Distraction & How to enjoy life

A few years ago, when I observed things around my desk, I realized I would focus more when there were fewer things on my desk. If I use simple items with simple patterns, it will be more effective. Simplifying the space around the workplace is directly proportional to a good mood, contributing to more productive working time.

Distraction & How to enjoy life

Gradually, I turned cleaning and simplifying the stuff in my room into a regular habit instead of doing it on impulse. I kept that habit for a long and thought I had cleaned up a lot. But when I moved to a new house, it surprised me that the amount of stuff I threw away was less than 5% of the total. There are a few typical reasons.

First, some types of stuff I would never throw/ give away

Souvenirs: These are things with sentimental value. It comes from friends, family, or important milestones in my life. I forgot about the existence of many of these, though. Later, I learned to let go when I thought about keepsakes. I always use a “mantra” when organizing that important emotions or memories are definitely in my mind without needing reminders from stuff. I will choose carefully and only keep things that are truly meaningful and irreplaceable.

Free stuff: I often receive new or only used items 1–2 times from friends or family. Usually, I don’t ask myself if I need it. This is quite similar to the situation of receiving gifts when purchasing goods. You don’t need it in many cases, but it’s free, right? Bring it home; who knows when it will be time to use it. And, chances are, I never use it. Once I realize this, I can easily say no to free items I don’t need. I sort through redundancies after each house cleaning and gingerly filter out suitable items to give friends. I sold the rest, even at a cheap price. Because when you have to spend money to buy things, you will be more responsible for it when you bring it home. I experienced this feeling when I used the money from selling items to buy a new cabinet, and until now, I am satisfied with my wardrobe, feeling it was worth every penny.

Second, deciding to buy an item is more straightforward than giving/selling it.

We live in a world where we are encouraged to have a lot of stuff. Things are everywhere, from the non-functional to the multi-functional, from what we need to what we don’t really need (just because we want to be like everyone around us).

No matter where you live, as you have the internet, you can order anywhere and receive it at lightning-fast speeds. 24 hours? 8 hours? 2 hours? 30 minutes? So fast that you didn’t have time to use the last bit of rationale to stop your arbitrary buying behavior. Sadly, the feeling of joy when holding a new item in hand seems inversely proportional to this speed. Sometimes, as soon as you unbox them, the excitement disappears completely. Then, the house piles up items that have never been removed tags or have only been used once, then it is put deep into the corner until the owner gets bored or needs to clean up for new items’ space.

Everyone wants to belong somewhere. Owning an item is one of the easy ways to identify an individual’s “belonging” to a community where they want to be recognized. The need to be noticed and remembered is always present in humans, although each time is expressed differently and depends on the culture of that period. Marketing masters have exploited this psychology to apply it to marketing strategies. They create stories supported by technology and big data to affect consumers’ minds strongly. Some desires seem ours but are “molded” by “giants.” Sadly, we can not change how the economy tied to every mouse click works.

In my country, Shopee is a testament to how an e-commerce platform can change people’s shopping behavior and enjoyment of life. As of 2023, Shopee Vietnam’s market share is near 63% (According to the investor.vn). During the boom period of Shopee Vietnam (2019–2021), most friends around me became “Shopee addicted.” From young to middle-aged people, they receive 5–10 daily orders. The delivery person in that area becomes their friend.

Are they too rich? Think not! The items they buy are too cheap and sometimes have no effect other than helping them have a little pleasure while waiting for their order to arrive. Not all of them have as much money. They have a lot of stuff but lack of joy. And shopping on Shopee has become a pastime for many such people. Unfortunately, the feeling of pleasure is becoming increasingly short-lived, like the speed of delivery!

Third, we have so many things to choose from.

People often feel uncomfortable if they have no choice or too few choices, but when there are too many choices, they “burn” all their time playing the consideration game. Four years ago, I only had a maximum of 3 pairs of shoes. After a while, I had four times more than before (I don’t collect). I took a few days to consider when packing things to give away. Whenever I think about throwing away a pair of shoes, I think of all kinds of reasons to keep it. For example, these shoes are suitable for this occasion or that outfit. In the end, I almost gave up. Of course, it is not natural that these needs appear in the mind. I have to “Thank” the media for touching and engaging stories that give us more reasons to “click” without feeling guilty.

