A Drawer Full of Dreams
By Maile Sundquist
My son has entered the stage where he’s catching onto the fact that there is a big, crazy world going on around him. I’ve noticed lately during feedings that he’ll suck for a moment then pop off my breast to flash me an adorably gummy grin then pop back on only to pop back off at the movement of my husband through the room then back on, oh, but not before a detailed examination of his hands. A truck drives by our street – off again, on again. A knock at our neighbor’s door two houses down – off again with another quick smile to me before popping back on, just to pop back off at the sound of a flea fart.
After reading up on this phenomenon, which is apparently pretty common for this age, I found that infants will often lose weight and a mother’s milk production could decrease all because this wide-eyed infant is being so distracted by and excited about the world around him.
It got me thinking about distractions in general, and specifically how they inhibit goal completion. In my case, being multi-talented and having a broad range of interests, I’ve often found myself jumping from unfinished project to unfinished pursuit and back again. I’ve collected tools and clothing, equipment and books for big and small hobbies, arts, crafts, business ideas, and dreams I’ve had since I was 16. One big trend through it all was how little I got accomplished and how much stress, shame, and clutter I caused myself. Not unlike a distracted infant during mealtime, I was sacrificing progress for the excitement of a new idea.
I blame my childlike wonder and short attention span for making me giddy when I see something fun and new or when inspiration strikes. I find myself powerless against its advances and compelled to add it to the “buh buh buh bum” dreaded to-do list! Over time these ambitions made up the backbone of a to-do list that not even the most efficient, talented, and productive person could hope to accomplish in three lifetimes. As my list grew longer, I realized that the idea of the idea had become an idol, so when these ideas didn’t come to fruition they became less inspiration and more condemnation. Reminders that I failed to follow through and now somehow my life will not be as full or has less value and meaning. My beautiful ideas, dreams, and pursuits had become a heavy burden in the back of my mind that nagged at me for attention, in turn causing me mental exhaustion and depression. I was setting myself up for frustration and failure and life is too short to feel that way!
We are only one person, we have two hands, one brain, one heart, one life, and limited time in a day so unfortunately we just can’t do everything we’d like before we die. That is why we need to choose wisely. It takes focus and discipline to reach goals and if we strive for too many, the likelihood that we will reach them is hindered and usually something or everything, including ourselves, will suffer. Mozart didn’t become a great composer and pianist by tole-painting, learning how to cut hair, and writing a graphic novel while doing magic at kids’ birthday parties and teaching yoga on the weekends. He focused on piano and made his time, resources, and mental energy align with this goal.
It has been a long, stressful, painful process trying to reduce and streamline my dreams and ambitions. I remember poring over my list with my husband for moral support, trying to figure out what to pursue first, and how, and what to let go of. In my case, I used to think it would take hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, shock treatments, and a miracle to get me to limit my ambitions. It wasn’t until I began prayerfully being more thoughtful and intentional and pursuing simple living, AKA minimalism, that I started seeing reduced stress and feeling more in control of my thoughts, desires, resources, and life. Paraphrasing Clare Boothe Luce and Leonard Thiessen, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
I began with the low-hanging fruit, which for me was clothes. It was a straightforward weeding-out process. Old, ratty, unfixable? Garbage or rags. Fixable? If it wasn’t fixed by the following weekend, garbage or rags. Hadn’t worn it in awhile, didn’t feel great in it, wasn’t my style, or didn’t fit anymore and I wasn’t within 5 pounds of fitting into it again? Give to a friend, sell, donate, or consign. My wardrobe now only consists of items that reflect my personal style, fit me well, make me feel good when I wear them, and go together so I can form outfits with limited fuss. Because I also have fewer clothing items, it makes caring them easier and forming outfits faster. Plus, they take up less space in my room, I know what I have, and I only replace items as I need them, which has prevented me from impulse shopping and feeling powerless in response to sales, saving me money. I found that this positive domino effect played out in every area or thing I minimized or, as I like to call it, curated. I went through every room in the house and every possession I owned asking myself, “Does it serve me, is it useful, does it bring me joy?” If the answer was no I let it go and freed up not only tangible living space but, surprisingly, mental space as well. There’s a peace and clarity that comes from knowing what you own and why you own it and not letting your possessions own you. There was a time when I felt like my life would be over and that I’d have a breakdown if I lost my belongings to a fire or theft, and now I no longer feel that way. It would be heartbreaking to lose truly irreplaceable sentimental or handmade items, but even then, as long as I have my life, my memory, my family, and my faith, life will go on. Most categories except for sentimental items were easy to minimize, but then came reducing my ambitions.
What I came to realize was that I was a hoarder, not of things, but of ideas and ambitions. I asked myself the same questions stated above, but I was also forced to ask myself harder questions like, “What are my core values? What are my goals for the next year or five? What are my deepest, truest passions, and how do these ideas, hobbies, and pursuits fit into the bigger picture of my life? What do I want the majority of my precious and finite time and mental energy and resources to go to?” I rated them all against one another based on the above criteria and only the highest rankers for joy, passion, fulfillment, and calling remained in the running, namely building up Soul Scribes to make a positive impact on individual’s hearts and in the community, finishing my books (writing and art), and making music and music videos with my husband for our band. Gone were my scrapbooking and card-making supplies, my candle- and soap-making tools, various musical instruments that I didn’t feature in the music I made, fabric paints, the rocks I was going to paint animals on, and the life-sized cardboard cutout of Tony Danza. It’s better you don’t ask.
Letting go of all of the things that I had invested in for the many pursuits was hard, but I figured it was a sunk cost and remembered my goals and truest passions, took a deep breath, and let them go, hopefully to someone who will actually need and use them regularly. The hardest part, however, was letting go of those great ideas that I didn’t have time for, the hobby that brought up good memories of the past but that I hadn’t picked up in three years, or the hopefulness behind the dream that was to make a positive impact to society or for a cause. It is a daily struggle as a dreamer, artist, and visionary to not take on more “great ideas,” but since I decluttered, the physical aspects of these ambitions and fought against them reentering my mental space I have felt freer and happier and more inspired to pursue the few ambitions, hobbies, and dreams that remain. Which are really quite a lot still. There’s no rule saying I have to pick three and that’s it until I die. I recognize I have to leave room for my interests to evolve along with me and my life circumstances. I could put one down and pick up another or meet my goals in one and start to pursue another; as long as I’m in control and keeping my pursuits manageable and curated like my possessions, then I will feel awesome and be successful.
Living simple has changed the way I look, not only at my belongings, but at my life, myself, my time, my resources, and my ambitions. Life is short and we only have a finite amount of resources to accomplish our truest calling and desires before we die. You are in control of curating your life, of editing out the negative and making room for the beautiful. Let what you own, how you live, what you spend, what you eat, the people you hang out with, and your ambitions support the lifestyle and beliefs you choose to promote in your life so that you can reach your goals and live your dreams. When you are not weighed down and overwhelmed by physical or mental clutter and distractions, you are free to live your life more fully and pursue the things that are most important.