Aparigraha April Challenge #1: Make room in your closet and in your heart.
I am a big proponent of ‘less stuff.’ I’m also a big proponent of holding on to keepsakes and seemingly useless items that have accrued deep sentimental value. Actually, I’m a big proponent of never throwing anything away. I think I get that from my grandma. (While cleaning her basement a few years ago, I recycled 3 boxes of Better Homes and Gardens magazines. From pre-1982. Seriously? Seriously.) So how can I reconcile these two incongruent predispositions?
This is what I’ve set out to do over the past few years. In three years, I’ve moved houses four times. Moving all your earthly possessions is serious evidence for the case of aparigraha. The experience of living out of a hiking backpack in sub-Saharan Africa for five months, a constant house-guest of families living meagerly, only adds to that case. The basic rule is this: Life is not about things. If you have less things, you have more life. Aparigraha is about learning to trust that we do not have to hold on to material things for dear life. Life is already dear.
“Most of our energy goes into upholding our importance. If we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen to us. One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two, we would provide ourselves with enough energy to catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe.” – Carlos Castaneda.
I’ve developed the following five rules. Here are your challenges for Week #1:
1. Set Limits. There are things in your closet that you need. There are things in your closet that you don’t need, but that you want. There are things in your closet that you want, but you definitely do not need four of them. Start there. Look at items you have more than one of and ask yourself: ‘Do I really need this many? When was the last time I used this?’ For example, nail polish. My feet are literally in people’s faces when I’m adjusting a yoga pose. I need my feet to look well-groomed and to feel professional. I need one, maybe two, colors of nail polish. I do NOT need sixteen. No one needs sixteen. Use what you have, and commit to not buying any more. (Side note: your extra items and your lack of needing these items will soon become apparent to you… after committing to this rule, I immediately broke two bottles of nail polish and caught my extra hair straightener on fire. Apparently, I didn’t need those.)
2. “Well…” = Sell. I’m in my closet, unpacking my tubs of spring clothes and folding sweaters to put in storage until next summer. This is a great time to decide which clothes were useful to me, and which clothes I no longer need. Here’s my rule: if your sentence starts off with the word, “Well…” then Sell It. For example: “Well… I didn’t wear it this winter, but next year I might go to the symphony and need a dress like this” or “Well… I don’t really like this sweater, but maybe I’ll wear it next fall” or “Well… it’s just such a nice sweater, I don’t want it to sit on the racks in a thrift store forever.” This is futile, and slightly ridiculous. If you aren’t wearing that sweater, find someone who will. Create an eBay account and sell your stuff. It’s easy. eBay takes a small commission when the item sells, but listing items is usually free. I’ve learned that you don’t have to sit by the computer waiting for your item to be off auction. You can use an option called “Buy It Now” and list your sweater for a fixed price. It’s beyond exciting when something sells and your phone makes that “cha-ching!” sound.
3. Give one box. Carry one (just 1!) empty box around your house. Walk through your closet, your basement, your spare room, your kitchen, your bathroom, etc. and simply ask: “What can I give?” You will be amazed at what you discover. Those three extra towels that are unravelling at the edges? Doggies and kitties at the GreatPlains SPCA could use a bath. The board games in your upstairs cabinet that no one has played since 2001? Kiddos in after school programs like the Boys and Girls Club would love to play them. The random candles you stuffed in a drawer after Christmas? Your yoga studio would love to burn them. Most of us think we don’t have time to overhaul and clean out our entire house. We probably don’t. But one box is not overwhelming. It’s only one box. And the sheer act of giving is rewarding and heartwarming. I promise.
4. Forgive. Internally, aparigraha asks us to make room in our hearts. The biggest culprit of emotional constipation is resentment. Make room for more enjoyable, healthy emotions by choosing one grievance and choosing to forgive it. You may need to forgive yourself. You may need to forgive another person. You may need to forgive a situation. Research is clear: forgiveness is good for you and good for communities. You can expect to feel better immediately.
5. Make a List. Every day, practice gratitude intentionally by writing down one thing you are grateful for. I started doing this on my Notes app (because I’m attached to my iPhone) to save paper (because I love trees) and it changed my entire perspective on the day. I still occasionally complained when things didn’t go my way, but my frustration level dropped significantly every time I remembered my gratitude note. For example: dirty dishes– which I hate to wash. One morning I heard myself sighing in exasperation at the sight of pots and pans in the sink… silently complaining. And then I remembered: Lisa, you are lucky to have pots and pans, and you are more-than-lucky to have food to cook. In other words: Get over it, be grateful. Are you going to forget to do this? My Notes app reminds me every day at 9:00 am.
Remember: Aparigraha is about learning to trust that we do not have to hold on to things for dear life. Life is already dear.
Take the challenge and share with me.