On my first day back to work in early January of the new year, I found that I would not be involved with production for the day, per usual. Instead, I would be doing product inventory. I currently work in the stone department of a small, local shop that makes pedestals and bases out of wood and stone.
I believe this is the type of thing that certain accountants do for businesses. Account for everything, right? I was assigned to the corner of the shop that housed the tile size of stone. The process mostly went like this: I pulled every individual piece out, sucked up settled layers of incredibly fine dust into the vacuum and into my lungs, I measured, counted, and made note of supply, and then rearranged every single piece back into (a pretty impressive) organized system.
Now, this corner structure of shelves, had not been organized in any such manner since the prior inventory session a year earlier. So as you can imagine in a busy shop, over the course of a year, things had become strewn, left, mixed, and jumbled. It ended up being about a seven hour task. But I am compelled to say, upon completion, the space had been transformed! Every shelf was quite neat and very presentable, and it was clear right where everything was, and should be. I labeled each stone and row. And do you know what else was transformed?
I am a firm believer in the physical spaces around us having a very large impact upon the mental, emotional, and spiritual space within our minds, hearts, and souls. And no, this does not mean that I think cleanliness is the second hand man or personal assistant to godliness. This is, however, why I choose to operate functionally to some degree as a minimalist. (Minimalism can be practiced with a vast array of approaches and to varying degrees.) When my physical spaces are cluttered or unorganized, my thoughts and life tend to reflect that.
You are most likely already tracking with me to the next logical line of thought. It is not just the amount of things filling up my spaces that matters, but the things themselves. I have put a significant amount of effort over the years, dwindling and honing my belongings primarily into two–sometimes three–categories.
- Functional: On the whole, I don’t really want to have things sitting around that I don’t use, or don’t use often enough to merit ownership of them. I don’t like duplicates. And while I like functional items, I don’t like functional items that are produced (often in mass quantities) without quality in mind. For if they cease to work as they were intended, they no longer provide value. Generally speaking, the old adage is pretty accurate, “you get what you pay for.” Use discretion and be responsible with your finances, of course, but when you have fewer belongings, it does become easier over time to afford better, and fewer (and hopefully ethically made) things.
- Aesthetic: I think it is both wise and important to have a tasteful amount of aesthetically pleasing details around. Things that you want and like to look at. Things that make you feel good or happy or calm or warm. Things that tell a story about the world, or about you. It can absolutely be argued that solely aesthetic things are not functional things. And that is precisely why it is its own category! Fill your spaces with things you like. Feel better. Live better.
- Sentimental (optional): I’ve gone back and forth over the years on this one. I’ve gifted or removed many things that held significant sentimental value to me over the years. But I always end up collecting more. I think that is the essence! If I hang on to everything sentimental, they start making reality TV shows about crazy Uncle Ben–the bearded hoarder! So I allow sentimental items to be pretty fluid, and just remind myself that if I feel regret for releasing one, I’m simply making room for new sentiments to enter and be a part of my life for a season.
So I have penciled the parallel.
“Cool.” you say, “A monotonous task at work can apply to life. Yippy skippy.”
I hear you. Track with me for just one more line of thought.
Maybe we should regularly schedule some inventory for our selves. For our lives.
Let’s be deliberate to find out what we have. What are our skills? Our hopes? Let’s match up all the mismatches and clean all the dust balls and cobwebs off of the things we forgot about. Are they important things? Let’s display them more prominently. Do we deem them as not useful? Let’s re-purpose them or discard them in a responsible and healthy fashion. Does everything now have a good and right place? Let’s commit to maintaining it as such, so that we can function better–more peacefully, thoughtfully, and clearly.
One small reality check. This process is not all peaches and cream. Awareness and change can often be uncomfortable. There was a moment about five hours in–to my actual work inventory–when I considered that it would be easier to just throw all the small pieces away instead of counting and sorting and putting them back. Fatigue is real, and can greatly affect decision-making, determination, and effort. But there is also no requirement or pressure, so don’t allow any shame to creep in. It’s literally just something to do if you like. I’ve been doing it over the last decade. So take your time. As Bill Murray repeated in one of his classic films, “Baby steps! Baby steps!”
Loveland, CO ¦¦ January 4th, 2019
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