Jennifer linked to a post today from One-A-Day Gratitude that struck me as an excellent example of a tiny, tiny good habit -- although maybe "good" is not the best word, because it's almost a gratuitously unnecessary habit -- that supports a much, much larger goal.
What is the habit? Keeping one small kitchen drawer completely empty, all the time:
It stands alone in a sea of possessions. A reminder that there is a way to live without, live with less. Among the myriad of things we own, this lone kitchen drawer helps me keep my sanity and maintain my balance.
While the pull to buy more, pile more, have more, is great, my need to have this island of a drawer is greater. So, I resist. I resist with a lot of force. I battle constantly with the marketers, the advertisers, and the sales people. Temptation is everywhere. At one point, my resistances break and I buy. I buy, yes, but soon after that I discard. For almost every new thing I acquire, I let go of another. I do not have room for more. I do not have a need for more. Life is a continuing circulation, and so is my house. It is the live example of “in with the new, out with the old.”
Growing up in a time and place where "hoarding" was a survival skill meant that I had a long way to go to reach that empty drawer. It meant getting over many internal hurdles and overcoming personality traits, old habits, and societal teachings. Living in a time and a place now where "consumerism" is a way of life means that keeping that empty drawer is an ongoing challenge.
We have 18 more months in this condo. I intend to keep that drawer empty for that time. I will try every day not to use it to pile more things. It will be my practice to save this drawer from a suffocating existence. It will be my meditation. My example to live by.
I called it "gratuitous," and one of the things that I love about this tiny thing is exactly that it is so unnecessary. I mean, if she has the space, there is no "real" reason not to store something in it. If she expected to purchase something that would go in that space, that would be a "reason" to keep it empty, but she explicitly does not have even this reason.
Her identification of this practice as a "meditation" is interesting. The gratuitousness of it does resemble many religious practices, particularly private acts of penance, mortification, and fasting. Such activities almost derive their value purely from the fact that they objectively have no value, or rather, no value other than that they are freely chosen -- and in some sense, acts that have no value are the ones that we are most able to choose freely. (Marc Barnes has recently written amusingly that a totally gratuitous act, such as hopping on one foot to the bathroom, being unreasoned and even reasonable, represents an act of free will and thus a statement against determinism.)
But it's also a tangible, if tiny, manifestation of an aspiration -- in her case, to be detached from possessions, to clear her space of "the old" in order to have ready room to welcome "the new." Often aspirations are frustratingly intangible. But one way to crystallize them is to create a tiny place (or recurring moment) in which the aspiration is realized, is real.
Once one drawer is emptied, you no longer have to say "One of these days I'm going to get rid of all that extra stuff." You can truly say, "I'm in the process of getting rid of all that extra stuff." *insert sound of drawer being pulled out* "See?"
What "one empty drawer" can you create to nucleate that grand aspiration you have that still remains formless?