Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Spirituality of Downsizing

- in my meditation garden -

An article about “Downsizing” in this morning’s New York Times managed to capture my undivided attention. It was a story about the experiences of people who, when they retire, often find themselves in a position of seriously reducing all the “stuff’ they have accumulated over a lifetime in order to move into much smaller homes or retirement condos.  The story suggested that, although difficult at first, many people ultimately find this experience to be very liberating –downsizing offers new opportunities for a fresh new start.

I thought this story was not just an article about the experiences of “moving after retirement;” but it was also a powerful statement about “downsizing as a spiritual discipline” -  a necessary practice on any spiritual path.

When I read that article this morning, I was immediately reminded of our move out to the desert a few years ago, we had to do a lot of downsizing.  Over the many years of our life together, my wife and I had accumulated an awful lot of “stuff.” Our rather large home in Los Angeles had plenty of storage space, a basement and a garage - all filled with the boxes, bundles and things of our life. When it came time to move out to a much smaller home out here in the desert we had to get rid of many things – our closets were  brimming with  boxes overflowing with memorabilia (I don’t think we ever threw away even one of the papers our kids wrote while they were in school and we still had all their old drawings).  There were also boxes of kitchen stuff that we hadn’t used in years and would almost certainly never use again, paintings, plaques, pictures, old clothes, furniture, old books.

I couldn’t believe that we had accumulated and were still so attached to so many things over all the years, and while we moved some of those things with us out to the desert, we also gave most of it away (or in some case threw it away).

At first it was indeed difficult to do all this downsizing -  after all something of our past was now vanishing, it was also a vivid reminder that life doesn’t last forever.  And yet, at the same time this experience was also very liberating for me- it gave me a sense of making room for a fresh start.

This morning’s article quoted from a UCLA psychiatrist who observed:

One of the upsides to downsizing is that it allows us to live more in the present.

I think there is a great deal of truth in this observation, which is why I think downsizing is actually an important spiritual practice for people of all ages on any spiritual path. 

Throughout our lives we all acquire and accumulate all sorts of baggage-boxes full of things and possessions, boxes full of our ideas, our plans, our ambitions, our glib certainties stored away carefully in our minds, boxes of anxieties and fears stored up in our spirits. We can either live with all the accumulated clutter or “let go of it,” and it is only when we “let it go” that new and fresh possibilities present themselves.

Many people live with the accumulated baggage of the past, the fond memories of the good old days,” guilt over the bad old days, plenty of folks live inside in their boxes of old stale ideas, well-worn grudges and long-held fears, but the longer we cling to all the baggage the more we protect ourselves against the wonder of the fresh revelation available to us all in each and every moment.

Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:

Letting go gives us freedom,
And freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety ambition or possessions,
we cannot be free.


  1. It reminds me of what J krishnamurty exhorted; to die to each moment and to be now with the exorbitant life.. people will need a refinement to come to this juncture... thank you dear Paul K !