Eudaemonia

Simplicity, with Courtney Carver

May 27, 2020 Kim Forrester Season 6 Episode 6
Eudaemonia
Simplicity, with Courtney Carver
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Eudaemonia
Simplicity, with Courtney Carver
May 27, 2020 Season 6 Episode 6
Kim Forrester

Courtney Carver is a celebrated simplicity expert, author of two books, including Soulful Simplicity, and founder of the fashion minimalist challenge, Project 333. 

On this episode, Kim chats with Courtney about the power of simplicity and explores how we can liberate ourselves from the relentless pressure to be more, have more, and do more, in our search for a fulfilling life. 

Show Notes Transcript

Courtney Carver is a celebrated simplicity expert, author of two books, including Soulful Simplicity, and founder of the fashion minimalist challenge, Project 333. 

On this episode, Kim chats with Courtney about the power of simplicity and explores how we can liberate ourselves from the relentless pressure to be more, have more, and do more, in our search for a fulfilling life. 

Kim Forrester :

In 1825, a fairly prosperous American household contained less than 100 possessions. Today, according to the LA Times, the average American home boasts around 300,000 separate items. I'm Kim Forrester. You're listening to the Eudaemonia podcast and, today, we're going to shine a spotlight on simplicity.

Intro :

Welcome to Eudaemonia, the podcast that is all about flourishing. Plug in, relax and get ready for the goodness as we explore the traits and practices that can help you thrive in life ... with your host Kim Forrester.

Kim Forrester :

Courtney Carver is a celebrated simplicity expert, author of two books including Soulful Simplicity, and founder of the fashion minimalist challenge, Project 333. In 2006, after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Courtney initiated a range of life-changing habits that would eventually lead her away from busyness, clutter and consumerism, into a more soulful, love-filled approach to life. It's my absolute pleasure to be connecting with Courtney, today, to talk about the power of simplicity, and to learn how we can liberate ourselves from the relentless pressure to be more, have more, and do more in our search for a fulfilling life. Courtney Carver, welcome to the Eudaemonia podcast. Thank you for gifting some of your precious time for me today. It's a pleasure to have you here.

Courtney Carver :

It's my pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to our conversation.

Kim Forrester :

I really want to start at the heart of the matter because, having read your book, it's all about heart. At the end of the day, your message about simplicity is actually about making room for love and soul-centred connection with ourselves. What can you tell me, Courtney, about the wisdom that can be found underneath all that busyness and underneath all that clutter, and how has this heart-centred connection to life changed your approach to life?

Courtney Carver :

It's been such an interesting journey to really be in, I guess, in search for something, not knowing what it was, and then realising it was there all along. I think that's sort of typical for a lot of us. You know, for me, it started as a health scare and looking for better health by reducing stress. I never set out to simplify my life. I didn't really know what that meant. It wasn't on my radar at all. But once I started reducing stress, I realised that, in fact, I was simplifying my life and removing the busyness and all of the stuff that I piled on top of myself over decades of growing up and moving through adulthood. And, as I was removing those layers, that's when I was able to come back to myself and really tap into the love part of the equation. And so, while it started as, again, kind of a way to recover and feel better physically, it just flipped my world completely upside down when I realised I wanted a lot more than that.

Kim Forrester :

You know, it's interesting that you start your answer there by saying we are all searching for something because I think that's profoundly true. And what is amazing, reading through your book, is the realisation that in that searching for whatever it is we are yearning for - which, reading your book, sort of leads me to the understanding that what we're searching for is love. But in that searching, in that yearning, we kind of go out and add to our life. Right? We think we're looking for something and we're going to find it 'out there'. So that's why we accumulate or that's why we fill our schedule. Do you think that's right, do you think we've got the process backward?

