It’s no secret that our possessions zap us of precious time. The average American spends 2.5 days a year looking for lost items. It takes a lot of time to clean, fix, replace, and organize the abundance of stuff we allow into our homes. We’ve been taught to consume, but not how to manage all the things we buy. The more you can live without, the more time you get back to spend on what you actually care about. No one wants to spend their weekends running from dry-cleaner to mall to hardware store.
Decision-making fatigue is well documented. Barack Obama famously wore only blue and gray suits in an effort to pare down the number of decisions he had to make. The mental process of making one decision erodes your ability to make later decisions. We make countless trivial choices every day from what to wear in the morning to what to cook for dinner. This often unacknowledged cognitive load is more often than not unfairly shouldered by women who tend to do more domestic work. Streamlining your options helps you conserve energy for more important decisions.
Our possessions distract us from what actually matters and brings us fulfillment. Imagine trying to think or write in a room that is chaotic and messy versus one that is minimal and clean. Clutter takes a toll on your mental health and has been linked to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. People often find that they have the clarity to make big decisions and start on long delayed personal projects after a thorough decluttering of their home. Decluttering has a way of bringing your life into focus.
Jenny Odell takes this idea a step further in her new book How to Do Nothing, “If it’s true that collective agency both mirrors and relies on the individual capacity to pay attention, then in a time that demands action, distraction appears to be (at the level of the collective) a life-and-death matter.”
I am of the mindset that variety is often overrated and that constraints can foster creativity. Refusal is a powerful tool and one that is strengthened with use. Every time you say no to a potential activity or purchase, you leave the space open for something more valuable to fill it. Your attention is a valuable commodity and your life is ultimately the result of how you choose to spend it. It’s no coincidence that the phrase is to pay attention.