23 years ago, I graduated from college with nothing but debt, and blind faith I suppose that as time went on I would be able to dig myself out of the red while pursing a fulfilling legal career. Admittedly, there was not a lot of opportunity for self-reflection those first 15 years after graduation– the pressures of law school and then work, coupled with the demands of marriage and parenting left little time for much else. These were whirlwind years, which for many of us GenXers were really all about survival.
But now that our children are older, and our careers are much more established, I find a lot of us in our 40’s are trying to find ways to simplify our lives and carve out more time for ourselves, to pursue those things that really make us happy. It truly is a great place to be when you finally feel like you have checked off all the boxes you were supposed to tick off by now, so how about taking a second to step off the treadmill, catch your breath, and maybe give yourself a little credit? Appreciate just how far you’ve come up until now.
Hopefully, you are past the point of comparing yourself to others to measure success, and instead you have learned to define it for yourself. By now you should also find that you rarely care about what others say or think, and the more you break away from everyone’s expectations, the more you are able to search for a deeper purpose that fulfills you. Why is this happening to us at this point? Because as the years have passed and allowed us to take care of our basic needs, we have gained greater confidence, independence, and wisdom to facilitate the pursuit of self-actualization.
To really move forward, however, we need to take a look back. As unpleasant as it may be, you have to do an inventory of your surroundings and purge wherever possible. There’s no doubt you’ve acquired a lot over the last two decades, and now it’s time to get rid of all the waste. Clear your life of all the dead weight and distractions that are taking away from your most precious resources: time, money and energy.
Do not try to tackle everything at once– it will be overwhelming. Instead, take it all in baby steps. Here’s how I got started:
In the fall of 2015, I decided to cut my commute in half by relocating my office closer to home. I also made the commitment to work from home two days a week to further reduce my commute time and expenses. Then at the beginning of 2016, I diligently went through my finances and cut out all unnecessary costs, which eventually led me to tackle a long neglected storage unit. This past summer, I shredded over 22 boxes of work files that had been piling up over the years. I then kept the momentum going at home and I either sold, trashed or donated whatever was no longer worth keeping. By the time the holidays rolled around, everything was nicely organized, and I was able to ring in the new year with a great sense of pride at how much I had accomplished by tackling a little bit at a time.
Now that I am on a roll, why stop? I’ve decided to keep going in 2017 by looking at the best ways to use my energy, and the easiest and most obvious way to do that is eliminate all unnecessary drama in my personal life. (I can’t cut it out professionally, but that is because as a divorce lawyer my daily work is primarily tackling all the drama in my clients’ lives.) While drama is an inevitable part of life and we cannot control what others do, you can learn to keep your reactions in check, stay focused on the present, drop the assumptions, suspend judgments, and just try to live an honest, mindful life.
The process of emotional decluttering and simplifying your life is a constant work in progress, and as I have laid out there are many layers to it that can take months, sometimes even years. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. If there is one thing you need to remember it is this: embrace weeding.
I don’t even own a garden, so what do I even mean by telling you to embrace weeding? Well, if you think of yourself as the creator of your own garden, you are constantly planting seeds with each new project, endeavor or personal relationship you take on in life. Hopefully, by making sure your plants get water and sunlight, your garden will blossom. However, you also need to protect your garden. Some outside threats are obvious and can be kept out by building a fence (that is why you have boundaries), but others are sneaky (these are the weeds) so you need to watch out and periodically pluck them out.
Weed wisely, and allow yourself to bask in the glory of your own garden.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.