Two years ago, after a particularly hard couple of months, I came down with a pretty bad case of stress-induced Shingles … on my face!
In addition to a strong anti-viral to combat the disease, my doctor gave me two options: take some strong medication to combat my anxiety or begin to take control of it on my own with the help of a counselor.
I elected for the latter.
With her help, I began to take stock of the elements in my life that were literally making my nerves explode through my skin.
In a good bit of serendipity, I also discovered the fantastic book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo while I was in a state of self-imposed Phantom of the Opera-esque exile until my face healed.
It was then that I fully committed to a life of minimalism. Not because I wanted my house to be a breath of fresh air with airy white walls and only a few succulents sitting intentionally upon a stack of monochromatic art books.
No, I became a minimalist because I needed a massive course correction so I could be a healthy, functioning husband to my wife, parent to my kids and partner in my business.
My minimalist journey wasn’t going to be a Facebook meme. It was going to be a rescue operation.
Fast forward through the many times I asked myself if an item sparked joy, me asking my wife over and over again about her joy sparking items, me making the decision about my kids joy sparks, lots of sales on eBay and Craigslist and a big ol’ stack of donation receipts from our local thrift store, and we arrive at a point where our home is in relative order (we have two kids under four!), our finances are organized, we have no debt and I feel like our family communicates better than ever.
Oh, but wait, the anxiety kept rearing its gruesome head and creating all new health issues. What gives?!
My cup runneth over.
Yes, that Biblical expression now meant as either a humble brag or a critical sarcasm to describe someone who has more than they need and isn’t sharing was, in fact, my problem.
Let me explain via a handy mental exercise my counselor and I developed.
Each of us is a giant pitcher with a spout at the bottom and an opening at the top. Not a sexy characterization but it is easy to picture.
We fill the pitcher with good stuff and bad. The tap at the bottom is entirely within our power to open and close. No one else’s.
We all have a default amount of “stuff” in our lives that we deal with on a daily basis, so the pitcher is never empty. Those things may be hardwired phobias, traumas or other hangups that aren’t going away anytime soon and are just part of our DNA.
But, when we start adding stuff that we buy that doesn’t have space or need, adding to our credit card debt, taking on too many commitments or doing things that cause us to stray from our values, well, the pitcher begins to get full pretty quickly leading to a crisis. And, even worse, those hardwired problems become even more evident and overwhelming.
It is essential that we constantly open that tap to relieve the overflow or, even better, not let our lives get to the point of overflowing. And, that is where minimalism comes in.
By setting a standard of minimalist living that we are not going to live outside of our means, involve ourselves in toxic relationships, seek out “busyness” as an indicator of success or allow ourselves to consciously bring anything into our lives that is going to upset our balance, we keep our cup (or pitcher) from running over and creating a mess.
Over the past six months, I’ve kept this visualization front and center to help me make all manner of decisions, and the result is, so far, a marked decrease in anxiety and stress and their physical manifestations.