zen habits : breathe

Paring Down Your Life

By Leo Babauta

Our lives are overfull.

There’s not a single one of us who is free of that trap, in my experience. We say yes to invitations and commitments, we answer as many emails and messages as we can, we join courses and groups, buy books and take on new hobbies, get involved in new relationships and buy more stuff.

The result of this tendency to overfill is predictable:

It’s understandable that we overfill our lives — we are usually acting on desires, and not giving full contemplation to what we want in our lives and what we don’t want.

‘You can’t act on your desires alone. You have to contemplate the details of what needs to be removed and what needs to be cultivated.’ ~Chogyam Trungpa

So how do we change that? I’d like to propose paring down your life.

What It Means to Pare Down Your Life

Paring down means to cut back on what you have in your life:

At its core, paring down is about contemplating what you want to cultivate in your life, and what you’d like to remove.

How to Pare Down

So how do we go about doing this? Isn’t decluttering our lives just another thing to add to an overfull list?

Start with a nearly bare canvas.

Imagine for a moment that your life had only a few essentials:

These are the bare essentials for most people — there are a few other things you’d need, depending on your circumstances, but let’s not get caught up in details.

Now imagine that you could only choose a few things to do each day. For me, that might be:

  1. Meaningful work (mostly writing, with some admin tasks needed).
  2. Spending time with my family and other meaningful relationships.
  3. Reading.
  4. Meditating.
  5. Exercise.
  6. Eating simple foods.

I’d be very happy with just those things in my life! What would your six things be?

Is there anything else you’d like to cultivate? What other things would you add? Imagine a stripped-down, bare life, pared down to your essentials.

Now contemplate what could be removed to make room for just these. Leave space in your life for doing nothing. For contemplation. For being present. For silence and stillness. For the unexpected.

I realize that life won’t always be this simple, and that we have to be willing to flow with things we can’t control. We can’t always pare down commitments that we need to fulfill. We can’t always have a job with meaningful work. Relationships can complicate things. I get it.

But sometimes, we’re just making excuses not to let go. Rationalizing the status quo. Holding on to our attachments.

Paring down asks you to let go of attachments, let go of rationalizing, let go of fixed beliefs. And see what’s possible once you do let go.



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