In the beginning of 2016 I left behind a city that I loved so that I could love the city where I lived.
It worked. I enjoyed my life in San Francisco more when I didn’t have to compare it to my beloved college town, Providence, where I had been spending a week of every month for the past two years. This success wetted my hunger for further life improvement through detachment, a pursuit that found a predictable next stop in the pages of Mari Kondo’s super-best-seller.
My mom had embraced her own brand of minimalist housekeeping long before it became a pop culture phenomenon. When I moved back to the Bay Area, she wasted no time in showing up at my house in a car loaded full of everything from crayon drawings I did when I was five to high school math trophies. I now had, in one place, the totality of my earthly possessions, and they were disturbingly voluminous.
The process of decluttering with Konmari method is something a lot of people make fun of, but I believe it to be an extremely useful solution to the problem of too much stuff. The method can really be described in these simple steps:
- Start by grouping your things together by category. For example if you see a lonely roll of tape, put it with the other rolls of tape.
- Go through your things, one category at a time. For each item, ask yourself “does this spark joy?” and if the answer is a definitive "yes", keep it. Otherwise, gently place it in a “no" pile.
- Take the stuff in the discard piles and donate or trash it. When you realize how good this feels, you’ll probably want to go back and take a harder look at step 2, until you are only left with the things that really enrich your life.
Getting rid of stuff clears the mental junk we accumulate as a result of the potential future tasks, projects, or pain of eventually discarding that we associate with those objects. It is also a physical enactment of embracing detachment that is likely to leave you looking for additional ways to simplify your life.
Initially I thought what this meant for me was to detach from my home life in San Francisco and journey out into Asia with a backpack. I thought that if I disconnected from my home, my connections, and my life patterns I would find a deeper fulfillment in my ability to stay entertained as a wanderer and digital nomad.
I danced 'til dawn in a downpour on Kao San Road. I meditated half-lotus in the mountains of Chiang Mai.
On a dark night a cat-sized gecko made his odd honk and I was posed a dream of deep humility. A goddess took me by the hand. She swirled me conscious around vistas of my future family. When I woke up I saw that I was yet again attached. I was attached to the boyish conception that happiness lives at the bottom of a Singapore sling, or on the dazzle of a skyscraped foggy horizon. I was deluded to think that happiness lives at the extremes.
I saw that every ounce of life I squeezed from my adventure, I would need pour back out to come home. The pendulum was swinging and my pursuit of happiness at the fringes was a zero sum game.
On a trip originally intended to be months long, I came home after three weeks. I sat under a tree in Olema and meditated. Under that tree, I wrote down a list of eight things I truly want to fill my life with:
- observing nature
- exercise I enjoy
- using technology to make things
- expressing love for my romantic partner
- spending time with friends and family
Some things I had previously assumed were essential did not make the list at all. Drinking and Cannabis for example. So I stopped doing them, and it was fine. This was clarifying, and pleasantly surprising. What I had thought was scarcity turned out to be abundance.
I feel ready. I reach for my phone and let her know I'm back in town. She replies that it would make her happy to see me. We meet up on Octavia and I see the smile that my head has been dreaming glitter out in front of me.
She's one hell of an everything and I can't wait to introduce her to all the nothing I've been making.