The Elephant in the Uncluttered Room

Shift focus to the most important things -- The Elephant in the Uncluttered Room

For so many people, clutter simply isn’t a problem.

The problem isn’t of having too much, or being overwhelmed by excess, or feeling weighed down by their possessions.

The problem is in not having enough.

For those who make their homes in the slums of Delhi or the refugee camps in Darfur or the homeless shelters in every major city in the world, the problem is not, “I have too much stuff.” The problem is,

  • “My children need shoes.”
  • “I don’t know what we will eat.”
  • “We have nowhere to sleep.”
  • “There isn’t enough.”

This blog has never been a venue for self-righteous posturing, and I’m not going to start today. We know we are privileged. In the way that food in our belly, a roof over our head and access to modern technology is privileged.

But there are billions who have no such luxury. We are aware of this, and it’s my hope that as we – both me and you – continue to simplify our lives, we’ll be able to shift some of our privilege over to those who need it most. (In the way of financial aid and donations, volunteer work, clothing, micro-loans and decreased demand for cheap, disposable goods and unethical labour.)

But the elephant in this uncluttered room is staring at me.

The truth is, for someone who is so enthusiastic about living a simpler life with less stuff, I really do talk about it a lot.

Decluttering, donating, sorting, recycling. These activities all focus my attention on stuff, and while it has become less of a focus as we have simplified more and more, it’s still there.

Yes, it’s important to pare back your belongings. And there are so many good reasons for doing so. But stuff isn’t important. Not really. And it doesn’t deserve our full attention.

We are so lucky, so privileged, so fortunate, that to spend all that time focused on stuff is a waste. Instead, why not embrace the vital, beating parts of life? The breathing, the awe-inspiring and the quietly magnificent.

  • The jokes with friends.
  • The sun on our cheeks.
  • The unexpected view from a mountainside.
  • The heartswell of watching our kids learning and exploring.
  • The cocoon of an engrossing book.
  • The hot breath being pushed from our lungs.

It stings to admit we are privileged when we’re programmed to believe we deserve more, don’t you think? 


18 Responses to The Elephant in the Uncluttered Room

  1. Attending to stuff- whether it be acquiring more, sorting what we have, or downsizing our excesses- clearly takes a lot of our precious time away from what is really important to us. Unfortunately, the pursuit of stuff is what American consumerism and the media wants us to focus- to be consumed by it even. Many believe having more stuff is what is most important. My hope is individuals can become enlightened like I have and can deprogram themselves from this mindset. My strategy is to live by example and notice how my actions and perspectives eventually make sense to others. I do get a lot of strange looks when people hear I have “enough” and what I do have is “good enough”. Its not settling for less but rather reaching or aspiring to have what “stuff” cannot provide – like connectedness, community, and compassion.

  2. Sometimes a focus on certain stuff goes back to your childhood. My parents grew up in the Depression and that led them to never waste the smallest piece of twine or a used paper bag, even when they finally had enough financial security not to have to do this. Some of their ways were passed on, particularly those of keeping books (400 out of 500 now gone since I took your challenge 2013).

    As young marrieds, we tend to focus on getting stuff, then come children and they need some but not all the stuff we think they need. Now, recently retired and contemplating moving to a much smaller home, we are still focussed on stuff, but now about getting rid of much of it.

    Life has thrown a right hook at us lately and we are busy dealing with an aged parent with Alzheimers that has suddenly accelerated. I am not so competitive about decluttering that I found it hard to say “Whoa, this has to go on the back burner for now”.

    I keep my life balanced with exercise (zumbaholic!)and Spanish lessons, coffee dates with my friends once in a while and volunteering for our local Christmas Bureau. Stuff (getting and decluttering) only gets a few hours of my attention every week at this point.

    An easy way to donate to the hungry is the donation box found in most grocery stores. Each time I do my shopping, I purchase additional pasta, sauces, tuna, etc. for the box.

    I have really enjoyed reading all of your articles. Do you celebrate Victoria Day on May 20th as we Canadians do?

  3. I’m new to your blog but I knew early on why I am drawn here. This piece is one reason. The minimalist lifestyle and journey is a new venture for me so decluttering (packrat here) is important. Forturnately my other interests: community service and activism keeps me grounded in how fortunate I am, and in that vein miminalism is a natural, desired step for me. I want to give more.

