Is your stomach cluttered because your life is?
Because I’m in between homes, the house I’m living in is more or less empty and I can’t believe how much I like it that way. There’s no clutter. I use everything, meaning each item has value. This is true for clothes, cosmetics and cutlery, but especially food. I only buy what I eat and I enjoy every bite. By accident, I’m learning to enjoy a life of less.
I’m not describing anything new here. The idea of getting rid of extra stuff from your home is a concept called Minimalism, made popular by a 2016 documentary starring Ryan Nicodemas and Joshua Fields Millburn, the two guys who came up with the lifestyle. The film’s full name is “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” Their message is simple: “Love people and use things” – not the other way around.
I’m an easy mark for the things I own, falling hopelessly in love with walls, wheels, trinkets, cushions, throws, blenders, fridges, bookshelves, hundreds of books, those cute red shoes, that leather handbag, the list goes on. Like many people, I love things and am a sucker for a bargain. I wasn’t always this way. In 2002, I moved to the south of Spain because I knew that staying in my native Dublin offered me nothing but a corporate path.
I had no interest in a bigger job, car, home, or wardrobe. What I wanted was to downsize, live simple, find my way back to nature. For a short time, I thought I found my nature paradise in a small coastal town. I set down roots, called it home. The longer I stayed the more my house filled with clutter until I found myself longing for a bigger job, car and wardrobe. Something was wrong. Real wrong.
WHAT I DON’T MISS
When I moved two months ago, I packed most of my stuff into boxes and put it into storage, a painful process that took weeks. I anguished over each item, weighing up the possibility of how much I’d miss it. At the time, my goal was to downsize, taking only what would fit in a small van. Two months later, back in my almost empty house, I don’t miss the small things at all. I miss the big things.
The view of the night sky from my rental apartment. The smell of the mountain air. The way everyone in that town smiled and said hello, how the shopkeeper insisted on keeping you there for ten minutes to get all the details on your life. The one policeman who was most often found in a café having a tea with the locals. The same two horses chewing grass by the road every day. The quiet.
Moving from that quiet into the van was like the ringing of a hundred church bells at the same time, over and over. Yes, there are quiet moments in nature that are part of van-life but it’s also a lot of fixing the van, trekking for water and stocking up on supplies. Nature becomes less of a retreat and more of a challenge because you’re exposed to it. If you’re in rude health, this is the fun of van-life. If you’re not, it’s potentially lethal.
Every now and then I think about taking my stuff out of storage. But I can’t. My mind will not allow me to re-clutter the house, will not allow me to un-do the steps forward I’ve taken, can’t bear the thought of returning that stuff to its old nooks. The feeling is visceral, a feeling of suffocation. It took a while for me to notice because I was too busy getting over the shock of downsizing.
THE SHOCK OF DOWNSIZING
I’ve made a lot of changes in the last few years, the changes getting bigger and more definite each year. First, I cut alcohol out of my life. Then I shed a bunch of friends. I joined a gym, got into fitness and built a new relationship with food. At first, food was fuel until finally it became part of my story. I’m sentimental that way – about everything.
I battled each change with a heavy dose of nostalgia, continuously second-guessing myself, wondering if I was moving forward in a completely wrong direction. I picked possible courses of action and ruminated on them for weeks, months, eventually doing nothing. This indecision lasted years and caused on-going IBS flare-ups. When I was stuck, so was my digestive system.
My nervous system, however, was in overdrive, endlessly trying to envision and find a path forward, only to stumble up against my nostalgia. I reached a breaking point during Lockdown 2020, finally moving out of my home of thirteen years to a rental apartment in a mountain village. In a new environment, my nervous system relaxed. Moving into the van put it to the test in ways that rewired faulty connections and showed me hidden strengths.
So, being back in my old home is coming full circle with my nerves at rest. The nostalgia has passed. Because there’s no stuff in my house tying me to my past, it no longer feels like my home. And as much as I love this little place, I don’t want to be here. There’s this idea that when you start making changes to your life, at some point, the changes get easier. They don’t.
THE STUFF OF HABITS
What I want now is a house, a casita in the mountains with a little garden, views of the night sky and a place for the dog to chill. I want to bring all my stuff with me. My paints, paintings, ornaments, clothes, drawers of cosmetics, throws, cushions, pillows, fridge, washing machine, the list goes on. I don’t want to go to the trouble of having to acquire stuff all over again. But what if I don’t?
Acquire stuff? What if I focus on shedding things, letting more go. What surprises me most about being surrounded by empty shelves is how much I like it. What else don’t I need? However, the other thing van-life showed me is that I DO need a cocktail of supplements to keep my engines running.
My daily routine includes 4 to 5 liters of water with electrolyte or BCCAs added, protein supplement in a shake, as well as maca, collagen, vitamins C and D. I also take, with less frequency, zinc, propolis, copper, and sometimes, silver. I cook all my meals from scratch with whole food.
I shop local, eat fresh. Don’t buy supermarket meat or eggs, don’t eat out, don’t eat pasta, dairy or red meat and a long list of veg. I work out at least three times a week, unless I have an injury. I aim to keep my environment clean and calm. These are the habits that keep my IBS at bay. Anyone who reads that list and thinks, whoa, that’s a lot! Yes, it is.
But I was willing to do anything to end my IBS symptoms. Turns out I had to change everything. And the changes keep coming. Somehow, being in an empty house has dialed down my anxiety, turning it into a positive, a flare lighting up the problem areas in my life, signaling me to take action. What other old habits is it time to get rid of? Confession: I’m scared to ask this question but it’s also become unavoidable.
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If you want to clear clutter from your life, a good place to start is with your wardrobe. What does your wardrobe look like? What can you throw out? Anything you haven’t worn in a year, bin it! Now.
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