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How Decluttering Helped Me (Re)gain Presence

By Shawn Chang for LINK, June 1, 2022

They say that absentmindedness has no cure. And I believed it.

Illustration of a brown spray bottle with a botanical motif and spraying leafy branches
Illustration by Kailee Vanderwoerd

Whether it’s misplacing things, forgetting about meetings, walking into poles, or daydreaming during class, my past self had done it all.

But I have good news.

A year ago, I discovered and dove into decluttering: removal of what’s unnecessary, followed by organization of what remained. I found that by tidying up my surroundings, my memory and focus improved. Better yet, I no longer had items go missing, unexplained absences, or embarrassing crashes. Most surprising of all, anime characters stayed clear of my notes.

And all that goes to show something: Being absentminded is curable.

Objectively assessing objects

First, Hideko Yamashita’s book 人生を変える断捨離, which translates to “life-changing cut-off” (Google Translate) or “life-changing abandonment” (Microsoft Translator). Interestingly, although the book appears to come in French and German editions, no English version exists, to my knowledge.

This book revealed that keeping a minimalist lifestyle can create opportunities for focus and introspection. It also taught me to select what to save— and what to discard—by evaluating possessions from three angles:

1. Is it essential—that is, is it used?

2. Is it (still) suitable/comfortable to use?

3. Does it bring me joy?

I approached my closet first. Immediately I was face to face with bleak reality: Over several months, I only wore three of the many shirts I had—and two out of my four hoodies.

My disappointment from reviewing my clothes sank to despair when I studied my bookshelf. I had quite a display, with the likes of Oliver Sacks and G. K. Chesterton. Unfortunately, I never (fully) read half of the books. And the books I had read just sat there like ornaments, never revisited.

Finally, I confronted things of sentimental value— many items no longer useful or, for that matter, usable. They included my duvet from before pre-school. The gentlest shake would liberate feathers through the seams and onto the floor. I also had a pair of leaky boots, broken electronics, a damaged water bottle, and more.

Clearly, my room was storage for the unused, the unusable, the uncomfortable, and the non-pleasing. So, purgation it was.

Continue reading this story here.

LINK Magazine is a monthly publication of student ideas and culture, written and designed by students at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).