The Art of Decluttering
Imagine! A house with objects scattered all over the floor. A friend who talks too much without a breather. A browser with multiple tabs simultaneously open. A to-do list with numerous unchecked items. A mind with incessant thoughts and ideas.
What feelings do these scenarios invoke? If you are sensitive to the subtleties of your external environment and inner world, they might leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
But, for many of us, this feeling is a common aspect of urban living and often normalised in our fast-paced world.
We experience this string of clutter at the gross level of the environment, society, and home. However, it is also present at the subtle level of the mind with thought and behavioural patterns.
But, the missing piece of the puzzle lies in the clutter of our digital lives, as technology helps connect our minds with the external environment.
The antidote to this clutter is finding space. This space is always present between one thought and another, one breath and another, one conversation and another, one notification and another, one object and another, one moment and another.
When we forget to appreciate this window, we often find ourselves overwhelmed and constantly jumping from one experience to another. Unfortunately, this way of life leads to clutter accumulating in our living spaces, digital devices, and minds.
But, when we intentionally pause and create space, it leads to experiencing silence. This inner silence translates to a clutter-free, organised life of clarity and calm.
A Yogic Discipline
About 2500 years ago, Sage Patanjali outlined the codes of conduct to experience the highest human potential in the classical text of Yoga Sutras.
He propounded the eight limbs of Yoga, starting with lifestyle disciplines and culminating in meditation. The second of the eight limbs is Niyama, which translates to personal discipline.
It is interesting to note that the order of the five Niyamas starts with Saucha (cleanliness) and ends with Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher power). So, purification is the first step in Yoga to experience higher awareness.
This purification happens at the practical level of decluttering our lives, spaces, and minds. We have to work at various levels of consciousness. So, let’s see how we can declutter, create space, and evolve.
In most ashrams and monasteries, the daily routine begins with cleaning. Monks, renunciates, and guest volunteers are all assigned sweeping, mopping, laundry, and more such tasks.
This cleaning is done in the early morning hours, irrespective of whether the space is clean or dirty. The cleaning is symbolic of cleansing the mind and heart. An inner purification happens as one cleans the cobwebs and dust on surfaces.
But, in modern society, most families have become overly dependent on domestic helpers due to busy schedules. The pandemic has been a wake-up call reminding us to be independent and live with awareness.
So, if one is physically healthy, then it is a matter of managing time to include cleaning in the routine. Daily cleaning brings in positive energy in the house and helps move the body in functional patterns, thus improving well-being.
Periodic deep cleaning can be performed weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on the space and objects. It is also beneficial to give away old clothes, books, and possessions every year to those who need them.
The donation is a great way to gauge our attachment to material objects while reducing the things in the living space. This minimalism is aesthetic and also serves utility by keeping the place organised.
Our living space is a reflection of our state of mind. A hygienic, clutter-free space helps the mind experience peace, clarity and focus. Also, giving and helping the underprivileged aids spiritual growth and opens the heart.
Authentic living is about giving. So, it is helpful to keep solely what we need and donate the remaining possessions we may have hoarded unconsciously over the years.
Waste segregation, water conversation, mindful dietary choices also impact the larger environment and help declutter the planet.
I recommend studying Vaastu and Minimalism for those interested in enhancing your living space.
The external environment influences the mind at a subtle level. In this regard, the digital environment we immerse ourselves in also shapes the mind. The era of information overload is taxing for the brain and nervous system.
So, it is imperative to declutter and organise one’s digital life, which begins with the simple step of limiting the amount of information consumed. Almost every app has a feature that helps track time spent online.
This is easier said than done due to the continuous release of dopamine in the modern lifestyle. However, a practical method is creating more than consuming and engaging the mind in constructive activities, rather than consuming information mindlessly.
The next aspect would be periodically decluttering files and media from smartphones, laptops, and digital clouds. This requires some planning, but the results outweigh the effort. Doing it fortnightly or monthly will help avoid the overwhelm of too many files to manage.
Decluttering also means deleting redundant or old conversations from Email, WhatsApp, and other inboxes. You can try this for yourself and see how you feel logging into an inbox with fewer emails or messages rather than an endless list of junk and unread content.
Finally, it is helpful to unsubscribe from other profiles and accounts that don’t bring value to one’s life on social media and streamline the information consumed, as information is food for the mind.
A weekly or fortnightly digital detox will also help avoid getting sucked into the void of technology addiction while offering a reset to the brain’s reward system.
I highly recommend this to anyone inclined towards meditation while finding calm in a chaotic virtual world.
3. Body & Mind
Decluttering is not limited to the external environment and virtual world. The body-mind complex also gets burdened by what we experience and consume through the senses.
The brain is overwhelmed with information; the nervous system is over-stimulated from sensory impressions; the digestive system is overloaded with food, and so forth.
Yogic cleansing techniques, Shatkarma, are prescribed as the first step to purify the body before embarking on any advanced practice. In terms of the mind, Chitta Shuddhi, mental purification is the prerequisite for meditation.
In the modern context, purification is the underlying principle of every yogic practice. So, regular cleansing of the body is a must for a healthy and robust system.
Daily showers, nutritious food, periodic detoxification, and occasional fasting maintain the body’s cleanliness and maximise the benefits of any yogic practice on the mat.
The mind is purified by breathwork, concentration, and moderating the information consumed. As mentioned earlier, the information we consume is food for the mind.
We think twice before eating junk food from fast-food restaurants but often consume information mindlessly. We must recognise that the content we consume through the senses, such as visuals, sounds, smells, touch, and taste - everything impacts the mind.
So, information is like a psychological diet for the mind. For example, horror movies and news will only reinforce the mental pattern of fear. Similarly, anything we cannot digest emotionally will leave an imprint in the deeper realms of the mind.
This impression later affects one’s interactions or experience as a latent emotion. So, if anyone is serious about meditation at a deeper level or concerned about mental health at a practical level - any information becomes a vital nutrient for the mind.
Decluttering at the psychological level also includes questioning old beliefs and values that no longer serve a purpose in one’s evolution. This introspection is essential because our conditioning often limits perspective and transformation.
Moderation and Patience
So, those were some pointers on how we can declutter and organise different aspects of our life. Remember, decluttering also applies to relationships, jobs, finances, travel and other areas.
The critical point to remember is to practice moderation in everything. Else, many of these behavioural changes can become obsessive-compulsive disorders leading to further imbalance in the mind.
Also, it takes time to rewire neurological patterns in the brain and change habits. So, it is helpful to have patience and work at changing only one or two aspects simultaneously. Else, the mind tends to revolt against the change process and falls back into old patterns.
Slow and steady wins the race. With fewer objects in the living space, lesser information on digital devices, a lighter body, and a calmer mind - one is bound to live a clutter-free life of discipline, inner peace and joy.
"If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements." — The Dalai Lama