Wake up and smell the coffee – and make sure the coffee’s your choice

While I’m an inherently non-violent person, I have to admit to a penchant for a good spot of culling. I particularly like culling clothes, but almost any stock of items will do it for me. Twice a year (in a fit of spring fever and in autumn as part of the ‘back to school’ madness that makes me want to buy notebooks and fountain pens), I go through the house like a whirling dervish, culling anything for which I no longer have a use. Clothes that no longer fit, are old, out-dated, or that I never wear because, frankly, I should never have bought it in the first place (if you haven’t worn something for two years running, surely there’s a good reason). Books that I’ll never read again, medication that’s past its use-by date, random boxes that I kept because they “might come in handy”, instruction booklets for electrical items that have since gone to meet their maker. My beloved actually takes care to remain very active during my culling periods for fear that, if he stays still too long, he’ll find himself wrapped in black plastic hurtling head-first down the rubbish shoot.

The crucial questions: Keep? Donate? Chuck?

Now, while I’m clearly an extreme case, there really is something to be said for regularly and ruthlessly re-evaluating one’s possessions to ensure that everything that surrounds us and which, to some extent, defines our lifestyle, lives up to William Morris’ tenet: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Getting rid of things that no longer have a function in our lives can be incredibly cathartic; it can be a way of saying goodbye to a past that we’d rather not re-visit or that we need to shed in order to move forward. A friend of mine reported feelings of elation when she finally chucked the size 8 jeans she’d bought to – yes, I know – “slim into”. It had taken her a long time to accept that she was a natural, healthy and beautiful size 12, and throwing away the useless garment was not a defeat but a victory over the self-critical voice inside her head that told her that she was in some way unacceptable as she was.

With TV shows like ‘The Life Laundry’ and ‘How Clean is Your House?’ turning what is for me just a biannual outburst into mid-week entertainment, the benefits of the physical cull are becoming more and more well known. However, the psychological cull has yet to go prime-time. If getting rid of old clothes leaves me feeling lighter and more streamlined – like a three-day detox – the psychological cull (to be performed less often!) is the equivalent of a full week at a spa drinking smoothies, doing downward-facing dogs, and being wrapped in seaweed.

360° spring cleaning

The psychological cull is remarkably simple. It’s the act of taking a long, hard look at one’s life, maybe even of making a list (yes, someone who enjoys culling will clearly be an inveterate list-maker too), and considering the place that each element has in one’s life. A perfect example would be in friendships. Most of us go through life collecting friends from university, summer placements, jobs, sports clubs, friends of friends… We do our best to keep in contact with everyone as we go along, making time to have drinks, phoning and emailing as often as possible. We rarely stop to think, however, about the quality of each relationship, asking ourselves the vital question: in what way does this nourish me?

Now, I’m not suggesting burning bridges with people you’ve known for years, or blocking names from your facebook page just yet. I’m merely suggesting that it’s a good idea to stop every now and then to check that the people we surround ourselves with are people we are actively choosing, not just passively accepting. If, physically, we are what we eat, I believe that, psychologically, we develop through the relationships we choose to maintain. The same can be said of activities we decide to participate in (the gym you’ve been going to for ages but which no longer offers the kickboxing class that made you join in the first place), the establishments we frequent (that Italian restaurant that has become more of a reflex than a choice, especially since the recent discovery of your wheat intolerance), even the things we say (self-deprecating humour was de rigueur at university, but you’ve been doing it so long now it’s just a habit, and one that subtly gnaws at your self-esteem)

Making a choice

In essence, spring cleaning your life – whether its shoes, the medicine cabinet and your computer files, or the way you spend your time – is simply a ritual that helps ensure that the life you live is a product of choice and not of laziness, habit or apathy. Of course, sometimes an evening in front of the television is exactly what we need – undemanding relaxation to recharge the batteries, but when that sort of activity becomes a matter of reflex and not of active choice, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee (that same old coffee you’ve been drinking for ages despite your new-found preference for green tea). The time we get to use as we wish is too limited to spend it on activities or people that don’t nourish us in some way, and life is too short to go through it living only half-awake. Today, make the choice to make a choice.

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