Happy New Year: The Path of Subtraction

2018 has, for many of us, been a year of uncertainty and change. Whether within our relationships, our work life, or in trying to do more of what we love to do most, many of us have experienced challenges – challenges we must respond to in order to grow. There is a feeling we have to improve to succeed.

So much of what we do to improve our lives involves adding the next practice, the next skill, the next trick in our bag. More is better, right, or is it? One thing I hear a lot is how busy everyone is. Adding the next thing to our already busy, seemingly chock-full lives can be daunting. I would like to suggest another tactic, the path of subtraction. Please allow me to elaborate.

A year ago this month, while sitting in meditation, an epiphany came to me. I would be twice as well off by having half as many belongings. This idea really excited me. I would attempt to complete this project within 2018. In my journal, I made a list of categories to halve the size of, including artwork, books and magazines, camera gear, camping gear, CDs, childhood toys, clothing, textiles, and – yes – rocks. I threw in a few extra items, such as paperwork filed away and negative thoughts that do not serve me. The moment I mentioned this to my wife, Lisa, it became real. It was game on and time to get busy.

declutter-the-path-of-subtractionI could not imagine how much effort it would take to reduce my personal possessions by fifty percent! A year later, I have reduced my personal belongings by forty percent. There is still ten more percent to go and I continue on this enlightening track.

The first category I tackled in my decluttering crusade, clothing, was easy. Another, musical equipment, was not. I could not believe how many instruments, accessories, and cables I had stashed away, leftover from Seattle rock band days. I listed “Free” ads on Craigslist for a vintage synthesizer, a gorgeous Turkish cymbal with stand, and a classic wood body bass guitar, also with stand. The “Wow, I can’t believe you’re giving this away!” excitement of the first responders who came to fetch them was a rush. One fellow exclaimed excitedly how he was going to pay it forward. Moving these items out of the house, which had so many memories attached to them, was a bit difficult at times. But once they moved across the threshold and out into the world, I felt elation. Giving can be so fun! Can you say Win-Win?

Every artifact has a story. While our belongings have served us in the past, how many of them are serving us now? We may need to hear their stories one more time in order to know what to do. Those items that no longer serve us can most certainly serve someone. Enhancing our personal flow of energy by circulating possessions enlivens and enriches our world. (Hoarding clogs up our energy.) Clearing away physical and mental space creates more room for growth in the same way that transplanting a tree into a bigger pot helps it thrive.

Give yourself the gift of less. Walk the path of subtraction and see how much you gain. Our possessions are not what make us who we are. Nor, we may realize, do our relationships or professions or life circumstances make us who we are. I am here to report that walking this path of subtraction is an exquisite and awesome experience.

Gift with love, to friends, to strangers, to charity. Imagine it all as a ceremony where we give great gratitude for the objects we have enjoyed and are now helping migrate to their new homes, that others may now receive their blessings. This is nothing less than a sharing blessing of abundance, for yourself and for the world.

I wish you great blessings in 2019. Happy New Year!
James K. Papp

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