Courtney Carver :

Definitely. I don't think that we are cluttering up our lives or busying up our calendars because we dislike ourselves or because we are doing it in some kind of malicious way. We really do, on some level, believe that doing this thing, this extra thing, is going to make us happier, more successful, more lovable. Whatever it is. And we're kind of trained to do that by seeing everyone around us, kind of, run that same race. And at some point, for many of us, we reach this point of, 'Oh my gosh, I've done all of the things I'm supposed to do. And now I am burnt out, or sick, or unhappy, or stressed, or I can't sleep.' Wherever it is that we land. And that's when we can start reverse engineering the process and think back to where we were before we started adding - and sometimes that goes all the way back to childhood - and realise that we were happy before we started this journey. And how do we get back there? You know, not going back in time, by any means. But perhaps we don't need all of the things that we've been adding to our life to be happy, to be successful, to be loved.

Kim Forrester :

The manifestation of your trigger points, right - you term it the pain point - the manifestation of your pain point was quite significant. You had the diagnosis of MS. And it seems to me, though, that not everybody is going to have a trigger point that is that significant, or that easy to discern and identify. What are some of the common signs that we have too much going on in our lives, Courtney? Too many positions, too many scheduled events, too many demands.

Courtney Carver :

I definitely had a major wake up call with the MS diagnosis. However, if I think about it, I had so many wake up calls before that, that I ignored. And rightfully so - I was way too busy to pay attention to wake up calls. And I think we forget that our wake up calls - or trigger points, as you say - don't have to be a devastating diagnosis or anything at all. It could be as simple as hearing that voice that says, 'This isn't working, this is too much. Something has to change.' And I know many people who are listening to this, right now, have heard that voice. Maybe even today, but you've just stuffed it down because you don't have time to deal with it. Or because you don't trust yourself. And all of this, you know, piling on of stuff, and things, and obligations comes with forgetting how to trust ourselves. So it's not uncommon to hear something from within and say, 'Okay, whatever. I'm sure everybody feels like that. It's no big deal.' And then you kind of feel bad because - and maybe you're not even connecting it, but I know I did - I would feel kind of down and I wouldn't know why. And then how would I fix that? Since I wasn't listening to that voice, I would go shopping, or have a glass of wine, or something to make that weird feeling go away.

Kim Forrester :

There's an interesting dynamic going on around the world right now. I think a lot of people are being forced into their homes, forced to close down their schedules. You know, take a softer, gentler approach to life. Not necessarily go out, go shopping like they used to. You know, right here in this moment. But it seems to me that a lot of people will be feeling very discomforted in that sense of spaciousness. Do we have to work through discomfort and un-ease to get to a place where we are comfortable being more simplified?

Courtney Carver :

I'm really glad you mentioned that. First, I want to say that we are all, right now, in some phase of a wake up call. It's collective. Even though we may be experiencing this differently - living in different places, some people losing their jobs, some people not, some people having a health crisis, some people not -everyone is hearing the wake up call. That said, this is a great starting point for a lot of people. I mean, I'm having tonnes of wake up calls as well, even though I already had one. You get more than one, if you're lucky. But there is discomfort when you have extra time, extra space and extra places for your mind to wander if you're not used to that, because of a lot of reasons. Number one, it's different. Number two, you might not think you deserve that. And I think the other one is, this is not normal and we want normal, which we translate to be certainty. We want to know what's happening. And we don't know what's happening right now. But if you really think about it, we didn't know what was happening before, either. We've never had the level of certainty that we convince ourselves we do. So this is really a practice in living in that discomfort and, kind of, trusting ourselves on a day to day, sometimes moment by moment basis to navigate through that discomfort. And it can be something as simple as, 'I've decluttered my kitchen and I have an empty drawer or an empty cabinet.' That feels weird to people. Wrong, even. Like, 'I have a cabinet here, or a shelf, I should put stuff in it or things on it.' And we do the same thing on our calendar. Like, if we look and we don't have a vacation coming up, but we have a full week of no appointments, that's panic time. Like why aren't there things happening here? And then we do the same thing with our thoughts and our mind. So it's really a great time for practising not even getting comfortable with it, but just noticing it. And seeing what comes up and trying to find the beauty within it. Because once you can shift to that place, there are really powerful answers in the space that you're creating.

