“Brace yourself,” I said to my husband after the news that we were going to become quarantined for several weeks had streamed out of our living room, “for we are going to see a spike in divorce rates.”
It is a sad fact indeed that we keep busy to put up with each other. I know; I used to be part of the bustling brigade of professionals, hurrying back and forth between the nursery, the office, the store, the playground, hardly stopping to draw breath, let alone examine my behaviour. Irritation was always easily ignited, often poured out over the people closest to me.
Last year, I abruptly left busyness behind and spent many months recovering from a stress breakdown, searching through my deepest, darkest chambers for weakened wood in need of repair. As a result, we made a conscious choice to enter Minimalism Ville and stop spending our money on material goods, trips and cream-on-cake sensory enhancers that kept us running the rat race. Our frugality had forced us to live in closer proximity, relying on ourselves for work that needed doing around the house and using our imagination to come up with family outings that cost nothing. In return, it had given us time.
Examining my life at the seams when I had been too busy to tackle this task for years was a daunting, frightening task. And now, countless humans around the globe have been thrown into similar soul-searching as they spend long stretches in family house arrest. Without a routine to escape into, the foundation of our home life slowly lays itself bare. Without a seemingly stable structure to our lives, stressors such as looming layoffs and potentially plummeting house prices awaken our less charming traits from their slumber. When life slows down, truth shines through the cracks, mercilessly illuminating the flaws on our naked bodies.
I thought we were in a good place to weather our enforced lockdown, but as I have come to realize, life likes to throw us the challenges we need to keep humble and agile. Pandemic-enhanced stressors took their toll on me and I could easily have become swept up in the Corona frenzy.
Turning to minimalism, I tried to find a path leading back to peace, come what may. Like many others, I started ridding our apartment of unused debris, sorting through and clearing out to make our living space more harmonious and functional. Our space may have been confined, but it now felt less like a temporary prison and more like a comforting cocoon. In a rare stroke of brilliance, I started employing the same cleaning/clearing tactic to my mind. Having minimized my desire for stuff, a busy schedule and real estate goals meant I had already stripped down to a more true and naked human form. However, the lockdown showed me that I still needed to shed one layer of clothing.
Contrary to the belief I have held most of my adult life, I now know that unhelpful emotions should not be left alone to gather dust on my innermost shelves. They need to be brought out into the light and examined before I bid them goodbye. Whenever a less pleasant feeling arose—say, fear—I would acknowledge it, find the underlying cause, and then clear it out by putting it into honest words. Inner and outer minimalism started merging. Instead of adding stress to our mental family clutter I found myself growing calm as the days turned into weeks and we were still confined to our apartment.
Laying myself bare was difficult; I had to become vulnerable. But without negative states occupying mental space, my mind became clearer and more peaceful. The calm that descended on our house brought forth a sense of optimism and a desire to be kind, to be helpful, to be victorious in the face of suffering.
Drawing on that newfound optimism, I think we all find those feelings when we strip down and lay ourselves bare. We just need to declutter, sort through, clear out and—most importantly—let go.