Recently, several friends and students have shared with me their impressions, excitement and passionate praise about a book that has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. It is called “The life-changing magic of tidying up.” It offers practical advice for cleaning out your home and delivers a philosophy of owning things. I have pondered about its relevance today and have questioned why so many people seek inspiration and direction from a book to help de-clutter, discard and simplify. Always open to learning new things, I bought the book and though I read many interesting points, I found myself resistant to some of the ideas presented.
I believe that in the pursuit for minimalism, the value of the book is in learning about how to let go of your things which in turn is supposed to result in being happier. The concept is great but in my skepticism I couldn’t help but link the writer’s premises and techniques to the many values and lessons gleaned from yoga. For yoga practice enlightens us to many of the same teachings that the book advocates: letting go, detachment, gratitude, a sense of spaciousness and ultimately how to experience greater contentment and joy. In fact, the primary technique provided in the book for letting go is ask yourself if the object in hand truly sparks joy for you.
Both the tidying up process and yoga practice have the potential to be dramatically life-changing and transformative. The writer suggests that people should focus only on the present if they are unable to separate from their possessions. She further implies that the inability to let go of possessions is because one suffers from attachment to the past or has anxiety about the future. In fact, this is one of the main causes of stress. Yoga brings us smack dab in the middle of the moment in the present time and teaches us how to practice mindfulness of the moment and remain in it and also how to manage stress. The cleansing process (of our closet or outer world) is also like the inner cleansing of one’s mind and body arrived at through yoga, and each create an attitude shift and provide peace of mind. Both processes provide a path to a more serene home (the tangible one we live in and our own physical bodymind) and both result in a potentially calmer inner experience. So whether it is a clutter detox or a body cleanse of toxins, the tidying up process and the yoga practice can lead us to experience a greater sense of contentment and well-being.
Undoubtedly, the techniques provided in the book can assist someone in their pursuit for organization and happiness and help them to successfully reach their objectives; therein lies its value and the likely reason for the popularity of the book. Although it is interesting to observe the parallels between the tidying up and yoga processes, I can’t help but continually question why so many individuals feel such a strong desire and even a pressing need to create complete perfect order and orderliness in their environments? And why is it that for some individuals, feelings of calm and contentment are so dependent on one’s outer world?
Of course, there is truth in the idea that material goods alone won’t bring us happiness. In actuality, the value is in learning how to let go of things which will result in being happier. And letting go is something that we can also learn through the practice of yoga whether it is through a physical release of tension or detaching from a sticky emotional issue or a mental construct. Santosha is the experience of unconditional happiness, a state that allows us to find contentment in any situation. We don’t have to search outside of ourselves for happiness or contentment is independent from external conditions. And yoga teaches us how to practice contentment and access the joy from within, not from something outside of ourselves such as from extreme organization or a totally de-cluttered room. For yoga ultimately guides us inward towards our own inner locus of control. Through remaining on the yoga path and staying present and committed to our practice, over time we learn to connect with our center, and experience clarity and calmness, quietude and true happiness and contentment. And to be really honest, I would much rather direct my focus on my yoga and spend my time with my yoga mat than on de-cluttering, discarding and tidying up!
“From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.” – Yoga Sutra of Patanjali II.42