Kim Forrester :

I love that you mentioned the empty drawers because I fully understand that sense of, 'Oh my goodness, I have a cabinet with nothing in it.' It feels like such a waste, right? And an empty day on our calendar can feel like a waste of time. It seems that we are drawn to see spaciousness as a waste. How can we move beyond that? Do you see space in your life as a waste? Or can you utilise that space in really powerful ways?

Courtney Carver :

I've gotten to a place where I fully embrace that space. I mean, one example of me feeling like extra space was a waste was before I downsized. You know, when we first started our decluttering part of this simplicity journey, we had a big house. And by the end of it, we had empty rooms, not just empty drawers. And that for us was a sign that, perhaps, we could live in a smaller space because all we're doing with this space is cleaning it, and taking care of it, and paying for it. So in that case, it really made sense for us to downsize. But I wanted to make sure that, even in a place that was half that size, that we had space; that it wasn't just a cluttered, smaller version of what we had. Because that space gives room for creativity. It encourages me to not rush. It allows me to appreciate my life; to notice it, to show up for it. And I think that was what was really missing before; is, I was always just keeping up with it or trying to catch up. It was rare that I was present in my own life. Like, I could reflect on it and look back on what happened. But to be fully in it, while it's happening, is amazing. It's a remarkable experience.

Kim Forrester :

In order to simplify, you obviously had to change your relationship with the word 'No', and you do go into quite some detail about that particular part of your journey, in your book Soulful Simplicity. What was the hardest part about learning to say no to yourself and to others?

Courtney Carver :

The hardest part was thinking about who I was in relationship to saying yes and no, because for the longest time, I thought by saying 'Yes', that made me a better person. So I was making other people happy, I was showing everyone that I could do it all. I was fooling myself in thinking I could do it all and just saying, 'Yes, yes, of course, of course' or 'That's just a little thing. I can fit that in here'. And when I became more boundaried with my time and started saying 'No', I had to really question that, because it felt weird. It felt different than what I was doing before. So that was probably the biggest struggle. And also getting comfortable with people's reactions and knowing that I had no control over that. Not only did I have no control over it, but it was really not my business. I mean, how someone reacts to me saying yes or no is something they have to work out, not something that I have to work out. And that doesn't mean I don't want to take care of people or help people. But it means that I help them when I have the energy; when I have the time, and when I can help in a way that feels good to both of us, in most cases.

Kim Forrester :

What I hear you saying there, which is really fascinating is, it's almost like you have divorced the word 'yes' from your self-worth. Because I feel like a lot of us say yes because it's kind of tied up with how we choose to be seen by others or how we choose to see ourselves. And so, 'Yes' now is is something that you wield in your self-empowerment, is that right? Rather than something that is used to sort of say, 'Look, I'm a good person, or I'm a successful person'. Would that be right?

Courtney Carver :

Sure. And I mean, come to think of it, I would measure my self-worth in lots of different ways: in terms of saying 'Yes', what I accomplished, even what I got done on my to-do list during the day. Like, if at the end of the day I didn't finish my list, I felt 'less than'. And so I've really divorced myself of measuring my self-worth at all, pretty much, because my self-worth is what it is. I'm not going to change that. Like, I am inherently the person I am and nothing from the outside is going to change who I am on the inside. I don't know how I went through decades of deciding, like, if I reached this sales goal, I'm this kind of person, or if I dress this way, I'm this kind of person. Like, I really did have it pretty backwards.

Kim Forrester :

So while we talk about valuing ourselves, I think many people - in fact, probably most people - would have the perspective of, 'I've earned this. I'm worth this. I deserve to gift myself the things that I want.' What's your advice to those people who feel that they may be denying themselves, or sacrificing something, if they aren't filling their space and their time with the things that they feel they want.

