I’m spending my birthday cleaning my closet. Again. Why have I done this for the past three years, and why is it even necessary? Allow me to explain how a 20-minute exercise can change your life.
There is a difference between living life driven to get things done, marking off each task as it’s finished, and a life that leaves its mark on the world.
Socrates reminds us that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” asking us to look within to understand the true value of life. When we live with the end in mind, reflecting on what we might leave behind, our purpose is revealed from a Soul perspective rather than a list of meaningless tasks.
An examined life is one willing to seek out those barely perceptible places of the soul; an often tangled and undeveloped part of ourself that is very much like a pantry or linen closet. The doors are kept closed to hide the mess, but until you know what’s hidden inside, you’ll never know what you have to work with.
Souls are like closets–full of potential.
Not sure what is actually in there or how to find it, we’re afraid to even open the door in case everything tumbles out.
And sometimes life feels just that way: overcrowded and overwhelming. There’s no shortage of things to do, but it always feels like something is missing.
So where do we start? Let’s continue with the closet analogy to create a masterful plan, composed out of purposeful, meaningful reflection, based on where you want to end up and what you hope to leave behind.
1. Empty the closet–start with a clean slate
If you were cleaning out an actual closet, you would first take everything out. An empty closet is a manageable closet. In the same way, clearing your mind of endless tasks, the “hurries and worries,” will allow you to inspect and systematically decide how to reorganize your life. You can then determine what’s currently working, as well as what isn’t.
Find time for quiet reflection. Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes of solitude without any distractions. Use a pen and paper to do this, not a tech device that requires tapping or typing. This is important: there’s something about writing things out by hand that accesses the more creative, soul-chasing part of your brain.
Set a timer. For 20 minutes write down everything that comes to mind that you would like to do, be, have or experience. Include relationships, finances, health, career, creative aspirations and personal growth.
Who do you want to be? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do and experience? How would you like your relationships to grow? What would you like to learn?
Ask yourself what you want more (or less of) in your life. Give yourself a five-year window and brainstorm within this limit of time. Don’t think too hard, and allow yourself to dream. Focus especially on experiences and whom you want to share those experiences with.
2. Putting the closet back together–your priorities
Your previously cluttered, disorganized and unusable “closet” is now clean, freshly painted and ready to be put to good use. Next step? It’s time to put it back together, but NOT by stuffing everything back inside.
To restructure how we live, just like reorganizing a closet, will require letting go of what no longer “fits.”
The number 1 thing to let go of? The unrealistic expectations you have for yourself and others.
Let go of the idea that it’s your job to save people from the consequences of their own choices. Allow them the grace to grow by learning from their mistakes. In turn, you will gain valuable time to pursue your own personal growth.
Let’s keep going.
Now take another look at that mindful and reflective inventory you have assembled and pare it down to your top 20 things. Sort them according to the following categories: Personal, Family/Relationships, Health, Career/Work, and Spiritual/Creative. I like to use different colored highlighters for each category. Under each heading, rank the items with Most Important at the top, and Least Important at the bottom.
Within each category, notice what catches your eye first; what makes your heart beat faster? What do you feel an irresistible pull to passionately pursue?
3. Master list vs. master plan–write yourself a story.
After you have ranked each item, turn your list into a narrative.
Write yourself a story, as if it is five years from now and you have done everything on your list. For example, you could write: “It is 2019 and this is what I have experienced/accomplished in the past five years…”
I am… I have…I live…I make…I do…
This narrative becomes your vision for all that you hope to do and be; it contains those secret longings that may have been squashed and hidden away for years, unrevealed and unexpressed until now.
This will become your story–a story that will allow you to live on purpose. You will be focused, not simply driven; aware of what you are doing and even more important, why you are doing it. No longer are you checking off boxes on an ever-growing, meaningless list of things to do.
There are some things you need to hold on to indefinitely.
What to keep:
Projects that embody “process.” The process has to do with the entire journey of a project. It focuses on making memories and savoring moments. An example might be a family history project. If you are interested in genealogy, you could spend time alone and online, looking for records on Ancestry.com. From the process perspective, it could include spending time with family elders and recording the stories that embodied their lives. Yes, it will probably take more time, but you will ultimately have both a fuller, richer family history and have built stronger relationships.
Hold on to your legacy. Remember that what you create is what you leave behind. Photographs and images, letters written, meals infused with time and care, traditions kept and memories that result from them…the many savored moments carried in our hearts as a legacy of love, encouragement, inspiration and wisdom.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” – Pericles
Habits that nourish. The behaviors that build health, nurture the spirit, and warm our hearts are the activities that grow relationships with friends, family and community.
Room to breathe. Create space within these lofty aspirations of yours! Just as towels begin to smell musty if they are crowded, we also need breathing room. Lists rarely get shorter. There is always more than enough to do, but we also need down time to just be.
And finally: Hold tightly to things that will slow you down. Children. Pets. Crock pots. Children are especially wonderful teachers as to what is truly essential in our lives. Eating yummy food, playing with friends, and plenty of sleep. They are also great at noticing the small, subtle flavors that adults so often miss.
To view the world through a child’s eyes is to pay attention. And when we do this, as Henry Miller pointed out, our world becomes “mysterious, awesome, and indescribably magnificent.”
It can be life changing, for there are some alleyways and doors that are meant for us alone, and we will miss them if we run too fast.
Joseph Campbell wrote,
“If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
In other words, they are your doors.
So slow down and enjoy the journey. And you can start by cleaning the closet.