Why bring up this matter in the context of decluttering? Well, it is my experience that people who are unhappy in some part of their lives – maybe their work is tedious, or their relationship is bringing them down – tend to over-compensate by doing something else that could turn out to be even more devastating to them than the initial problem could ever have become.
This is also why the terms self-indulgence and unwinding (or, if you’d like ‘happy time’ or ‘me time’) sound so different when describing this particular activity: self-indulgence contains an element of ‘going over the limit’, and it closely aligns with a sense of self-harm, and that is what can easily happen if you start to ‘unwind’ and go overboard in the process. Self-indulgence also contains a whiff of not deserving what we are doing, of overstepping some limit that others consider one step too far.
Typical activities associated with self-indulgence involve things or activities that are considered unnecessary or overly expensive, like a weekend of pampering at a luxurious spa, buying a new car when your old one is not even a year old, spending time on a project that has no practical purpose to anyone but you, etc.
In many cases, those activities are purely momentary, and while you may feel better during your stay at the spa, just after buying that car or playing around with paint samples at home, they ultimately do not really take away the reasons for feeling the need to engage in those activities in the first place. Proper self-indulgence can be a displacement activity that leaves you feeling empty again once all is done and dusted, and then you’ll have to quickly move on to the next such activity.
Can you see the obsessive, compulsive edge to this scenario? It’s similar to the effect of a drug: it numbs the mind for a while and then throws you back into the reality of life, only to long for more of the same displacement activity sometime soon.
There is, of course, the OTHER kind of indulgence: you have been working hard and you ‘deserve some time out’. In which case you could engage in pretty much the same activities as described above, but they will less likely drive you into the same downward spiral that leads to more of the same. Where is the difference, then?
Well, as is so often the case, the difference is to be found in your mind: self-indulgence in itself is not a bad thing, it’s the reasons behind it and the effect it has on us that make the difference. If you decide to do something for yourself because you need time to relax, to recharge your batteries, in order to bounce back refreshed and ready to pick up where you left off with new energy, self-indulgence can be a brilliant thing.
Others may judge you for what you do and how you do it, but that is really more of a reflection of their own judgement of your behaviour than anything else. Ultimately it is up to you to decide if indulging in something is a sign that you are procrastinating and running away from something, or if it is a reaction to your need to unwind and do something that brightens your mood and allows you to retain a balance in your life between your obligations and your choices to spend your free time.
There is a danger in the negative side of self-indulgence, though, and it relates to clutter very intimately: if your self-indulgence is expressed in shopping or otherwise accumulating things, you’ll be on the highway to a cluttered home, if not even the lifestyle of a hoarder. If anything, self-indulgence and obsessive behaviour are not all that far apart and can have disastrous effects on your life, and your home.
I find it useful to occasionally assess my balance between life and work, and if I find that I often do something to escape certain obligations, I press myself to find solutions to release that pressure in some way other than self-indulgence. Maybe a change in my office setup will help me change my mind, or I could limit my social obligations to align better with the free time I have available. Maybe it’s time to spend more time with myself rather than with others day in day out. I have seen with myself and others that often it’s enough to make very small adjustments to bring about big change.
And once I have found that balance again, indulging in something special for myself tends to be for the right reasons: proper distraction from what stresses me, with the goal to be ready to brace that job once more on the next day.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.