The Gravel in Our Life

Oh so insignificant is the lonely piece of gravel. So tiny it is barely measurable. So abundant in our world, it is worthless on its own. No one would buy a piece of gravel by itself. No one would pay attention to it as it sits along the side of the road. You might be inclined to sweep it up if you notice it in the middle of your kitchen floor, especially if it might leave a gouge when stepped on. But really, no one ever pays attention to the lonely piece of gravel. 

Until it is inside your shoe. Oh boy, then do we pay attention to it. It is sharp and annoying; it screams at us. You shake your foot constantly trying to get it to move. Walking on it becomes nearly impossible. You just can’t go on. You have to stop and get that minuscule piece of stone out of your shoe!

That tiny piece of gravel can be a metaphor for the stressors in our lives. At first glance, the irritation of small things may be barely noticeable, or just a mild nagging feeling. As time moves on, this small feeling grows and grows until it is an ever-present pain in our life. And yes, like the itty, bitty piece of gravel, it causes physical pain. Headaches, stomach upset, shoulder tension and insomnia. However, unlike the piece of gravel, it is nearly impossible for us to just sit down and remove it from our life. Pretty soon, the stress has now grown into a boulder that we are literally carrying around with us every second of the day.

A year ago, if you would have asked me about my boulder, I am not sure I could have told you what I needed to do to reduce it and bring peace to my life. As we have removed layers of our life this past year, such as extra possessions and activities, impulse purchases, and clothes I didn’t really care about, it’s easier to identify what causes me stress. In fact, these stressors become pretty obvious when they aren’t hidden behind something else. I can now analyze situations and more accurately determine how I need to change the situation or myself.

Additionally, I can also see what brings me peace and contentment. With less in our lives, I notice how space brings me a sense of calmness and I enjoy that feeling! Having fewer choices of clothing to wear is really uplifting, something I would have never realized before.

Right now, I can accurately identify my most common stressors as making dinner and times when I have to get more than two things done at the same time. I am tackling the dinner problem first by changing our meal planning to include simple-to-make food that everyone likes. This may mean less variety and no fancy recipes, and right now, I’m fine with that. As for having to do too many things at once, I am learning to set some things aside as “would be nice to do” versus “absolutely has to be done.” I’m amazed by how little of it falls in the absolute category. Both of these strategies will be a work in progress for me as old habits die hard.

Some stressors are large - such as debt; and need to be chipped away little by little, like turning a bolder into a rock. Other stressors, like mine, require a change in our reaction or habit. Adopting some simple-life strategies may offer another way to reduce stress in your life. Some of the common ways to begin simplifying your life include these tips.

Evaluate Your Current Possessions

Look around your house and see if there are items you could live without. You might start with decluttering a whole room, or even just a single drawer. This could be a big sweeping activity, or a little bit each week. The goal is to remove items in your house and create space. This space is relaxing and frees your mind. It also frees your time when you have less to take care of. Decluttering can include simplifying your wardrobe to include only items that you really like. Not only will you feel better when you wear these clothes, you will have less decisions to make each day which reduces stress.

Evaluate Activities and Commitments

Do you spend a lot of time running from place to place? Would you like to stay home more often, or spend that time doing something that brings you a sense of accomplishment and joy? Look at your calendar for next month and decide if you can block off days of the month to do just that. It might involve saying no to invitations, or looking for carpool options for your children. Removing yourself from activities and commitments is difficult, so it is best to start small as you gradually add time back into your life. With time, it will become easier to do this. 

Evaluate your Free Time

When you have free time, how do you spend it? Is it spent on activities that add value to your life? Adding value can include spending time engaged with family members, cooking healthy meals, exercising, working on a project or even just relaxing. Are there pockets of time when you find yourself surfing the internet or social media that could be turned into something else? By evaluating your time, you can decide if the activity you are involved in should remain a part of your life. Decide on a couple of things that add value and you want to spend more time doing. Then when you have free time, see if you can include a couple of these activities. 

Evaluate Your Purchases

Going shopping has turned into a nation-wide pastime. Sometimes we shop for fun, without truly thinking about what we are purchasing. Looking back over the years, I see a lot of impulse purchases that we could have easily done without. Evaluating your purchases helps with two things. First, you might bring less into your home and second, you might spend less money. Additionally, you will have less to take care of, more room in your home and more money to save or use towards paying off debts. Many people on a journey towards simple living are also those trying to pay off debts and/or save money for travel and other experiences.

Practice Gratitude and Being Present

Some of the best advice I have read is to practice gratitude - being thankful and appreciative of what you have and of the moment you are in. Small things such as a sunny day, or less traffic on your way to work, when noticed and appreciated, can bring a sense of contentment with your day. The more often I am grateful for small things that happen, the better my day is. Being present in the moment you are in, instead of always thinking about or striving for the future can help bring contentment as well.

I mention one point often - this is a journey with many twists and turns, gravel and boulders. No two days are the same, and life happens in between. However, trying to simplify our lives helps us deal with these better than we would have in the past, and may help turn that boulder in your life back into a tiny piece of gravel that can be removed from you shoe.