Courtney Carver :

I used to do that so much. The deserve thing was big for me because I worked a job that I didn't love, and I was always living barely paycheck to paycheck, plus credit cards. But I could justify a big vacation, or a new phone, or a new whatever by saying, 'I deserve this because I work so hard. I've worked so hard for this, so I deserve it.' But what I forgot, or what I didn't know then, is that I deserved so much more than that. Because that thing that I was so desperate for, and you know, used it to validate all of my hard work, whatever that feeling was that I got faded so fast. Just went away and I needed something immediately afterwards to replace that feeling. So it's like, you can't stop that. If you're on that track, there's never enough, there is never enough. But if you think about what you really want and deserve in your life, then you can be, you know, more expansive and thinking about what that means. And maybe you don't have to work that hard for it at all.

Kim Forrester :

Well at the core of it, I can't speak for everybody on the planet, but I would surmise that what we truly want is happiness, contentment, fulfilment, a sense of ease and peace. Would you agree with that? And is that kind of what you've found underneath it all?

Courtney Carver :

Yeah, that's love.

Kim Forrester :

That's love. Let's talk about guilt because I feel that guilt can play a huge role in the cluttering of our lives. What have you learned about guilt since you started simplifying?

Courtney Carver :

I used to have a lot of it and now I don't have much of it. Yeah, no guilt is ... guilt and regret, I think kind of go hand in hand and they're both only connected to the past. They're not about anything that's happening right now or anything that may happen in the future. So I really had to become more present to not feel as much guilt. And also to really assess what that meant when I said 'I feel guilty' or 'I feel guilt', because in many cases, it wasn't guilt at all. I mean, I always consider guilt as something that you might feel because you did something wrong, or bad, or you hurt someone. But we feel guilt over everything. You know, 'I didn't finish my to-do list. I didn't get dinner on the table on time.' You know, 'My house isn't clean enough to invite guests over.' Whatever it is. Like, some of us who are in like this perpetual guilt cycle will just feel guilty about everything. But it's never about anything that's going on immediately, right now, in the present. And it's never helpful. And again, once you really identify it - and I tend, if I do feel guilty, to write it down to see what it is - maybe it's not guilt. Maybe it's sadness, or anger, or something else. I don't know. But I just don't find value in guilt at all. Like, it doesn't lead to better action in most cases. And that lingering guilt over something that already happened and that you can't change, all it's doing is getting in your way of that peace, ease and happiness and contentment we were talking about.

Kim Forrester :

So while we're talking about unhelpful emotions, let's talk about sentimentality. Because being sentimental and reminiscing about the past seems like a lovely concept. But it seems to me that many of us actually hold on to possessions - and not just possessions - I actually feel that maybe many of us hold on to the places that we're living in, and the people that we choose to be in relation with, due to sentimentality; because of fond memories of how things used to be. Do you feel there's a healthier way for us to engage with our memories of the past, in order to help simplify our lives?

Courtney Carver :

I am a really sentimental person and I used to demonstrate that by holding on to everything. And I think I started in the second or third grade, collecting memory boxes every year. And I would put, you know, at first, like a note that someone passed me in school, or a good grade that I got on a test. You know, something like that. Maybe a photograph or two. And then it went on and on over the years, and I kept building on those savings and I would start saving everything that felt sentimental - which, as a sentimental person, most things felt sentimental. But when we were, you know, finally letting go of most everything, the sentimental stuff was the most challenging for sure. But I realised I wasn't enjoying any of it. It wasn't on display, I rarely thought about it, and it was only when I dug into these boxes that I could maybe remember some of the things, or not, based on those items. But I also realised that I had a lot of memories of my own and things that, you know, triggered memories - whether it be the smell of a certain flower or, you know, taking a hike that reminded me of other hikes that I had taken. Things like that. And I realised that maybe I didn't need the items for those memories. Especially since, again, I wasn't using them. There were too many to enjoy them. So I think when everything becomes important, nothing's important. I was still nervous to let them go, of course. And so what I did is, I took pictures of most of them because I thought, if I need them to trigger the memory, then I'll have the picture of them. And I can say that it's been seven, eight, nine years, since some of that happened. And I've never looked at any of the pictures once or really thought about them, until we're talking about it now or until someone asks me about it. So it was just a way to ease that letting go. But in reality, I didn't need them and I'm much more excited about, again, staying present. That's how you make the memories. That's how you enjoy your life. And I think some of our fond memories of the past can be swayed by, maybe, a difficult time in the present. Like 'Oh, things were better then' or 'This was so great. This could never compare to that.' But our memories aren't always crystal clear. We know when we're thinking about that and we can make things a little better than they actually were. So I think try to remember things for what they were but don't do it at the risk of missing out on what you have right now.

