We’re members of one of the most privileged societies in the world.
So why do we yearn for more when we have so much already?
I feel uncomfortable even writing about it because I’m still dripping in disobedience and greed. Tens of thousands of people every day die from hunger, yet we’re throwing out food we forgot about because we had so much other food to eat. Countless kids around the world will never learn to read, yet our children’s bookshelves are overflowing with books we haven’t gotten around to opening yet.
We have so much. We have education, food, shelter, knowledge, technology, opportunities, access, abilities, and talents. But still, for reasons carved deep into the walls of our hearts, we want more, better, faster. We glorify a chronic breakneck pace, always moving forward, always upgrading, adding, and amassing. But what if, even for just a few days, we addressed the perfectionism that produces these ugly feelings? What if we took a good look at the burning holes in our hearts to see what they are really shaped like?
Is the hole we’re filling really shaped like a new dress or a new pair of shoes? I don’t know about you, but I had a baby-shaped hole in my heart for a long time. I tried to fill it with dark-wash skinny jeans, knickknacks, and more stuff from Target. I remodeled our entire kitchen trying to take my mind off it. White subway tile didn’t get me very far. Do you know where it did get me? To a sad place where all I wanted was all I’d never have. I had to address the real ache. I had to free my always-outreached hands, which were waiting for the next adrenaline rush spurred by the joy of holding something new.
Contentment plays an enormous role in our ability to simplify. In fact, it’s the very foundation of the concept.
Imagine what life would look like if we were truly content with just the objects we own. Sit on that for a minute. All you have now is all you’ll have.
That thought makes the kitchen table I want to replace look pretty good. Merriam-Webster defines contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Yes, please. I deeply want that kind of peace. Just like the pages in our planners, our lives could use more white space. More emptiness — physically speaking. When we rid ourselves of excess, we make room for God.
Tactically, how do we rid ourselves of excess? How do we pursue the heart-change we’re after?
Our mailboxes are full. Our inboxes are full. Our closets, pantries, bookshelves, and cabinets are full. Our lives are full.
How do we expect to fit in time for playing on the floor with little ones? Or date nights without cell phones? Or new, serendipitous discoveries with friends?
All the excess overshadows the important stuff.
Every possession we have is a window to our heart — an opportunity for something to impact us. That includes every e-mail, every computer file, and every piece of junk mail that steals three seconds of your time. Add those up and remove them, and you’ve got fifteen minutes to sit by yourself in a tub and read. You get your life back, minute by minute. And that’s no small thing.
How can you find real contentment? Start with three steps: clear the clutter, fast from distractions, and reshape your heart with new focus.
Clear the Clutter
- Inbox: Visit Unroll.Me or a similar service to unsubscribe all at once from e-mail subscriptions and newsletters. Adopt the Flag-or-Trash e-mail system: end every day at zero by flagging e-mails that need attention and deleting the rest. No need for lots of folders or color codes. Red flag or trash. That’s it. When you have time, address flagged e-mails. You do not need to work in real time, answering e-mails on your phone or computer the minute they’re received.
- Mailbox: My mailbox is slam full every single day. And after all the time it takes to sort through the paper, I end up throwing most of it out. Visit CatalogChoice.org, DMAchoice.org, or another such service to opt out of catalogs and junk mail lists to decrease the amount of mail you receive. That’s a little more brain space you’ve taken back.
- Computer: Do your files and systems make you feel overwhelmed? Adopt a very simple system. I love Dropbox for accessing files from any device. Several other cloud-sharing systems do the same thing. I have one folder on my desktop with three folders inside: Personal, Work, and Photos. Now, each one has a gazillion folders inside, but they’re organized so that finding files is quick and painless.
- Phone: Move apps you don’t use regularly to a place on your phone where you can’t see them. On the start screen, keep only the apps you use daily, even (and especially) if those apps don’t fill up the entire page. Ah, breathing room. Delete apps you don’t use.
- Stuff: Be relentless with your trash pile and donate pile. Physical clutter is mental clutter.
Fast from the Distractions
- Social media: Social media can be a great thing to keep us connected and inspired. It can also be a ginormous time-suck and a breeding ground for comparison. Remember: unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.
- If someone makes you feel icky or insecure inside, why follow that person? Make your feed a place of inspiration and encouragement. Find accounts that are uplifting and authentic, and feed your brain with that. I follow two accounts on Twitter: Bob Goff and Love Does. That’s it. It’s a happy feed full of balloons, Jesus, and perspective. Every once in a while, fast from social media to get some perspective back. Start with a certain time of day, then maybe a weekend. Eventually new habits will form, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) will fade away.
- Online shopping: Do you window shop online? Remove those bookmarks. Clear your Internet history. Unsubscribe from those sale alerts. Find a new way to give or save that money.
- Excessive commitments: Just say no. Free yourself from the trap of being spread too thin. Quit something.
- Media: We’ve put a limit on TV and technology at our house, but it’s still something we struggle with. Primarily, I struggle with noise. There’s always a ping or a ding or a notification or an announcer on as the soundtrack to my life. But I don’t want to hear that! I want to hear baby giggles, my five-year-old’s discoveries, and all about my husband’s day. Turn off the notifications on your phone or tablet. Put it in a drawer if you have to. Throw it out the window even. Make the mute button your favorite button on the TV remote.
- Other: What else is holding you back? Write out what’s keeping you from finding real contentment in your life. A Target addiction? (They have Starbucks in there! I get it!) Too many episodes of Gilmore Girls ? (I really get that one!) Comparison? Self-doubt? What can you fast from?
Give Your Heart New Focus
- Rest: Sleep recharges our bodies and refreshes our souls. As a society, we’ve lost the ability to be still in our minds. We take our phones to bed with us and find every reason in the world to fill our hands and minds with stuff. Practice the art of stillness without distraction. I remember someone telling me once that if our children always see us with our hands full, checking phones at red lights or multitasking during playtime with them, we teach them it’s not normal to simply sit, stare out the window, and sing along with the radio. We teach them that simple is boring. So rest. Be still. Let your tank fill itself while your body refuels.
- Read: Allow your mind to wander. Reading does great things for me. It takes my brain out of work and child-rearing and into new places, new situations, new problems I don’t have to solve, new experiences, and new people. Read a novel, and give your imagination a workout. Or go nonfiction and learn more about the world you live in.
- Listen: My dad says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we’d listen more than we talk.” Hear the stories your children tell. Hear the sounds of your family and your home. Hear the voices of your friends and neighbors and the songs of the birds outside. Soak in the sounds of your beautiful life.
Finding contentment is as much about simplifying as it is about changing the attitude of your heart.
Contentment is a practice, and it’s worth taking up consistently. Rid yourself of excess, fast from distractions, and refocus your heart. You’ll find that joy is already in front of you, just waiting to be recognized.
Excerpted with permission from Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy by Emily Ley, copyright Emily Ley.
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Do you find yourself discontent even with all that you have? I feel so exhorted to clear the clutter, fast from the many things that distract me from what really matters (especially social media), and rest, read, and listen! What do you need to clear out in order to have room to refocus your heart and soul on Jesus? What have those of you who are already practicing these step discovered? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full