“It’s hard to see the forest for the trees.”
One thing that is hard to notice unless you really pay attention is all the stuff. I don’t just mean stuff in your home – I mean the stuff we come into contact with for fleeting moments every day. The truth is, our culture and economy encourage us to use a lot of stuff – and much of that stuff is not designed to be reused. Instead, it’s designed to be used once.
Single Use Syndrome
Think about it: how much stuff do you use every day, only one time? Perhaps it’s a plastic bag for groceries because you forgot your reusable ones. Perhaps it’s the to-go cup of coffee. Perhaps it’s the straw at your favorite restaurant.
The challenge is that it is so easy to come by stuff in the United States! In addition to single-use options everywhere you turn, there’s so much free stuff! Every conference you attend gives you a free bag with “goodies” inside. Storefronts feature loud signs promising “buy 1, get 1 free!” or “50% off!” Online retailers entice us with free shipping upgrades and discount codes. All of this clever marketing encourages us to use more and have more. Because we’re so used to it, we rarely stop to ask ourselves, WHY?
Do more objects lead to more joy?
Research says NO!
On the surface, an abundance of stuff seems like a good thing. It gives you choices, and the freedom of choice is a lovely thing. But there comes a point when all the choices lead to analysis paralysis or decision fatigue. Having many options can lead you to second-guess the choices you make – after all, what if you make the wrong choice?
What is a person to do!?
If you yearn for a simpler way of being, there are many movements encouraging and supporting you to make lifestyle choices that say no to stuff. While some of these lifestyles seem extreme, they can be valuable sources of inspiration for simplifying your life:
Start small, and be compassionate with yourself
If you feel ready to make some changes that will eliminate stuff from your life, it’s important to remember that you can’t boil the ocean! It’s normal to get excited about a new lifestyle, but be careful not to let your initial excitement lead to feeling overwhelmed and disappointed in yourself.
The key to success with any change is to start with mindfulness. Throughout your day, notice your habits without judgment. Pretend you’re doing an experiment and that it’s not personal – you’re just observing. What do you notice?
- Maybe you’re susceptible to getting free stuff – even if you don’t like or need it
- Maybe you’re easily seduced by sales (I’m guilty of this one!)
- Maybe you lack systems for having your reusable bags handy
- Maybe you love stopping at Starbucks for a treat
If so, you’re not doing anything wrong! The best time to make change is when making a change will improve your quality of life. Being more aware of the choices you make provides opportunities to make small changes if you wish to. Remember to be compassionate with yourself and take a problem-solving approach. Don’t have reusable bags when you need them? Try keeping them in your car or on a hook by the door. Or try a reusable bag that you can keep in your purse, backpack or laptop case.
If you find that you don’t have a habit of being mindful throughout the day (and that’s okay! You have a lot of things to do!) one alternative is to sit quietly for a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect. It may help to have a pen and paper to jot down ideas. What did you do today? Were there parts of your day when you said “yes” to stuff without noticing it? Or are you slowly releasing things in your life that no longer serve you?
Habit, habit, habit
Most of our behavior is habitual. Some of our habits come from childhood and are so deeply ingrained we don’t notice them. As you practice mindfulness throughout the day or during a time of reflection, consider your habits. Which habits serve you well? Which hold you back and limit your growth?
- Perhaps you notice a pattern of taking a walk in the evening to listen to your favorite podcast. This makes you feel energized and engaged. Great!
- Perhaps you notice a pattern of logging on to Facebook, then losing track of time. Suddenly, you notice (as you scroll through a high school acquaintance’s vacation photos) it’s been 30 minutes. Do you mentally berate yourself? Do you feel unhappy because those vacation photos look nicer than yours? These are opportunities to notice your thoughts and feelings as you engage in habitual activities.
You may discover a habit around stuff that you wish to modify or change. For example, perhaps you notice a habit of always saying yes when offered something for free. Whether it’s a complimentary cup of coffee in a styrofoam mug, or a free bag of swag at an event, or even a free pen, many of us feel a rush when we get free stuff. But often times we don’t need the free items, and they become clutter in our homes.
The tortoise approach to changing your habits
It takes at least 21-30 days to change a habit – often longer. And it’s normal to slip up at first! The goal is not perfection, but modest change. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady like the tortoise is the the best approach for changing habits.
Commit to practicing your new habit for a week and then assess how it feels. Download our free Mastering a New Habit chart to assist you in meeting your goals, and remember that changing habits can feel awkward at times. You may catch yourself saying yes to something free or single-use, then have to go back and say, “actually, no thank you.” Being aware of your habitual behaviors and making these course corrections is how non-productive habits change.
You may find yourself starting to notice the barrage of marketing that you are subject to without always being aware of it. As you mindfully refuse free products, you’ll start realizing how much free stuff is around us! This level of awareness allows you to claim your power to make choices based on your values and needs – not those of marketing professionals.
What free stuff are you ready to let go? What’s the hardest habit you want to change? Let us know in the comments!