Kim Forrester :

I imagine that a common fear when we are being asked to let go of something that has a sentimental memory attached to it is that, well, maybe one day, we will need it though, Courtney. Right? That sort of 'just in case' mentality. You sort of write about this 'just in case' syndrome, where we tend to hang on to things, just in case we need them someday. You know, we don't need them now and we might not have needed them for the last two years, but you never know when that rainy day might come. And once again, I don't think that this is just possessions. I think that maybe we do this with relationships, as well. You know, 'Am I friends with that person because they uplift me and make me feel joyous? Or am I friends with that person because they're in a particular industry, and maybe one day they'll get me that gig that I want. Right? Or the job. So how can we tell that we're holding on to something or someone just in case they're going to be needed one day? What's the best way to work through these attachments?

Courtney Carver :

This is part of the practice of learning to trust yourself. So it doesn't come overnight, but pay attention to when you're saying 'just in case'. Because, like you said, it's not just items, it's certainly not just sentimental items. I would say, if you look under your sink or in your junk drawer, you will have a clear vision of 'just in case'. And some of those things, you might even not know what they do anymore. But you held on to it just in case because, you never know. But again, we're doing that to ease pain of some sort. And I think a great example of that are some of the things that people may have bought during this pandemic, especially in the very beginning. You know, what did you buy the most of? And now that, maybe, things have calmed down a little bit, can you say whether or not that was a rational purchase? You know, are you going to need that someday, just in case? Like, I don't judge anyone for making those decisions, because I think everybody did what they felt was best for them in that moment. But looking back now, I think people might be able to realise that they were acting out of this fear of not knowing what was going to happen. They were acting in a way that, like, 'Maybe if I do this thing, it's going to prevent me from getting sick. It's going to keep my family well. It's going to protect me on some level.' But today - and certainly in six months - you'll likely be able to look at those things and say, 'Oh, my gosh, what was I thinking?' And it's just a magnifying glass of how we do it all the time.

Kim Forrester :

It kind of highlights a really interesting dynamic, just there; the fact that we all enter a really uncertain, really scary phase in the world and the first thing that many of us do is go and reach out for the possessions that we think are going to help us. Right? it all becomes external solutions that we're looking for. You know, 'I'm feeling an easy so I'm going to go to the supermarket and accumulate these certain items, feeling that they will give me the security that I need.'

Courtney Carver :

I've heard from so many people who ... they're just like, 'I don't know what to do with all this food. It's too much.'

Kim Forrester :

And yet your book teaches us to let go of all that external stuff. The fact is that there is nothing out there that we can accumulate, or purchase, or collect that is going to bring us back to love, right? The journey has to come from within.

Courtney Carver :

I think that's true.

Kim Forrester :

So, in your book, you encourage us to accept that our lives are going to be messy, even if they are simplified and uncluttered. So how does messiness differ from cluttered? And why is it important for us to accept the mess in our lives?

Courtney Carver :

Well, life is messy. I mean, I don't think anybody would disagree with that. And with it being unpredictable, and uncertain, and having so many different people with their uncertainty and their stuff, there's no possible way that it's not going to be messy unless, I don't know, maybe if you live far away from society and you're all by yourself. But, for most of us, I think we can expect to have some mess in our life. And simplifying it doesn't make it beautiful and perfect. And even being very well organised doesn't do that. It might have the appearance of it but, as someone who is highly unorganised, I know that even the most organised bookshelves don't solve any problems. And that is one reason that living with less works so well for me; is I don't have to organise things. And I think a lot of times - and I'm not coming after your organised bookshelves or anything like that, I think it's wonderful - but sometimes that's in an effort to have a little control. Like, if this looks pretty and amazing, then my life will be pretty and amazing. And of course, that's not the case. So I say, simplify your life not to have a perfect life, not to prevent all messes, but just so maybe you have some more resilience to deal with the messes when they show up. Or resilience and resources.

