I came across a little gem of a book a few years ago – Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and for me it truly felt life-changing. I have moved nearly every year of my adult life, and my boss is convinced that I am actually either in the witness protection program or a secret agent. Of course, I am neither. But if you live in an absurdly expensive city like San Diego, you already know that this is simply the fate of an adult who is not a homeowner because rent is continuously on the rise. But I digress. The point is, that moving annually automatically prohibits the accumulation of too much “stuff,” and yet I had never really thoughtfully considered the intentions underlying what I was packing up and moving with me from one apartment to another. Kondo offered an elegant and concise approach that was a complete paradigm shift for me, as I imagine it has been for millions of readers all over the world. This unassuming and joyful Japanese woman recently filmed her first season of a documentary series that follows the lives of several families in their journeys to de-clutter the outside (and the inside!) of their lives.

I realized that I had always kept in my possession those items that either had great sentimental meaning to me or more commonly, items that I believed I might need again one day. I did not consider whether or not they gave me joy, only whether they had utility. And honestly, in the chronic exhaustion of adult life, many of my moves were thoughtless, involving mechanical, habitual packing and unpacking of the same familiar objects, year after year. In my most recent move, I finally took a few weekends to sift through boxes of old cards and memorabilia. It was a highly emotional experience and I now understand why Kondo recommends that we do that part last. In any case, I took many trips down memory lane. I even discovered artwork from high school (Yikes! I am nearly 50!) and I had to ask myself repeatedly…”Good God! Why do I still have this? Why do I keep packing and unpacking all of these items? What is my intention?”

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing | Order from Amazon

Although I occasionally relapse, reading her book and implementing her strategies changed the way I shop and what I keep in my space. Again, I won’t lie. I relapse…often. I forget sometimes and get caught up in a completely emotional purchase (i.e., retail therapy), only later to regret it (and often without an option to return the item). But for the most part, as long as I am mindfully moving through my day, this does not happen. Now, a few years after digesting the idea of surrounding myself only with belongings that bring me joy, I have translated her lessons to the rest of my life. Creating a life that brings me joy is equally important as creating a space that brings me joy. I realize now in the frantic and nonstop life of “adulting” that it is so easy to give way to habits – habit thoughts, habit feelings, and habit behaviors. The problem is that as we unconsciously slip into our repetitive pattern of behaviors, it’s easy to forget why we are doing what we are doing, and I’m not sure we even stop to ask ourselves if we still want this “thing” in our life anymore.

Think about it. How many times do you just pick up the same exact items at the grocery store, simply because it’s a habit and it’s what you always get or eat? How often do you drive the same way? Do the same exact workout? Hang out at the same exact place with the same exact people doing the same exact thing? Wear the same 10 items in your closet (which is probably 1% of what you own!), just because “it’s comfortable.” Sure, maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t serving your life well. Maybe trying something new will open your life up to a new opportunity. I’m not saying that we don’t need routines and rituals. Those are good for us too. But if we don’t stay open to other possibilities, then we may have difficulty adapting through life, we may even experience distress, and at the very least, we may miss out.

Change is inevitable, no matter what we do to combat it. So perhaps if we embrace change we will also find more meaning in our lives. As I have become older I have grown a greater capacity to experience things like compassion, gratitude, radical acceptance, and humility. I no longer take my life or anything in it for granted – EVER. I take more time out of my life to tell the people I love that I do love them, and whenever feasible, I try to spend time with them too. My “circle of trust” has also shrunken down to what can be counted on less than two hands. And it’s okay. I have realized that love and happiness come as a package deal with pain. Trauma is isolating. Aging is isolating. And even the American lifestyle (i.e., of workaholism) is isolating. And with this knowledge, I have felt an increasingly dire need to constantly reevaluate the ways in which I am living my life.

Living with intention

Using intention as the origin and the catalyst for change. Mindfully choosing and articulating intention for every thought, feeling, or action. Now, when I have a thought that is unhealthy I ask myself, “What is the purpose of this thought? What is my intention?” And recognizing that it does not serve me well helps me immediately challenge and replace it with something more worthwhile. Now, when I eat something I ask myself, “What is my intention? What is the purpose of this food?” Perhaps my kale and turmeric egg omelet does not need to bring me immediate joy, but feeling and being healthy does bring me joy. Every ingredient in my omelet has a purpose. I am eating with intention. My intention is good health.

“If we do not take a moment to pause to consider our intentions for everything we think, say, and do, we may find ourselves wrapped up in a frenzy of repeated and meaningless patterns (and toilet paper).”

 

Living with intention has even more relevance than ever with the recent COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying panic sweeping across the planet. If we do not take a moment to pause to consider our intentions for everything we think, say, and do, we may find ourselves wrapped up in a frenzy of repeated and meaningless patterns (and toilet paper). And these patterns are nothing more than habits. In this very scary time, there may be a very high cost of giving in to the seductive nature of habits. Just because something is a habit does not mean it is helpful and it may actually be harmful. Just because something is a habit does not mean it is meaningful or important or real. It just means it’s a habit. And we can change habits.

Think about some of your own habits. Have you found yourself having a series of habit thoughts about yourself or other people, perhaps leaving you feeling angry, sad, or scared? Ask yourself now, “What is the purpose of this thought? What is my intention?” Suddenly, you will likely have some clarity about this not being a useful thought. Truth or not is irrelevant. All we are left with is the consequence of our thought. So change it into one that is useful, and you will also probably feel a lot better. There is no right or wrong – there is only what you believe. And what you believe will either help you thrive or it will poison you.

Have you found yourself now in this mass quarantine feeling completely lost in terms of what to do to entertain yourself or your children? Is your exercise routine completely disrupted? Your socializing rituals? Dining rituals? Shopping rituals? Has your work schedule or location changed? NOW, more than ever, you are being called upon to meticulously evaluate your life. I recommend that you utilize this time to also carefully evaluate the intention behind every choice you make. If you discover that there are some thoughts, feelings, behaviors, activities, and even friends or acquaintances that simply no longer serve your life and your purpose…now is your opportunity to change what you want. The entire world has turned upside down so you can take advantage of the chaos and use that momentum to create real change in your life. Habits are hard to change, but a lot easier to change when we don’t have a choice. And right now, none of us have a choice.

Just remember to ask yourself these simple questions:

Does this bring me joy? (Thank you Marie Kondo!)

And…What is my intention? What is the purpose? Is this meaningful? Does this serve me or my life well?

Good luck to us all!

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