It’s amazing how small details of our environments can fade into the blur of everyday life. When Amy and I bought our home a little over two years ago, it was pretty overwhelming. Being in a new environment, everything was fresh and all the aspects both good and bad stood out like a sore thumb. I easily noticed the things that looked particularly good and that which looked especially bad. Whether it was a tile project in the entryway or paint on the walls that needed an update, it all stood out. As new homeowners, we began to work on various projects to make the house more comfortable for us. We didn’t buy new furniture and kept spending to a minimum, but painted the entire first floor of the house and did quite a bit of work. It was wonderful to customize our space, but two years later things have changed a bit.
It seems as though the weeks fly by these days, with hours passing seemingly in the blink of an eye. From one thing to the next, it can be so easy to slip into a blurred existence only noticing the things that call for our attention. Those small projects have faded from importance a bit, part due to learning that it’s impossible to do all the projects, all the time. Mostly, because it’s just so easy to ignore the environment around us when we’re focused everywhere but here. Everywhere but now. Perhaps it’s because we get so caught up in the moment of going from one thing to the next that we forget to sit down and simply observe our existence.
This raises the question, are we just going through the motions or are we actually living?
By slowing down and taking the time to observe our environment, we found it much easier to make decisions that enabled us to change that environment for the better. Through intentional observation, Amy and I were able to embrace minimalism and change that environment to better fit our needs. All of a sudden, the clutter on our kitchen table became much more apparent. By slowing down and observing, things started to stick out again. The benefit to this is once observed, it can be changed.
To reduce clutter, we must identify clutter. Here’s how to do exactly that through the power of intentional observation:
1. Set a timer for 20 (or more) minutes. You’ll want to make sure this exercise is continued for at least 20 minutes. It is completely fine if it ends up running longer, anything shorter will be less beneficial.
2. Find a place. If your goal is to reduce clutter and begin minimizing your possessions, find a room of the house to explore intentionally. This exercise will be completed one space at a time, so pick a room, an area, or a particular space to start with.
3. Prepare to record. Grab a notepad, pen, and prepare to record your thoughts and observations. Again, I’m particularly biased about recording stream of consciousness thoughts in an analog way. This is largely due to the distraction-riddled nature of most modern electronics.
4. Stay still. No matter how focused your view, there will be plenty to observe for the full 20 minutes of this exercise. It’s possible to stare at a blank wall and come up with 20 minutes of observations about the wall. Feel free to look around at your leisure, but don’t get up and move around. Stay focused on a particular area.
5. Observe, write. It doesn’t matter how you process the visual information in front of you, in what order, nor at what speed. Whatever works best for you will work for this exercise. Scan left to right, bottom to top, or whatever you prefer. Start by writing down what you see, first the items themselves, then go back and note the quality, condition, and characteristics of the items. I think you’ll be amazed at what you observe and surely will gain a new perspective about that particular space.
The next step, is to simply act upon the observations you’ve made. This process can be repeated anywhere, anytime, inside and out. Try doing the exercise multiple times in different areas consecutively. Then, go back to the original location and try one last time – you’ll notice things that were missed the first time. It’s a pretty amazing exercise that brings us in the present and slows down the blur of life allowing us to change it as we please.
Upon doing this exercise, did you observe anything unexpected? How did the exercise make you feel?