January 3, 2018
Can Decluttering Help you Sleep Better?
The simple and intuitive answer is Yes, and here’s a break down of my observations that demonstrate how this is true.
When we finish the day and put our head to rest on the pillow, finally, we cease activity, and this is when our nervous system shifts gears to complete digestion of the days activities and associated hormones. If we have had breaks during the day that allowed our nervous systems to regulate and flow between activity and rest and digest, there will not be that much residual charge to process, and falling asleep comes soon. If however, our day was crammed full of non-stop activity without breaks, there will be more material to digest, and that takes longer.
Last summer I used Marie Kondo’s brilliant book to do a deep decluttering and organizing of my home. I took the time to observe every single item I own, and decide if it sparked joy, or served me in any relevant way. I concur with Marie that each object could be categorized as relating to past, present or future. Each item was holding associations and energy that took up real estate in my mind.
It’s the real estate in the mind that haunts us, the memories and regrets, the worries, fears and concerns for the future, the conscious or unconscious nagging that we need to do something with regards to these items each time we look at them, separately or in piles crammed into drawers or corners, piled up on the backs of chairs, reminding us that there is more to do, we are behind, we can’t keep up, there’s not enough time. Eventually, our mind tucks it all away in a vague uneasy feeling, a stressful feeling; we are suffering from abundance, it’s following us, and adding to what our mind attempts to process at the end of the day. It accumulates and gets bigger, more vague and shadowy as time goes on.
Take for example a cloths drawer stuffed full. You have bought new cloths and mixed them in with 10 year old pants that are threadbare and no longer fit. You have grown and matured, you no longer wear florescent miniskirts, you are not going back to Burning Man, and if you did, you would wear some completely different get-up. Every time you reach in to get dressed, the past is mingling with the present, and your brain registers confusion and disorder, and consciously or subconsciously adds sorting out the drawer to your already too long to do list. When facing choices, you are confronted with debris from the past that is irrelevant to the now and no longer sparks joy
Then theres concern for the future. Someday I might want or need X, Y and Z. Whether it’s a kitchen gadget, dress up business suit and heels, box of photos and memorabilia. We think someday we might use that, might want to make a cheese cake, might want to apply for a job at a corporation. This too adds to the storage chest in the mind, and is a distraction in the present that reinforces a fear that there is not enough, that I will not have what I need or the means to acquire it when I need it, I have to cling to what is here, because more is not coming. I may never have good times again so I need those mementos. The old box of stuff obstructs the view of the goodness that surrounds us in the present, what we have right now, the friends in our circle, the cloths we wear every day, the objects we use in our kitchen.
How many times have you noticed that once something is stuffed into a cardboard box, a barrier of resistance arises that blocks you from wanting to search for it when you need it?
If all of our belongings are swimming in a sea of past present and future, mingling and clinging together, every time we reach for something, we confront the cloud of vagueness, vagueness about ourselves and our purpose, our path in life, obstructing the view of the present. It haunts us in our mind when our head hits the pillow, especially if the bedroom is too full. And it can be that, simply too full. Too many choices, too many options to sort through, overwhelming choices in what could be simple living. Our minds are longing for an empty place to rest our vision, to give space around the things we love so that we can enjoy them.
I followed Marie Kondo’s book, I picked up each item, in the order she recommended, I did my cloths all in one day, and at four in the afternoon, I found myself in tears.
What were these tears about? Mostly grieving for who I have been, who I no longer am. Realizing the passage of time, the loss of connections, relationships, the changes in life circumstances, the simple loss of time, dreams realized and unrealized. Revealed were my worries and fears about the future, projections about who I am supposed to become, outdated visions and expectations, unrealistic visions and expectations. One by one, I held each item up in my hands, and released them to the Light of the Present Day, and my heart grew and swelled, doors opened, dark closets in my mind saw the Light of Illumination, gently sweeping clean the dusty corners, the vague nagging sense of overwhelm made way for clarity.
What came next really astonished me. Marie recommended that you keep letting go of stuff until you feel a click inside, signaling that you have arrived at the ideal number of belongings for you. I let go of a lot. I had a massive yard sale and made some money. I playfully hung my Burning Man outfits on hangers and felt true joy when someone walked off wearing my old treasures. I got rid of half used jars of cream, old herbs and vitamins, piles of plastic food containers.
Before I arrived at the “Click”, I had to do another sweep. For many categories of items, like moisturizer, I had to get down to one choice, and there I had my “click”. It was in simplifying the choices, or actually eliminating the choices all together. Just one face cream, just one bathing suit, just one pair of black boots. Simplifying to this degree was illuminating, and the miracles rolled in...rolled into areas I did not expect. My time was more free, my clarity with my money was increased, my ability to keep my house clean was magnified. There was freedom and space everywhere, oozing out of corners that had been stuffed full with mind numbing material. I could move with ease, I could breathe, I could count my blessings and appreciate each one, and my happiness and sense of well being grew.
It became easy to go to bed early, wake up early, and set out to accomplish my day with more clarity and energy. I felt more whole. There was no looking back, nothing I let go of came back to haunt me. Nothing saved for the future has become needed and lacking, and nothing from the past has brought regrets. I have times when spontaneous feelings that there is enough pop out of my mind unexpectedly and spread the sense of ease even wider, gleaning more space in my mind, expanding my sense of abundance and the feeling that there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, that the now is a perfect and spacious place to live.
I cannot rest on my laurels however, as I discovered that space requires defending, at least this type of mental space. Objects sense my fortress of emptiness and seek refuge in my possession. From the tower in my decluttered castle, I have to defend the boundaries against give away free boxes, coupons, event postcards, sale items, broken gadgets, electrical chargers and technology cords. My “click” of perfect balance ebbs and flows, and my garden of peace has to be attended mindfully to maintain clear spaces, ease, shelves without stale bags of chips, lifeless droopy spinach in the refrigerator.
This is a battle worth fighting, for my peace of mind, for my space to sleep and wake without effort, to lighten the burden of processing at the end of the day on my way to rest, digestion and repair.
An astounding change also took place with regards to choosing what to buy and bring home. I now contemplate what I am acquiring, planning my wardrobe, estimating my food budget, considering pillows for the chairs. I pause, and wait before I buy, and the result is that I end up getting much nicer stuff that I truly love and adore by actually spending less money.
Marie’s title for her book is “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I found the process to be one infused with magic, the kind that makes things new and imbues lightness and sparkle. If our inside reflects our outside and our outside reflects our insides, the items we surround ourselves with are of utmost importance. Many of us long for deeper embodiment, health and passion in our lives, but how would we know when we arrive there, especially if we are buried in material possessions steeped in past memories in anticipation of a deprived future? Wouldn’t anyone just love to live full rich productive days followed by deep restorative dreamy sleep?
So yes, my conclusion is that less clutter equals better sleep. The task itself can seem like moving a mountain, but taking each item one by one invites a spacious and clear present, and before you know it, you are retiring unencumbered to the land of joyful sleep.