Embracing a Zen approach to clutter

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Have you ever felt that certain corners of your house, certain areas of your life, need to be cleared before you can move ahead? In eastern philosophies the physical is a manifestation of the mental plane. Blocks of any sort, cause energy to stagnate in a never ending cycle.
Have you ever walked into a room with tall cupboards, full of books and objects in every corner? Do you feel the walls and things closing in from all around, crowding out your very presence?
There are those who will tell you that if any corner of your life is cluttered and blocked, you will be locked in a permanently stalled position; not able to move forward or back. If you recognize the situation, then the next step is to look for a remedy and allow a new force to unleash in your life. It can all start very unconsciously.
You look at a pretty thing on the store shelf. That’s it! Your mind is set, and you have to have it. The thrill of buying and stuffing ever-crowding spaces is a momentary pleasure, lasting at its best, a day or a week.
After moving homes three times, and having experienced the agony of sorting, not finding things I know I have and need urgently, paralyzing my weak-willed mind on numerous ‘to-throw-or-keep’ decisions, and shoving away piles of clutter to be dealt with later (A date, incidentally, that never really does arrive), a new understanding has finally dawned upon me. There has been a gradual transition to a more Zen like philosophy of living. An appreciation of the idea that less is more.
Shopping therapy has been replaced with window shopping. Now it’s more fun to admire the beautiful decorative objects sitting on store shelves, and then put them right back on the shelf, where they truly belong.
However if something fancy keeps beckoning, then let it go for the moment. Look at the empty spot in your home or life that could be filled and visualize it from several angles. Run it over through the mind. Allow yourself to pass by the shop several times and look at the item, all the while resisting the impulse to buy it. If the beckoning is strong, steady and unwavering over time, then buy it. Otherwise, let it go; it never really did belong.
Now you know, the object really belongs and was not a result of an impulsive act of shopping. Another benefit of not buying mindlessly is that you will drastically cut down on dealing with pain. The constant pain of parting with something you have, but did not need in the very first place.
Retirement is a good time to take stock of your position and possessions. Answer the questions:
A. Where are you today?
B. And where do you want to be in the future?
Now examine the gap. What is cluttering your path from A to B?
Open space is a very important concept in Zen philosophy. It is space that allows you to breathe mentally and physically. Start out in the physical world –go through your possessions, make a list of why you are hanging on to it.
• Is it a memory you are hanging on to?
• Is it something you have forgotten you even had?
• Is it something you mistakenly thought would be useful to your daily living?
• Is it a valuable, precious item; an heirloom, something to be passed on to a future generation? (Then keep it).
Do you feel by giving away something you have not used in the last six months, that you are wasting your hard-earned money?
Well, good. Awareness is the first step. You can probably learn more about yourself from your unnecessary possessions than from the things you need and use daily. Put away your list and go over it again after several days. Now tick off the things you are ready to eliminate. These are the things that have been cluttering your life. Take a good look at the things you should avoid impulsively buying in the future. Redirect your future purchases into things you would cherish and never regret doing. Things that could enhance:
• Health
• Togetherness
• Fun and laughter
• Happy memories
In Zen decor, empty space is more important than occupied space. Zen décor is defined more by space and light. The feeling of flow and continuity is very important. A Zen look is tranquil, but never boring.
There is a story of a professor meeting Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, wanting to learn about Zen philosophy. The master poured tea into a tea-cup even after it was full. After several seconds of watching the overflowing tea, the visitor exclaimed, “Why are you still pouring?” The Master replied, “You can learn nothing until you empty your cup.”
There is only so much you can fill a space with, before the space is overwhelmed by overload. Let your empty spaces guide you to their needs. Let the spaces define an object and frame it like it belongs.
If there is any moral to the story, then throwing and discarding is as important as buying, if not more. Don’t allow clutter to strap your life, open your spaces and mind to living life in the now.

6 responses »

  1. Thanks so much for this. As a long time yard sale and thrift store lover, I was unaware of the clutter. It wasn’t so bad, but I wanted my empty spaces back. I now love the Zen philosophy. I am having a yard sale to get rid of most of it, then donating, and collecting memories, not stuff. I don’t think others like coming into a cluttered filled to the brim home. I want my home to greet me and others. Thanks again and keep up the great work.

  2. Update, I made over $200 from my yard sale, donated a bunch of clothes etc to GW. Goodbye to that clutter, and hello to new more simple life. I will give alot of thought to anything new that comes into my home.
    God Bless.

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