Decluttering is only the first step, not the entire solution

The day seemed to stretch forever. And we weren’t complaining. The high-noon blaze that we sat under at the beach was now turning into an afternoon glow.

It’s Sunday, quarter till six.

“You ready?” I asked Charlie.

“Yea, let’s pack up and head home.”

We loaded up and started walking back. The sand caught in my sandals annoyed me. But, before we got to the stairwell that would lift us from the sand to the street, I looked back.

The sky looked like someone had run a highlighter through it. Crashing waves against the coves provided a rhythmic tone that could lull you to sleep. People of all kinds were here, but they were light-footed and frown less. Some were even walking to nowhere.

Then, before I turned my back to it all, I thought, “The act of being lost in simple moments . . . That is what this is all about. That’s why people come here. That’s why we came here.”

We let all the windows down on our drive home. The sea-salt air danced through our sticky, messy hair. We didn’t say much to each other, but not much needed to be said. There was a silent peace. I drove at a pace that probably made some people angry.

Without looking at her, I asked: “You want to make some sushi for dinner?”

“Sure. That sounds good,” Charlie replied with her head resting against the back of the seat and eyes half closed.

We gathered what we needed for dinner. But Trader Joe’s is a wonderful treat for the senses. A day at the beach makes you hungry. So, when I walked by the roasted macadamia nuts, they won.

The check-out lady was an older woman. Her loose, tanned skin along with the blue eyeshadow and cherry red lipstick were overpowered by her easy smile and kind voice.

As she scanned our foodstuff, we helped bag our items.

“Y’all make a great team,” she said. Her posture reminded me of that beloved aunt.

After Charlie had chuckled I said, “That’s the goal.”

We got home, and Hank greeted us like we’d been away for a decade. What a marvelous trait. I’m sometimes mildly envious that he can feel so overjoyed at the sight of something so standard.

Next was putting the groceries away. When I cracked open the fridge, I felt something. It was like watching someone blatantly lie. You don’t need a definition to understand it.

The fridge was pregnant with rubbish. Some old berries were hiding in the back. Old kombucha was camping out in the door shelf. Leftovers had overstayed their welcome.

I stood there flummoxed as if the posture was going to change anything. Just weeks prior, I had cleaned out this damn fridge. It took me a whole Saturday.

And somehow, clutter had weaseled its way back in. It reminds of camel creep based on the Bedouin folktale:

Bedouins are a camel-raising, desert dwelling Arab tribe. A man from his tribe was traveling on his camel. As the sun dropped and night approached, he pitched a tent to protect himself from the blistering cold. His camel asked, “Master, please let me enter; I’m cold.” The man said no and went to bed.

During the night, the camel yelled into the tent, “Master, I’m cold! Can I please just put my nose in the tent?” To quiet the camel, he agreed, and the went back to sleep.

A while later, the camel again asked, “Can I just put my front legs in the tent?” They have to be warm to help me travel so far.” The master, half-awake, and wanting to shut the camel up agreed to let the camel put his legs in.

The next time the master woke, he found himself outside the tent. He’d been crowded out. The camel was in the tent.

Minimalism mistakenly gets labeled as decluttering. However, decluttering is simply the first step to a lifelong mindset. Decluttering is not the end result — but we think it is.

When we stop at decluttering, we’re bound to repeat the habits that get us into the clutter in the first place. This posture opens us up to perpetual camel creep.

In my case, decluttering the fridge one time was not the answer. I’ve since learned that constant editing — or deliberate subtraction — is a skill that increases our capacity to invest into things that matter to us. Otherwise, the clutter, just like the camel, will slowly crowd out the good stuff.

As pretty as it may be, ridding the fridge of the non-essentials is not an act of beauty. Rather, it’s an exercise that allows for a daily rhythm and certain automaticity that is absent when clutter is present.

The goal is not an empty fridge. The aim is to make everything count. Isn’t this what life is all about too?

Dusk was about an hour behind us now, and we were getting ready to eat. Making sushi is an art form — one that neither Charlie or I have mastered.

We set the wood board down on the table, looked at what we had prepared and both laughed. An explanation wasn’t needed. But we ate it. It was good.

It was another act of being lost in a simple moment.


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Hi, I'm Brian McFadden

I share life strategies on health, happiness, and simple living every Tuesday and Friday here on my blog. The easiest way to stay connected with me is to sign up for my no spam, gimmick-free newsletter.