Willpower Doesn’t Work: Getting Rid Of Non-Essentials In Lock Down

If buying something feels good then throwing it away feels ten times better. Twenty times. Obviously, aside from a jaunt out for some exercise, like everyone else, being in the house so much has made me realise more about what I actually need, or to be more accurate, what I do not need.

I’ve been making a lot of changes over the past 18 months or so, so “clearing out” was not a new thing for me. My environment, as I’ve been shown, is something I should not take lightly. Situational psychology is something I think about a lot, particularly when planning the sessions that I lead and how I interact with my students but, all those ideas have firstly been somewhat road tested in my personal life; as the saying goes, “when you work on the personal it very often improves the professional.” One of the first things that I “cleared out” a while back was the group of people that I would associate with. I know that that sounds like a brutal thing to do but something I’d never considered was how big of an effect those external influences had on me. I had to look deeply at the people that I would have contact with and think about whether I really needed that person in my life. What pull does spending time with them have on me? Does how they live their life contradict with what I want out of my life? There were people that I decided that I had to let go. I didn’t send out texts asking to never be contacted again but just slowly let those relationships disparate. I’ve now got a very small group of people close to me and my relationships with those people are getting stronger and stronger. Johann Harri argues that what we really want out of life, underlyingly, is deep and meaningful human connection. The smaller the group of people that I spend my time with, and the more meaningful connections that I feel I have with them, the more fulfilled I feel in those relationships. More fulfilled all round.

My girlfriend Jo and I moved into a one bed house, with a garden, a couple of weeks before lock down began. I left home at 19, spending the best part of a decade living at Camberley Judo Club in a shared room in a porta cabin, 20 others living in the same building. The couple of years previous to moving into the current place I’d been in a bedsit at a friends flat, in a box room. That’s not a, “oh my god I had it so hard I barely had room to stretch me legs out” I could live on a washing line if I had to. What I found living in a box room at 30 years old helped me do was throw out a lot of the stuff I didn’t actually need. I had too much stuff to fit in so I had no choice but to go on a cull of my physical things. The only material objects I have ever really done any hoarding over are clothes. I started with asking myself, “what is the reason for me keeping this” and pretty quickly I found that I was coming up with all sorts of excuses, “I might wear this with that….or if I ever go here…….but this cost me that much” so I decided to ask myself the same thing from a different angle, “I don’t actually need this so why would I not get rid of this?” Even the same answers seemed like a desperate attempt to pointlessly just hold onto the item, which is exactly what they were, pointless. This helped me weigh up the actual value of the thing to me and helped me to see it was the only the small percentage of me trying to come up with irrational and unrealistic reasons for holding onto it. Obviously the psychology of hoarding goes deeper than the item itself and that takes work, but for structuring how I got rid of things and what to keep I used the advice of a couple of authors whose work I find really useful; Greg McKewan’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less and Dr Benjamin Hardy’s Willpower Doesn’t Work, the title, and learning, of the later I’ve heavily borrowed for this post. I felt so much lighter and freer after clearing out, not only my clothes but everything I own. Like people that regularly take personal inventory of their actions it feels like I’ve got rid of a lot of baggage, quite literally!

Lock down has given me another strong look at what I actually need. The clothes have been cut again, I’ve been really enjoying living in tracksuits, my nickname used to be chav so perhaps old go to’s are rearing their heads! Do I need more than 2-3 pairs of jeans/bottoms? Nope. Pick my 2-3 favourite and bye bye to the rest.

The hoarder in me still tries to catch me out at the final moment, “don’t bin it, you can give that to someone or sell it on eBay.” I’ve never sold anything on eBay, in my entire life, nor do I ever really intend to too. If I can’t give it away or get it to a recycling centre, charity shop etc (all closed in lock down) in the next 24 hours then it just gets binned. If I don’t follow that rule strictly then it’ll just end up back in the wardrobe gathering dust and, even worse, taking up mental space. I’ve only ever felt good about getting rid of non essential things, I still get the, “I will, I won’t, I will, I won’t” thoughts about chucking something out, then I get rid of it, feel good and don’t think about it again.

I’m certainly someone that can end up on the receiving end of what is known as the ‘Paradox of Choice’ if I remain unchecked. I am highly disciplined if in a routine or an environment that supports me in a positive routine. Take me out of that though and I can be a disaster, I’ll do things contrary to what I want to achieve. A small example of that which I’ll use is food. Obviously to be a successful athlete, or coach for that matter, I need to eat well. Pretty standard. If the first thing that I see when I go in the kitchen is ice cream, which I like, you better believe I’ll be nailing that over chicken breast and broccoli any day of the week. So, I try not to keep any unhealthy food in the house. That way that option is removed and it is an automated response to pick the healthy food and I don’t feel conflicted. I’m not going to say I don’t have any treats, because I do, but I have to go to the shops to get it, which the thought of doing puts me off most of the time. When I do go, marching out on a Ben & Jerry’s crusade then I just get what I’ll eat that evening, if I don’t finish it then what’s left more often gets binned. Don’t like waste? I’d rather it be waste in the bin than waste sitting on my gut. I’d happily be a couple of quid down (and it is, literally, only a couple) than to consciously contribute to getting myself fatter. When I was at my biggest I’d have happily paid plenty of money to be lighter and leaner. So I don’t let myself roll back into those old school thought patterns created and embedded when people were literally unsure if they were getting their next meal. I used to say things like that, to myself and to others. It makes my cringe a little now.

I found just being shown about the environment that I live in a really liberating lesson. If I want to give up chocolate and live in a chocolate factory and/or most of my mates are regular chocolate eaters or chocolatiers, or give up drinking but spend a lot of time in the pub, I know I can white knuckle it for a certain amount of time because I am not devoid of willpower, but eventually, eventually, I will cave.

The paradox of choice. “I’ve got so many clothes I just don’t know what to wear.” I find when I don’t have the option, or don’t give myself it, my daily life gets easier and, ultimately, better.