The Most Important Things in Life Aren’t Things, But…
Finding Your Equilibrium
For days I walked by this fence and noticed the message amid the yard art attached to and perched on top of it. The display reflects a place of nuance where the owner clearly loves displaying some treasures on the fence while appreciating the intangibles in life. While many of us are becoming aware of the excess of belongings stored in closets, drawers, storage areas, attics, and basements, we also have beloved treasures that enhance our lives. It’s a personal adventure to find and maintain a place of dynamic equilibrium, where we feel supported by our belongings but not drained by them, and things move into and out of our lives. Similarly, people and experiences can flow through our lives, and we make adjustments to maintain equilibrium.
I like many of my belongings and cannot imagine my life without them. For instance, I feel supported by my laptop, phone, and kitchen appliances and supplies. I am also inspired by a beautiful piano I can play and a small collection of beautiful gifts and other items that bring me joy. I also am incredibly grateful for the various experiences I have with clients, colleagues, family, and friends. Because life is always changing, my belongings, loved ones, and experiences will never be static. Beloved possessions can outlive their usefulness, and sometimes people move away or leave under other circumstances. Sometimes my life might feel lacking in certain types of experiences, people, or belongings, and I work to bring those in and again find equilibrium. It’s a lifelong process, and all of these components will flow into and out of my life.
How do you feel in the spaces where you live and work? Are you creative and productive? Do your belongings inspire you? Sometimes we realize that things in our physical space agitate us and distract us from our tasks or the people with whom we interact; it helps to cultivate this awareness. We may recognize when the things we don’t need, use, or love block our enjoyment of the “most important things” in our lives. Optimally, our belongings enhance our lives.
Similarly, our relationships, jobs, volunteering, and hobbies generally can enliven us, and when they don’t, we can make adjustments. These don’t need to be drastic alterations; sometimes we need to pull back slightly when a particular relationship or experience seems “off,” ask ourselves meaningful questions, and re-evaluate. We may continue to engage in these relationships or experiences but in a different way. This is similar to the practice of temporarily putting away a belonging we aren’t sure about, such as a gift from someone who’s no longer close to us, and seeing whether we miss it or feel relief.
With our possessions, living on the extremes might get a bit out of kilter. The negative impacts of hoarding demonstrate one such extreme. At other times, such as during a vacation or a move, we might find ourselves without the things we most need and enjoy, leaving us feeling uncomfortable and disoriented.
Different beliefs and circumstances seem to drive us out of the sweet spot where we have the right amount and type of possessions. You may have had instances of purchasing furniture or home furnishings before a gathering in hopes of impressing somebody, only later to find that you don’t even like or feel comfortable with these items. You may struggle with a sense of worth being attached to the number or quality of belongings, or have fears of not having enough; these feelings can drive the excess. Alternatively, maybe you have purged many things, but then you feel deprived and miss the items you released.
Even positive traits—such as curiosity, wonder, and a joy for learning something new—may be at play in accumulating belongings. We might acquire things and then more things because they bring us joy or stir pleasant memories. Yet when too many belongings distract us from the “most important things” in our lives, we may want to clear away some of them.
Like gardeners, we can gently prune back the items we no longer use, need, or love. This lets us enjoy the remaining belongings as we savor our experiences with people. You can try taking a few moments each day or once a week to prune. Priorities can shift and we can be more proactive when our spaces are clear of “dead branches.” Energy becomes freed up to relish all aspects of our lives.
The dynamic equilibrium often involves responding to life’s pulls, pushes, and crashes, because life events can wake us up to what we value most. With rejuvenated spaces, we can focus on what matters to us. We become less distracted by the unwanted belongings and more present with people. Awakening to the impermanence of life allows us to give time and attention to what’s important to us on any given day.
I encourage you to do what brings you life. Live with the belongings that help and enliven you. Let go of anything that drains your life energy. In the ever-changing middle place, you can find a rhythm, honor your preferences and values, and make adjustments as circumstances change. You can create a life you love living, which might just be one of the most important things.
- Open a closet and take out ten items at random. Touch and look at them to see if you actually like these items. If you do, put them back in the closet. If not, place them in a container to give to a friend, Goodwill, Volunteers of America, or another charity of your choice.
- Walk through your home making note of the furnishings, paint colors, and décor you love. You can take a moment to appreciate your efforts to live with what inspires you. Be grateful for the ways that your home makes your heart sing.
- Call a friend that you haven’t talked to in awhile. Reconnect, listen, and tell your friend all the ways she or he is a blessing in your life.
- Call a family member you love and schedule time to meet together, if it’s feasible. Let this person know how much he or she means to you.