Learn the Secret to Less Stress and Better Choices

Swamped.  Hectic.  Tired.  This is how we describe ourselves much too often.  There are too many chores and activities that we dread.  Why are we so over-burdened?


Once upon a time, I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera.  With my valued possession, I took 24 photos on a family vacation.  After getting them developed at the drug store, I chose the best and stuck them in my photo album, where my siblings and I enjoyed looking at them over and over.  Now I can take hundreds of photos with my phone every day if I want to.  But has my capacity to manage those photos increased in the past 50 years?  Most people I know are drowning in photos, and rarely share or look at most of them more than once.


Disneyland, summer 1970



When I was little, my mom went to one store to buy my socks and underwear.  She went to one fabric store for dress patterns and materials.  Now I have thousands of choices online.  The plethora of brands and reviews can steal hours – yet once the shipment arrives I may still be unhappy with quality and fit.  So much choice for frustratingly little satisfaction!


Until I was a teenager, we had five TV channels.  Now my grandchildren have thousands of choices from multiple streaming services.  But is my daughter's capacity to manage all of these choices greater than my parents'?  I would say no.


My daughter's house (like most) is crowded with clothes, toys, books, papers, and projects.  Every counter, cupboard, and closet is filled to capacity.  She buys more bins and baskets, then berates herself for being disorganized.  But the problem isn't her ability to sort and corral objects.  The problem is overwhelm.





More is... a little scary.


Today, the amount and speed of information has increased exponentially, and our choices have multiplied too.  This is considered normal and good, and we're expected to applaud and manage all of it.  Many of us feel frustrated by the time we waste, rushed and pressured to take it all in.  But unlike technology, our capacity to sort, store, and retrieve information hasn't increased.  We were never meant to handle this much.


In fact, with the level of stress introduced by more technology, plus our society's pressures to have more and do more, we may find ourselves less able to cope than our parents and grandparents were.  That's because stress affects our cognitive abilities, leaving us less able to concentrate, remember, learn, and creatively plan.  In the desire for more choices, we might be sacrificing our competence.


What if we made decisions about what to keep in our homes and on our calendars not by square footage or the number of hours in the day, but by a true accounting of our ability to manage all of our stuff and responsibilities?


What if we stopped exceeding normal human capacity and decided to live within it?





The power of choice


This is an unconventional idea, and will be greeted by many with disbelief.  Why would we want to give up our choices?  Why would we want to settle for less?  Our society tells us that if a little is good, more must always be better.


So how do we opt out of our filled-to-the-brim culture?


The secret is boundaries.  We have to create artificial boundaries based on our capacity – and our desire – to manage them.  We have to look at all of our containers – our rooms, day planners, and maybe even our plates – and decide on their optimum level of fullness.  We have to ask ourselves what's worth our time, energy, and attention, and then say no to anything that exceeds it.


That might mean keeping a certain number of hangers in a wardrobe, a certain number of bins in the toy room, and a certain number of items in a collection.  It might mean a certain number of appointments per day, a certain number of activities after school,  or a certain number of drinks or desserts per week.


Then we can exercise our power of choice by deciding on our favorites – the things and activities that are most useful and satisfying.  Instead of telling ourselves we have to "settle for less," we can take the opportunity to focus on quality and joy.  Instead of trying to manage every possible option, we can calmly and confidently keep what's valuable, and say goodbye to the rest.


Overwhelmed.  Stretched thin.  Too busy.  Exhausted.  These are words too many of us say every day.  But does this have to be our reality?


Minimalism helps us choose what matters so we can craft a satisfying life that meets our needs and lets us achieve our highest purpose.  Boundaries let us stay happily within our capacity.


Related article: The Beauty of Boundaries


Comments

  1. When Obama was president, he surprised people by saying he limited his clothing choices because he had bigger things to think about than what to wear. Similarly, Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck and denim jeans every day of his professional life to eliminate the time wasted on choosing a daily outfit. These examples of real-world boundaries stick with me -- two of the world's most powerful men, choosing to set strict boundaries in order to simplify their lives. Love!!

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    1. Hello, and thanks for your comment. As a reply to your excellent point, you might enjoy reading these previous articles on my blog: https://www.maximumgratitudeminimalstuff.com/2022/10/why-you-should-try-wearing-same-clothes.html
      https://www.maximumgratitudeminimalstuff.com/2020/09/why-uniform-might-work-for-you.html

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