Kim Forrester :

Yeah, and I also wonder if you've got more room to move, right? If you have a simplified life with inevitable mess within it - emotional mess and, you know, life's messes - having a simplified life, have you found that you can manoeuvre more easily around the mess? Do you have more emotional resource, do you have more intellectual resource available to you because your life is more simple?

Courtney Carver :

Yes, what's really nice is that I don't have to overreact. And I never had to, but that was my go-to reaction because that that mess was just the straw on the camel's back on top of everything else that was a mess. So it's really about making that room to under-react; to be able to pause and think about something before you decide how you're going to move forward. I think just having that little bit - even if it's just 10 minutes - is really such a gift. And then, of course, navigating through it becomes easier and easier.

Kim Forrester :

Now, having read your book, there are ways that we can obviously gift ourselves a more simplified life, and greater space, and a way back to the love. But I do wonder if there are steps that we can take to help others simplify their lives as well. Should we, for instance, be more aware of the gifts that we give to other people or the emotional demands that we have? Or the demands that we place on other people's time and schedules. Is that something that you feel we can gift each other?

Courtney Carver :

Of course, of course we can. I think, once we recognise how powerful it is in our own lives, we can be more open to people creating it in theirs. And that's not to say we can create that for them, because you definitely can't do that. But if they're open to it and working on it, and for instance, say 'No' to you about something, perhaps you're more open to that. And not taking it personally, and recognising that they are protecting their time and doing what's best for them. I think we have to, sort of, assume that - in all cases - that people are doing their best to do what is best for them.

Kim Forrester :

Courtney, my final question is one that I ask every guest on the Eudaemonia podcast. In your books, you offer a multitude of different exercises and practices. Can you perhaps share one of those practices with my listeners, now - this may be an exercise, or a mantra, or an affirmation - something that can help my listeners begin to simplify their lives starting today?

Courtney Carver :

Sure, I'm going to share my heart practice. It seems fitting for our conversation today. And this is something I do almost on a daily basis. And sometimes I do it before I meditate, sometimes after I meditate, sometimes if I'm just thinking about something and curious about what direction to go. But I do this very simple practice where I sit down - you don't have to be sitting, but I typically sit down - take a couple of deep breaths, make myself present, and then I put my right hand over my heart. And then I put my left hand over my right hand as if I'm holding my heart. And then I just sit for a little while and feel my heart beating. I feel the warmth of my skin. And I breathe into that. And sometimes that's all it is. And it might be enough where, if I'm feeling a little off kilter or anxious, it might be just enough to bring me back to myself. But other times, I might ask questions about a decision that I'm making, or about my day, or about anything. And it's always this reminder that I'm here for myself. I'm telling my heart, like, 'I've got you. I'm here. Trust me. Let's trust each other.' And it's very powerful on a consistent basis.

Kim Forrester :

What I love about that exercise there is that, like all of your work, the power is obviously in the simplicity of the practice. Just beautiful.

Courtney Carver :

Thank you.

Kim Forrester :

Courtney Carver, if people want to hear more about the teachings that you offer, the books that you have - this Project 333 sounds fascinating - where can people go to find out more?

Courtney Carver :

They can go to my website www.bemorewithless.com and if you're on Instagram, I'm on Instagram too at @bemorewithless.

Kim Forrester :

Courtney, it's just been such a delight to chat with you. Thank you so much for bringing your lovely, gracious, and gentle, and calm, and spacious energy to the Eudaemonia podcast today.

Courtney Carver :

Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Kim Forrester :

As the Daoist teacher Lao Tzu encourages us, "Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires." You've been listening to the Eudaemonia podcast. If you'd like to learn more about how to live a truly flourishing life, please subscribe and check out www.eudaemoniapod.com for more inspiring episodes. I'm Kim Forrester. Until next time, be well, be kind to yourself and simplify your life to find the love. Transcribed by https://otter.ai