Our lives are overfull. There’s not a single one of us who is free of that trap, in my experience. We say yes to invitations and commitments, we answer as many emails and messages as we can, we join courses and groups, buy books and take on new hobbies, get involved in new relationships and buy more stuff.
I’m going to share how I let go of attachment to possessions (other kinds of attachment, I’m still figuring out!) in this short guide. If you follow this guide, you will become a certified minimalist!
Many people I know are on a quest to optimize their lives — some of my favorite people in the world will spend days trying to perfect a productivity system, get things automated, or find the perfect software for anything they’re doing. They are on a continual search for the perfect diet, the perfect work routine, the perfect travel setup. Optimizing can take quite a bit of time and energy. What would happen if we let go of optimizing?
Far be it from me to divide humankind in two, but were I so inclined, I’d divide it into those who love reason and those who are indifferent if not outright hostile to it. Members of the first group adore the reasoning process and their own reasoning faculties. The others find the process burdensome and discomforting, something that threatens long-held beliefs and intuitions.
Living a simple life is about paring back, so that you have space to breath. It’s about doing with less, because you realize that having more and doing more doesn’t lead to happiness. It’s about finding joys in the simple things, and being content with solitude, quiet, contemplation and savoring the moment.
For some time now I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the monomyth popularized by thinkers like Joseph Campbell, C.S. Lewis, and (more recently) Jordan Peterson. One way of understanding a piece of what they have said is that all humans indeed occupy a story framework. We’re all taking Campbell’s “hero’s journey” and passing through its phases, which may look different for each of us.
We can’t stop the mind from coming up with the stories, as it is a narrative machine. However, that doesn’t mean we have to cling to the stories and keep them spinning around in our heads.
We allow fear to cause us to shrink from taking the action we want, or to make those actions less enjoyable. We allow shame to make us feel bad about ourselves and our lives, degrading our happiness and relationships. What would it be like if you were free of shame? How would you act if you were free of fear?
Letting go of our attachment to the outcome is freeing. It helps us to be more present with the doing, the being, the act itself, rather than what might come in the future. It can help us have better relationships, because we’re more focused on the people than the goal.
I sometimes hear people, including freedom advocates, pondering how society might “transition” from an authoritarian system to a stateless society. The implication is that there could be some sort of gradual, peaceful phasing in of freedom, and a phasing out of governmental controls. But that is not how things works, and not how things will ever work.