Get clear on what matters: Anchor to the desired feelings

Think you want more? Maybe you really want less

Simplicity and minimalism are popular topics these days. Tiny houses. Marie Kondo telling us to that our possessions should spark joy. Documentaries on minimalism.

I first discovered the simple living movement over 20 years ago as a recent college graduate. I read books such as Living the Simple Life, The Simple Living Guide, and Your Money or Your Life. To be honest, I was drawn in part to simplicity for budgetary reasons. I wasn’t making much money and was living in an expensive metro area, Boston.

Simple living in the land of minimalism

In the books, the stories about people living simpler but more meaningful lives resonated with me. In fact, they in part inspired me to pursue my dream of living in Japan. By the way, if you ever need to be forced to declutter, a move overseas works wonders. Before my big international move, I shed many of my possessions. Yes, I bought my books on simple living with me to Japan.

During the eight years I lived in Japan, I lived a simpler life in a small apartment. In many ways, Japan was an ideal place to practice minimalism. Traditional Japanese architecture, tea ceremony, and flower arranging embrace a minimal aesthetic. As space is at a premium, Japanese homes creatively use rooms for many functions. A perfect example is stowing futons in closets to use the room for other purposes during the day.

Thanks to my simpler lifestyle, my husband and I traveled, paid two graduate school tuitions and invested money. We focused on experiences instead of things whenever possible.

In an ironic twist, the money we saved helped to fund a less simple life as homeowners in an American suburb. I love my kid-friendly neighborhood, but often long to live in a smaller home with less stuff and less to maintain.

Although my life is less simple these days, the concepts of simple living still inspire me. But many resources I find only touch on the surface by focusing on de-cluttering and things.

Thus, I was so happy to read Soulful Simplicity: How living with less can lead to so much more by Courtney Carver. One look at the title and I knew I had to read it. Plus the cherry blossoms on the cover reminded me of the years I spent living a simple life in Japan.

In Soulful Simplicity, Courtney Carver takes it deeper:

“With all the focus on minimalism, simplicity, decluttering, and capsule wardrobes, it’s easy to believe that a simple life is the dream, but a simple life is not the end goal. We don’t remove the clutter, reduce the stress, and boycott busyness to have a simple life. We do it to have a life.”

No more living and working outside of your heart

A wake-up call brought Courtney Carver to simple living. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis while training for a bike ride to raise money for MS. Even before the diagnosis, her inner voice was telling her that things had to change. My own wake-up call was a series of events: a tsunami, a miscarriage, and burnout.

Courtney made the hard choice to make changes in her life to regain her health and her life. She credits simplifying her life with helping her re-find herself. In her words,

“You used to know who you were, but all the stuff, obligations, and craziness of life got in the way and clouded your vision. Getting rid of everything that doesn’t matter allows you to remember who you are. Simplicity doesn’t change who you are; it brings you back to who you are. Simplifying your life invites you to start peeling back the layers of excess, outside and in. Once you remove all the things that have been covering you up and holding you back, you can step into yourself, back into your heart, and be you again.”

One of the ways Courtney simplified her life is by having fewer ends. She states, “I finally figured it out. Instead of working so hard to make ends meet, work on having fewer ends.” This is one my favorite insights from this book.

If you want to get clear on what matters, get rid of everything that doesn’t

“My new definition of success includes metrics like how I spend my time, and how I treat people, including myself. It has nothing to do with deadlines, dollars, stuff, square footage, or job titles anymore.”

In short, Courtney chose love over stuff. She advises that you probably need less than you thought to be happy. Remind yourself what you are making space for in your life. You buy fewer things and get rid of what is not serving you.

Courtney takes Marie Kondo’s decluttering question “does this bring me joy?” one step further. She recommends creating a list of moments and experiences that bring you joy. When you consider an item, ask yourself whether it brings you more joy than any one of the moments on your list.

The gateway into simplicity for Courtney was starting with her clothes. First, she had to learn a valuable lesson. “You will never find something that makes you feel beautiful, smart, or loved until you believe you already are.”

Next, Courtney realized that no one cared what she was wearing. She decided to spend the time she used to spend on fashion on other things. If this intrigues you, check out Project 333, a fashion challenge Courtney created. In the challenge, you wear only 33 items for three months. Since hearing about this challenge a few years ago, I have been whittling down my wardrobe.

After her closet, Courtney moved on to the rest of her home. In doing so, she realized that a home is not meant to be a place to hold all your possessions. Things are not what makes a home. Love and connection are what matters. As more and more empty space appeared, she and her husband realized they could live in a smaller home. They downsized from a 2,000 square foot house to an apartment.

Stop the juggling already! Linger longer.

“Instead of thinking about the opposite of business as laziness, consider the opposite of a busy life as a full, intentional life.”

How many times have you had this conversation?
Friend: “How are you?”
You: “I’m soooo busy.”

A lot, right? Enough with the busyness. I am not my to-do list! What will happen if a task does not get done? This section of the book is what I most needed to hear.

Simple living is about more than my possessions. It is also about choosing how I spend our time with intention. I cannot juggle everything. Courtney “…will not say yes when my heart says no.” I try to stop viewing busyness as a badge of honor and stop talking about how busy I am.

As a parent, I find that my kids’ activities add to a hectic life. I want my child to be well-rounded. Activities sometimes get scheduled every day of the week. A day of rest, or Sabbath, has disappeared for most people I know. Courtney remarked that unrounded kids are great too.

When was the last time I lingered and took my time? I love to linger over my morning cup of tea, but it often does not happen. My favorite piece of advice from Courtney in this entire book is to linger longer. Can I take a long lunch? Schedule a coffee break or walk with friends? In the United States especially, we need to reclaim the lost art of lingering.

But how to find the time? Courtney suggests:

“As you simplify your calendar, and start saying no when your heart says no, you will have more time to take care of yourself, think, and linger.”

Want soulful simplicity? Anchor to the desired feeling

Courtney Carver’s journey to soulful simplicity was inspired in part by The Desire Map. The Desire Map process can help anyone who wants to live a more intentional life. But I believe that it is even more beneficial if you are at a point of transition.

Courtney is no exception. She discovered The Desire Map after a devastating medical diagnosis. It was one of the tools she used to realign her life.

“I tried to prove my worth to someone else by what I accomplished, owned, or said. I thought my pain was just part of the dream. Danielle Laporte, author of The Desire Map, said, ‘if you have to step outside of yourself, away from your values and soul to get your needs met, then you’re not really going to get your needs met.’ I was constantly stepping outside of myself. That was my pain. I stepped out of myself so many times, I forgot who I was.”

If you are thinking about living a simpler life, Courtney advises:

“If you are holding onto stuff that you bought for a life you don’t live, give it away and figure out what you really want and how to get it. The Desire Map will help you start. You might realize that what you really want isn’t something you can get at the mall or hang in your closet.”

One of Courtney’s core desired feelings is benevolence. On Danielle LaPorte’s blog, she tells how she sought ways to express this. She surprised herself with a simple solution to make a meaningful difference. She made sandwiches, sealed each with a heart sticker, got on her bike, and gave them to homeless people. In the post, she wrote: “Be anchored to the desired feeling, and open to the form in which it manifests.”

As I anchor on my desire to feel free, soulful simplicity sounds more and more appealing. Like Courtney, I think I’ll start in my closet. Maybe it will free up time for me to develop deep connections, one of my core desired feelings, while I linger?

Want to linger longer on the topic?

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Kelsey Cleveland is a Desire Map facilitator who helps women in transition figure out how to set goals based on how they really want to feel. She is also a freelance writer who writes articles, essays and blog posts and is working on a book-length memoir.

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