That’s so hilarious! We fought for the Freedom to decide, and now we must choose many things, even things we don’t know. I don’t just mean deciding on stuff; I mean everything: food, clothing, education, even health care. In our parents’ time, people only needed to consider decisions at essential moments in life, but now, every day when shopping, we always have to think concernedly. We must become “smart consumers” because hundreds of thousands of brands sell the same products/services with similar uses. We not only waste time but also make bad decisions. This trap leads us into a maze from which we can never escape. I used to be unable to choose a life insurance company because hundreds of companies sell similar products. I remember always getting angry after having to choose from hundreds of options. I don’t want that to happen anymore.

When I summed up all these reasons, I realized I wasted too much time on meaningless things. All around me are stuff. All around me are meaningless races to seek society’s attention. I have lost precious time, time for my family and myself, time to enjoy life.

The future is unsure of being better.

Some readers may think that stuff doesn’t control their lives because distractions are hard to spot. Let me tell you a message we always hear: The Future will be better!

According to many articles, advanced tools will enable people to work less and enjoy more free time, increasing happiness. These “prophecies” date back to the 19th century (or earlier). But the truth is, many people are working longer hours, from 8, 10, and 12 hours, to a new step: doing as if not doing.

We work day and night towards a better and more prosperous life, but to work more, we must invest more in life. To have money to fund our lives, we have to earn more, and if we are stressed, we go shopping to relieve our emotions. The cycle exists as long as we live.

In a TV show about financial advice I once watched, a couple in their 40s wanted to buy a house even though they were in heavy debt. They are reluctant to repay debt and are often late. They have reckless shopping habits. Every month, this couple has to spend about 400 USD for storage for items they never use. The frustrating cycle continues because the seemingly small expenses become significant. They become increasingly impatient with the unfeasible goal of buying a house, spending money to purchase items that satisfy their ownership, and then ending up in storage. Obviously, the couple’s problem cannot be solved if the focus is not placed in the right place but on the “clicks” of purchases.

A former employee of mine also suffered a crisis from misplaced focus. She loves shopping and is willing to restrict her eating to save money on shoes and bags. She procrastinates quitting her job for fear of not having enough money to shop despite working in a toxic environment for a long time. This fear makes her unconfident, even though I know she has many opportunities. After much hesitation, she also quit her job. She told me that she only lived on 1/3 of her previous income during that time, but it turned out that life was not as terrible as she thought. She still has a happy life, and the most important thing is that she solved the right problem.

I learned that you can buy the things to survive and live in this society, but buying to fill your soul may worsen your life.

How do we escape distractions from stuff?

The only way you can escape this trap is to stop being human. No kidding, a species that lives in groups always observes others to learn how to live, so how can you force yourself to do the opposite? We are in the grip of an economy that encourages consumption. It’s too difficult to let go of everything around you if you’re still in that cycle. But we can learn to recognize distractions and limit wasteful shopping.

By the time I write this, I have changed my lifestyle a lot, but distractions still invite me daily. Still, I adjust to living with distractions. Try some of these tips to live with your stuff.

  • Slow down a bit. Before ordering an item, escape the “Buy, buy, buy” mindset. Get up, get a drink, or do anything else.
  • Always ask yourself: Do I need to buy this item? Can I use another thing instead of buying it?
  • Put safety first. Cheap items are often unsafe, short-lived, and can harm you. Instead of buying from Shopee, I ordered a large cabinet from a furniture factory. I remembered an incident where a low-quality cabinet collapsed and caused a fatality.
  • Think about how your item can help someone’s life so that you can give it away without holding on if you never use it.
  • Share this lifestyle with someone to clean together and motivate each other.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to clean up too big things, and recognize your efforts when cleaning something.
  • Don’t forget to clean up the “invisible” things. One of my bad habits is opening too many tabs on the computer; it reflects distraction and prevents problem-solving. Therefore, whenever I close a tab, I feel like I am “cleaning up” my mind. I also cleaned out a ton of old documents, duplicate photos, and hundreds of bookmarks from 10 years ago. That was a big step forward in my thinking, and it gets a boost from the physical cleaning process. It makes me feel like I’ve gotten a lot better.

Hopefully, this process will help me clear out complicated thoughts to be more decisive. After all, I don’t want to call the entire process a minimalist lifestyle. To me, definitions are just ones until you truly understand their meaning. I am so happy whenever I “let go” of something that complicates my life; I have more time to observe the world and enjoy life. It’s just as simple as that!

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