A few months ago, I decided to change my life.
I quit my job, I left my flat and my friends and my three-year-long relationship, and I bought a ticket to Thailand.
As I began my travel preparations, I suddenly faced my first challenge: Where the hell am I going to keep all my stuff?
In my apartment, there was an old upright piano, boxes full of notebooks and “important” paperwork, two closets full of clothes, a wall of shelves full of books I would never read again, and a million other pretty things — my pretty things.
But my mind was set, and this change was needed. I set myself the challenge to fit all my belongings in a 40-liter backpack and started the biggest spring-clean of my life.
It took me some time to understand that stuff is just stuff. I learned that my mom won’t stop loving me if I toss the purse she made for me when I was 17 (which I kept in a dusty cupboard ever since), and that I don’t need 14 different kinds of kitchen knives. I came to a liberating conclusion: I don’t really need anything. I can choose what I own.
At some point, this process became a pleasure. I loved the empty space left by the things I gave away. The less I had, the more I cherished the few things I kept: I could finally admire that beautiful painting on my living room wall because it had space to breathe, and I stopped having problems choosing what to wear because I kept only my very favorite clothes.
How to Choose What You Own
You get home every day and feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in your flat: the unwashed empty glasses on your desk, a pile of dirty laundry full of clothes you don’t even like, the walls covered with pictures you never see, and a couch with no empty space for you to sit on.
You decide it’s enough, and you want this to change. But where to start?
In his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick came up with the term kipple to describe the type of clutter that seems to build up on its own.
Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers of yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.
No one needs kipple. So why not start there? According to the First Law of Kipple, “Kipple drives out nonkipple.” If you start throwing away the unnecessary, you will get better at identifying the things that actually serve you, and you will find the time and space to use them.
Feelings, Needs, and Purpose
Now that I had focused my time, my space, and my mind on the essential, I wanted the same for my relationships.
Everything I owned had a purpose now: My laptop for work and fun, my spork and bowl for eating, my only jacket for rainy days, and my backpack to keep and transport all of those things.
So why didn’t all my relationships have a purpose, too? I wanted mutual growth, play, love, support, understanding, and being understood, but I was mostly getting small talk, gossip, negative energy, and boring dinner parties.
Luckily for me, during my travels I accidentally ended up attending a nonviolent communication (NVC) workshop.
NVC is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg that teaches us how to look beyond the surface in our interactions with others to find the essence of our connection with them. It shows us how to look for the feelings and the needs behind our words and attend to them.
For example: If your partner tells you, “You never spend time with me. It seems like you only care about your friends,” his intention is probably not to annoy you. You just have to access the feelings behind his words (maybe jealousy? maybe fear?) and find out which of his needs aren’t being met (perhaps appreciation? support?). Check out this inventory of feelings and needs, and learn more about NVC here.
As I looked for the deeper meaning behind people’s actions, my relationships gained authenticity: My friendships became scarcer but stronger. I learned to see beyond “interpersonal kipple.” My conversations became meaningful and full of insight.
How to Declutter All Fields of Life
Here’s how to make your whole life more meaningful:
Look for the purpose.
Just like with your flat and your stuff, you just need to find the right purpose for each conversation, meeting, or interaction.
The same goes for your health: Are you eating that bucket of ice cream because you’re hungry, or because you feel anxious and in need of emotional comfort? And for everything else: Why do you need so many clothes? Do you really want to talk about the weather all the time? Do you like seeing all those papers piling up on your desktop, or would you rather organize them in folders so you can see that inspiring wallpaper when you switch on your laptop?
I believe everything has a right place to exist. Some things are meant to be kept, and some are not. Make a list of what makes you happy and why, and consider removing the rest. And don’t be harsh on yourself: If you take it slowly, you might even end up enjoying it.