Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches

‘Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits etc.) can do the journey on their own.’ ~C.S. Lewis

I know people who travel with several huge suitcases and carry-ons for a short trip, even if there’s no way they’d use everything, because it makes them feel safer.

Others have a lot of clutter in their homes for the same reason — having more stuff makes you feel secure, more prepared, ready for the just-in case.

Many people are super busy, and distracted, because busy-ness and distraction feels productive, and isn’t boring.

Smokers don’t want to quit smoking, because it helps them deal with stress.

What do all these people have in common?

They rely on crutches.

The idea of crutches first occurred to me when I was quitting smoking — I realized I thought I needed smoking because it helped me cope with stress, and gave me pleasure. But cigarettes were just a crutch — I could deal with stress even without smoking, but I had to learn other methods of stress relief. I could get pleasure without smoking, but I’d have to learn something new.

I’ve learned. I now deal with stress easily without smoking — I meditate, drink tea mindfully, run and workout, go for walks, give myself more space in the day, let go of the expectations/ideals that are causing the stress in the first place. I find pleasure in all of these things, and in socializing with good friends, and in a good book, and don’t need to smoke to find pleasure anymore.

I let go of my crutches.

You can’t simplify without letting go of crutches either. Owning or bringing a lot of stuff for security, for example, is a crutch. Being busy so you won’t be bored, or so you’ll feel productive, is a crutch.

You have to find other ways of fulfilling these needs, without the crutches.

Some ways to do that:

  • Security. Do you need possessions or big suitcases of stuff for security? What I’ve learned is that the security of possessions is an illusion. You don’t need them. Instead, build a network of backup solutions. Need a tool or a wheelbarrow? Borrow from a neighbor or friend, and form a borrowing network. Need clothes for a certain occasion? Get them at a thrift store, borrow them, or make do with what you have. Having fewer possessions means you buy less, which means you’re better off financially, which means you’re more secure than someone who bought a lot of things.
  • Boredom. Do you think you need to be busy or distracted by the Internet to avoid being bored? Fear of boredom hurts many of us. If you learn to be mindful, there’s no fear of boredom, because every moment, in any situation anywhere, contains an infinite amount of wonder, new lessons, unforeseen beauty and surprises. You just need to pay attention. There’s no need for distraction, busy-ness, trying to do all the fun stuff that everyone else is doing.
  • Productivity. Does busy-ness mean you’re productive? No, it probably means you’re not good at making choices. To be less busy, you have to decide that some things are more important than others, and say no to the less important, so you’ll have time and energy to focus on the important ones. You can be un-busy, and productive, by giving yourself space to focus on what’s important, the high-impact things that make the most difference in your career and life.
  • Stress relief and comfort. What crutches are you using for stress relief? Smoking, alcohol, television, Internet distractions, food, shopping … there are lots of crutches that people believe relieve stress and comfort them. Unfortunately, these things often lead to more stress — smoking gives you health problems, shopping leads to debt, television and other distractions lead to inactivity and bad health. Better ways to relieve stress and find comfort (many mentioned already): meditation, mindfully drinking tea, exercise, taking a walk, taking a bath, journaling, talking with a good friend, yoga, doing something creative.
  • Love. Lots of people keep sentimental items, like gifts and items that hold memories. Basically, they represent love to us. But we don’t need those items for the love or memories they represent. The love isn’t in the items. They’re in us, and the people we love. Instead, let go of the items and spend some time with the people you love, or spend time journaling or thinking about the good times and the people you’ve loved. You don’t need the items to do that. Better yet, spend your time loving others now, instead of dwelling on the past.

These are just a few examples of letting go of your crutches. I’d recommend taking a good look at why you have so many things, do so many things, take so many things with you, and try to figure out what kind of crutches these are for you. Then figure out better ways to fulfill these needs.

One last thing: many people don’t let go of things because they’re afraid of making the wrong decision. If they can’t be sure of making the exact right decision, they don’t make any decision at all. This results in the piling up of complexity.

A better approach than this (which obviously doesn’t work) is to experiment. You can’t know the result of a decision for sure until you try it. So do little experiments, let go of things, and see if you really needed them. That’s one of the ideas in my Year of Living Without. But you can try smaller experiments, like a week or a day, and see what the results are. It’ll help with the paralysis of making the wrong choice.

Simplifying your life is a worthwhile endeavor. Letting go of your crutches means you discover more about yourself, and realize you didn’t need the crutches in the first place. You are empowered to find new solutions to your needs, and are free to shape your life as you will.

Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches was originally posted on Zen Habits on 8/12/13.