  4. After a couple of years of not being able to afford much, Im finding I can do without more, and its kinda liberating. Im becomming less materialistic and enjoying what I have more instead of hankering after what I dont have. When I have a clear out of what I do have, it makes me feel like Im letting go of the past and allowing a better and brighter future to come in. :o)

  5. I have had no income for the last 18 months. Have been living off my saving and selling my “stuff”. The more that has gone, the less I find I need. My thought is I want to stay at home with my son, so therefore I need to live with minimal stuff.

  6. there are so many de-cluttering blogs but only a handful actually promote the idea of having less stuff. i’m glad to know yours.

  7. You posed a great question today. We do spend a lot of time talking about stuff but in a way that brings awareness to the problem of a consumerist lifestyle. I don’t think we can talk about a simpler life without talking about how stuff can hold us back, or prevent us from living our lives with awareness.

  8. I think the fact that we refer to our things as “stuff” is a symptom of the fact that we have so much that it loses its significance. A person living in poverty probably doesn’t wave their hand over their few things and call it stuff or clutter. Then it’s “my bowl, my pot, my dress, my book” because they only have one and it was hard to get.

  9. I think that, while minimalism begins with decluttering, it doesn’t end there. Once the excess possessions are gone, most people do change focus, and look for something to take the place of all of the stuff. By decluttering, we’ve freed up time and resources. We’re free to live our dreams, and–because we’ve become less attached to material possessions, we’re more willing to give back. A month or so ago, I did a fundraiser for a friend’s daughter, who was badly burned, and I can tell you from that, that minimalists are quite generous and more willing to pitch in to help a stranger, than any other group of people I can think of.

  10. Yes I do think that our focus on stuff whatever that maybe for some people be it the new car, latest phone, computer or whatever.
    Now that I have pared back my stuff and will continue to do so I feel more released and free and unburdened by the crappy relationships or the past.
    It has inspired me to make small contributions to charities that are important to me and I feel so much better for it. I have also made small loans to a couple of folks in need as well.

  11. Having just finished counting the Christian Aid week money, I think we don’t know how much we have that others don’t have. It sounds crazy but the bigger the house and the better the car the less likely that the house would give. And older people gave more often although I can’t say how much anyone gave as individuals. I wonder if this is part of living through the war?

  12. Another wonderful post Brooke, and one that has got me thinking. I am a long way from winning the clutter battle, but adding some feel good activity to my life will be a very positive step. Mmmmmmm…..

  13. I really like the emphasis you’re putting on using less stuff as a way of being aware of more in this post, rather than less stuff being the end goal in and of itself. I recently read someone defining minimalism as ‘shifting our thoughts and energy away from material things to focus on human growth and social links’ and found that very striking.

  14. I so appreciate this perspective. It’s a thought I’ve had more than once and the elephant is (to be frank) something that has put me off at times in the simplicity movement. I especially appreciate it at this time of year, when the giving and getting of stuff is such a preoccupation. Thank you.

  15. This is such a wonderful post, Brooke. Yes, of course we want o focus on de-cluttering and getting rid of all the stuff but we also need to strike a balance – pause – and take stock of our lives and what else we want to define us. Thanks for the perspective!

  16. A lovely post Brooke, thank you for always adding a new spin to this simple life.
    I’m doing a December Decluttering Challenge over at my blog, I did one in August too with great success, and if its alright with you might just have to link a few of your posts into it.
    Its a very important time to be also counting our privileged blessings this time of year when there are so many without. I have down sized my christmas this year, making the majority of my christmas presents (mainly of the cooked variety: fruit mince tarts, shortbreads, rosemary salt) but the main thing I’m adding to my loved ones christmas card is an appreciation letter. I’m very excited to see the joy I know it will bring to each of them.
    Warm regards

  17. Thank you for this jarring reminder. “Things” take over our lives, especially this time of year. It is so easy to forget the most basic things that bring pure pleasure. This holiday season, we should all be focusing more on these subtle, natural gifts, and sharing those…a warm burning fire, the feeling after waking up from a restful sleep with no interruptions. By verbally acknowledging these small beautiful moments we can help remind ourselves and others what brings true happiness.

Leave a reply