, scale back and do what Kavithaji suggests, get rid of what no longer served me or brought joy. I now consciously limit purchases to things I absolutely need and choose carefully. I detest clutter. Clutter looks like chaos and makes me anxious. Decluttering, like so many practices, is refined ongoingly.

“Decluttering our homes and physical spaces can become daunting and overwhelming when we don’t understand the futility of seeking happiness from elsewhere. This keeps us attached to things that are way past their utility and value, paralyzing us in their hold.”
 - Kavitha Chinnaiyan

What complements this for me is Patañjali’s fifth yama, aparigraha, which means non-grasping, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment. Decluttering allows me to have a more sattvic (balanced) relationship with “my” possessions. What I no longer want or need someone else can have. Decluttering has also given me the chance to reflect on what it even means to say something is “mine.” Given the temporary nature of things, many of these so-called possessions will outlast me. I am more than happy to give my daughters jewelry I no longer wear. I give away items of clothing that no longer fit. The same holds true for art supplies, furniture, gadgets, whatever. I am starting to view my role as more of a steward, caring for things regardless of their ownership. As Kavithaji says, it’s futile to seek happiness from things outside ourselves. Haven’t I already accumulated enough stuff to sustain a self-image for a lifetime? Why seek more? Is it simply to distract myself from facing negative emotions I’d rather not face? Haven’t I seen over and over again that acquiring stuff doesn’t work? Retail therapy is a fallacy. Well, I must confess, I still enjoy shopping for things I need. I, however, resist buying things I don’t need which I will undoubtedly regret or lose interest in soon after purchase. What I really want to develop is to be with and appreciate the rasa (essence) of desire. Can I learn to enjoy things without becoming emotionally attached to them? Spoiler Alert: Through the practice of decluttering, the answer to these questions is a resounding YES!

Even in my minimalistic home, there was a ton to declutter tucked away in closets, cabinets, drawers, and on shelves; papers, journals, albums, clothing, shoes, books, tchotchkes, etc. Do I need to hold onto every skincare sample I’ve never used? What about old towels and sheets? Shocking amounts of plastic utensils accumulated over the years? Maybe I’m more of a hoarder than I care to admit. Decluttering was a long overdue and welcome invitation to face hidden and not-so-hidden messes/recesses. There’s a lot more ease when there’s space. Simply being able to open and close a desk drawer without something jamming. Ahhh, that’s nice. Now I just wonder, what took me so long?

“Make one-pointed attention the center of every moment; this results in increased efficiency, higher quality of work, greater mental calm, and enhanced creativity.”
- Kavitha Chinnaiyan

Decluttering pertains not just to our surroundings but as you can see goes far deeper. I’ve never been particularly good at multitasking. It’s why I was often stressed at work. It was hard to continuously bounce from one thing to the next when a report or proposal was due, or for that matter anything that required focused attention and flow. Tight deadlines added to the pressure. Rushing is not how to function optimally at work or elsewhere. Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but as Kavithaji advises, slowing down, and completing one task before moving on to the next is actually far more efficient. That’s why it was a relief to realize through HTP that multitasking wastes time. No wonder people are exhausted! We constantly try to do everything at once and end up doing nothing well! 

Every suggestion Kavithaji offers is extremely beneficial. From approaches to time management to healing essential relationships, to resolving and avoiding conflict (still working on this one big-time) and when necessary, moving on. As we’ve heard her say, “all problems are relationship problems.” It behooves us to get our relationship houses in order. This reminds me of one of my favorite Yoga Sūtra, 1.33: By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. 

“The cluttering of our minds and lives makes meditation difficult, if not impossible since it is when we are trying to meditate that thoughts to clean up arise.”
 - Kavitha Chinnaiyan

Through journaling, I am discovering and gaining some mastery over the voices in my head, the ones that annoy me the most when I am trying to meditate — newsflash: they’re not as motivating as they’d like me to believe; they’re usually just repeating in different ways, how much I suck and keep me stuck.

Finally, please indulge me, something about that fierce goddess, Dhūmāvatī, who represents the phase of life I am on the cusp of entering. Times flies, old age (if I’m lucky) and death are inevitabilities. It will all end in the blink of an eye. Not meaning to sound morbid but the truth is that more and more will be taken, surrendered, or ‘decluttered’ from me, that is, until the ultimate decluttering. It is for this reason that practicing decluttering with gratitude and grace is precious.

Image: Design created using Canva.

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