Over the past couple of years, I have taken countless steps to live a more intentional life – that is, a life where the choices I make must align with my values and goals – and the results have all been positive. By choosing to want less, I have the opportunity to save more and travel more. By working less, I am able to live more (which I’ll talk about next week). By choosing to get rid of things like Facebook, I remove many distractions and negative thoughts from my daily life. And by limiting my interactions with toxic people, I free up more time and energy for those who matter most.
Whenever I make an intentional decision to live the life I want, I can feel a physical weight lifted off of me. It’s almost like carrying a backpack around every day, the contents of which are all the things you choose to have in your life. The more things you choose to keep, the heavier your bag is, and the tougher it will be to reach your destination. You get bogged down by more stuff, more work, more commitments, more responsibility, more stress, more people and so on. Your bag gets so full that it is literally bursting, and is so heavy that you can feel it dig into your shoulders and hips with every step.
Your clutter sucks up more and more of your time. Your work stops being productive and starts consuming your every thought. Your commitments hold you back from doing something fun. Your stress makes you tired and sad, and causes you to do things like eat more bad food or drink more alcohol. And holding onto other people’s actions and problems can sometimes add the most weight of all. Anger, criticism, judgment, negativity, obsession and possession – these are heavy burdens to carry. And if you’re not mindful of it, these are all things that can stop you from living the life you really want.
Not even a year ago, I still carried the weight of many of these things on my back. The clutter was gone, but I was still working way too many hours each week, taking on more responsibility than I wanted, committing to things just so I wouldn’t disappoint people and staying in toxic relationships out of fear, all while dealing with my parents’ divorce. The weight of it all was exhausting – so much so that there were weeks where I literally barely got out of bed. I couldn’t think about what my goals and values were. All I wanted was to stop crying every day.
Looking back at that now, it’s no wonder I quit my job and moved back to the island at the same time. I needed to remove HUGE amounts of weight from my bag, and the results have been life-changing. I work less, hike more, and spend so much more quality time with family and friends. I take pleasure in the simple things, like good books and bubble baths and alone time. And I never cry. Last week, Sarah and I happened to be in Squamish at the same time, so we met for lunch (at The Crabapple Cafe, which is my favourite go-to spot there). After, she sent me a four-word text that I will never forget:
“You seem super happy.”
“I am!” I replied. “I’m glad it’s noticeable.” And then this whole idea came together: of course my happiness is noticeable – my bag is practically empty, right now. There’s only a little bit of stuff inside, it’s all weight I am choosing to carry around with me and none of it feels like a burden. Occasionally, I still slip up. I put too much energy into a friendship that’s not serving either one of us, have a hard time letting go of something I once cared about, or find myself rationalizing why I should do something even when my gut tells me not to. I am human, after all!
But I am quicker to remove weight from my bag, these days, and that’s because I’ve finally identified some rules for what I do/do not want to carry with me:
- Do be open to all new work opportunities.
- Don’t take on so many commitments that work takes over my life.
- Do challenge myself to learn, grow and change.
- Don’t do anything that strips joy from my life.
- Do make time to do things I love (be outdoors, read, travel, etc.).
- Don’t forget to stay present in those moments. Soak it all up.
- Do try to add value to people’s lives.
- Don’t hold onto friendships that don’t serve both parties.
- Do buy things I actually need.
- Don’t buy anything that will only impress others.
I could add more to that list, but I can also sum it all in two words: Be purposeful. If I need more money, I can work more. If I need to save more, I’ll travel less. And if I truly believe a friend will come around, I’ll just give our relationship space. These are examples of short-term trade-offs that have a purpose. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about living an intentional life is that everything should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to stop carrying the weight of it with you. When your bag finally feels light enough, you won’t be the only person to notice. :)
Is there anything in your bag that should be removed?
- An Intro to Intentional Living – Simply + Fiercely
- How Minimalism Brought Me Freedom and Joy – James Altucher
- How to Create an Intentional Life Plan – A Conscious Life
- Wake Up: A Guide to Living Your Life Consciously – Zen Habits
- What Does It Mean to Have an Intentional Lifestyle? – C’est Christine