“Perfection is attained not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to remove.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite authors. It celebrates taking away – simplifying, if you will.
I love it because it’s true on many levels. It’s true about creative projects, like writing, music and painting. It’s true about our homes. It’s true about our wardrobes. It’s true about our conversations. It’s true about our relationships.
It’s true because simplifying everything is good for us. It frees us to focus on what matters in life.
It’s true because clutter holds us back, like a dead weight.
Simplifying your life has many layers to it. There are the literal layers – getting rid of visible belongings that no longer serve you, aka decluttering. And then there are the figurative layers – getting rid of invisible belongings, like ways of thinking that no longer serve you, like ways of behaving that no longer serve you, like ways of being that no longer serve you.
Most people start with decluttering. Something or someone triggers the thought that “I have too much stuff” and, along with it, the notion that too much stuff isn’t a good thing. As in too much stuff makes it difficult to move home easily. As in too much stuff makes it hard to find anything. When you declutter, you usually feel a huge sense of relief – in a ‘now I can breathe’ kind if way. You’ve lightened your load and feel almost liberated as a result.
And, for some, this new-found sense of freedom starts to have dramatic side-effects, shifting something more fundamental in them. As they see and appreciate the space created by the decluttering of their visible belongings, they imagine how other parts of their lives might benefit from some decluttering of the invisibles.
This is harder to imagine than visible decluttering, but even more powerful in its ability to free you. For example:
- How do you declutter conversations? By listening more, and talking less. By not having an agenda before the conversation begins, and by being open to it going wherever it does and to responding authentically in the moment to whatever arises. You know how good it feels when someone truly listens to you.
- How do you declutter relationships? By allowing people to be themselves, without judgement. By being respectful of who they are, and not trying to control or change them. You know how good being treated with respect feels.
Setting yourself free is the ultimate form of self-fulfilment, because it’s all about giving yourself permission to be you. The real you.
When you remove, one by one, the layers of clutter created by living in our socieities today, you take your life back to its roots, back to the way you were as a young child. And that’s the real you.
A happy, fun-loving being who sees the world with wonder.
That’s what freedom feels like.