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The urge to purge: finding peace in times of stress

When I’m anxious, or angry, or I feel out of control, I get the urge to purge. My fingers start itching to go through a drawer; every item out of place withers under my scornful eye; I start yanking clothes out of my closet. While I welcome the desire to own less, in these moods it starts to feel less like seeking peace and more like obsessive compulsion.

Minimalism is heralded as taking back control of your life, but in the absence of stuff to control, those of us who have control-freak tendencies may find ourselves projecting those obsessive qualities onto the act of minimizing. If it becomes a competition, or a way to seize order when we feel stressed, minimalism becomes no better than materialism.

If you are feeling stressed because your life still feels cluttered, then minimizing may be the solution after all. Look for inspiration in these tips and see if you feel calmer.

But if you are feeling stressed and you have already minimized to where you feel comfortable and happy, then what you are feeling is probably a need for action. You feel unbalanced and need to restore that sense of peace. Here are my tips.

1. Get your blood flowing.

Not to be all New Age-y or anything, but think of that anger or anxiety as a black clot in your heart. You need to shake it out, diffuse it, dilute it down to nothing. To do that, you need to get moving. Ideally, you’d leave your house for a few minutes. Take a walk, do fifty jumping jacks or twenty push-ups, climb a set of stairs a couple of times at full speed. Use your body to diffuse the blackness through your veins, and use your strength to show that you are in control of yourself. That’s a start to controlling a situation.

2. Appreciate your work.

When you get back inside, close your eyes and take a deep breath. When you open them, admire your surroundings. Look how tidy and uncluttered your house is. Admire your taste in the pieces you’ve chosen to keep and display. If it will help, write or say five things that you’re grateful for. This will help you take back your sense of peace with your surroundings and use the endorphins from your exercise to jumpstart positive thinking.

3. Do something peaceful.

Now that you’ve worked the stress out of your system and taken a moment to unwind and practice gratitude, take a little quiet time for yourself. Meditate, if you’re into that. Lose yourself in a book. Whittle a figurine, knit a few rows, play solitaire. Whatever gets you to your Zen state. Once you’ve taken ten or fifteen minutes, or an hour, you’ll have driven the buzzing thoughts from your head and maybe gotten a tiny sense of accomplishment. Now that you’ve relaxed, your troubles probably seem more manageable. You might have had a moment of clarity in which a solution presented itself or you realized that it’s simply something you can’t control, and you need to let it go. Either way, you’ve regained some control over the circumstances.

Here’s to productive solutions to intangible issues!

What do you do when you’re upset or nervous? Tell me about it in the comments.

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