5 (non physical) things to declutter for happiness and productivity
Minimalism is about much more than decluttering your physical possessions.
I like to imagine my life as being like my grandfather's tool shed. Point to any item in there and he could tell you exactly what its purpose is.
I doubt there are woodworking devices in there which I could point to and have my grandfather tell me "ah yes, that doesn't do anything much but it's pretty, even if it means I don't have time to sharpen the other tools." Most people adopt an 'any benefit' approach to what we allow into our lives. If it seems to have some use to us, we grab hold of it - even if that is at the expense of other areas of our lives.
So, here are five non-physical things I have worked on cutting out of my life over the last year.
1. Social media.
For me, minimalism means being stingy about my time so I can focus on what matters. It's important to view online services as tools and to only use the ones which a clear benefit.I deleted Tumblr a few months ago which felt like a tremendous deal at the time. My account was about five years old and included over 10,000 posts. I deleted Facebook too and it felt liberating. It's not hard to stay in contact with people without it - emails and calls work fine for me. The benefits of this are myriad. Avoiding a barrage of information and news has improved my focus and mental clarity. The interactions I have with people are far more meaningful when they are planned, rather than happening in tiny snippets. I'm certainly not opposed to the internet in general. I just believe we should all be reading far more long-form content and eschewing newsfeeds of 140 characters updates and pictures. I still have an Instagram account because it's something I enjoy, though I spend very little time on it. My Twitter account still exists out of necessity - I no longer have access to the email account associated with it and so cannot delete it.
2. Watching television.
The average person spends a total of 13.6 years of their life watching TV. Quitting it is like getting an extra decade added on to your life to do other things. Who wouldn't want that? Time is precious and non-renewable. I said goodbye to Netflix early on 2016 after I realized I was spending 8+ hours a day on it. I didn't even enjoy it all that much - it was just a passive means of not having to think for a while. I only planned on quitting for a few weeks while I prepared for exams. In the end, I didn't even consider returning to my old habits.
People often ask me on Quora what the most impactful life change they can make today is. I would say that quitting television is it. I now use that time for reading and running this site. It is a worthwhile exchange. I am not suggesting that all television is bad. I have many happy memories of watching Grisly Tales and The Tweenies as a child. But, over time it became an unhealthy coping mechanism and a distraction.
3. Fake friends and shallow interactions.
As an introvert who feels drained by social situations, I am just as selective about who I spend my time with as how I spend it. At this point in my life, I can count my close friends on one hand and am for the most part happy with that. I don't miss the days when I had dozens of friends who sapped my energy and made me feel worse after hanging out with them.
It hit home how miserable many of my friendships were making me when I was out walking one day two years ago. Wandering aimlessly, I found myself at the end of the street where a friend lived. The prospect of seeing them without mentally preparing myself first was terrifying. I turned in the opposite direction to avoid a possible encounter. Most of the people I spent my time with as a teenager were the sort who talked about me behind my back, belittled my passions and never failed to knock my limited confidence. Since starting university, I have cut my inner circle back to about five people. They are those whom I would be proud to be the average of. They are all people who energize, inspire and enliven me. I hope I do the same for them. If this sounds selfish, you are missing the point. Friendships are meant to bring happiness, not stress and pressure.
My aim in life is to communicate with the brusqueness of a particular childhood friend's mother. If I called to ask if my friend could come over, she would simply answer with "yes" or "no" and then hang up. Inspired by her, I prefer to skip the small talk.
4. Unnecessary commitments.
Thoreau (the unofficial patron saint of minimalism) wrote: ' “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” I love that quote and remind myself of it daily. For me, part of minimalism is avoiding commitments which clutter up my calendar. I'm happiest when the only fixed things in my diary are classes and everything else is up to me. For this to work, I keep a 'not to do' list of things I avoid at all costs (including clubbing, organized sports, going to malls and camping.) Otherwise, I stick to three main commitments: university, this site and my relationship with Chapman. For anything which does not improve those three areas, my default is to say no. It's about staying focused, not depriving yourself.
Charlie Munger gave a powerful Harvard speech in 1986 about how people cause their own unhappiness. In it, he said of addiction, “I have yet to meet anyone, in over six decades of life, whose life was worsened by over fear and over-avoidance of such a deceptive pathway to destruction.” This year I am kicking one unhealthy dependency each month. Gretchen Rubin describes people as either 'abstainers or moderators' when it comes to bad habits and I am the former for certain. For January it's smoking - and that means a complete stop. My previous attempts to quit have failed when I told myself that one a day didn't count or that I could smoke in social situations. From there, things always went straight back to usual in less than a week. Recognising that this is the way my brain works has been super helpful. This time, the decision is absolute.
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