Thursday 5 January 2012

Just Be It by Polly Washburn

I love making lists. And I love clean slates like a new year where I can make big lists of all the things I’m going to do and what I want to have come into my life.

Many self-discovery books and websites encourage us to write out lists of things we want to do, places we want to visit and things to attract into our lives. And I’ve enjoyed making those lists over the years. What my perfect house would look like, and all the beautiful furniture that would fill it. All the exciting hobbies -- hang gliding, flight school, white river rafting -- to fill my time. Countries on every continent to fill my passport. All the professional and creative goals to fill my resume.

And I have done much of what I put on these lists: I produced a feature film; I made it to Paris and Australia and New Zealand; I took kayaking lessons.

But I’ve noticed a shift in myself over the last few years. The prospect of always being on the go, always having to do more and achieve more and have more doesn’t feel exciting so much as… exhausting. And stressful. So last year, when I envisioned my perfect living space, I saw a wide-open room with white walls and a white carpet. And nothing in it.

I thought about how to get to that space. I made the decision to change jobs, move from one city to another, and give away almost everything I owned. It took weeks of sorting and clearing, but I got my worldly possessions down to a single car load. It felt so liberating! It turned out, emptying my life of Stuff gave me more energy than being surrounded by more and more. It turned out what I wanted more than any goal or object, was to simply be less stressed.

My new apartment is indeed rooms of white walls and white carpet. People tried to offer me furniture to fill up my space, but I declined. I have one piece of furniture per room: a papasan chair, a bed, and a stool. So far, none of my visitors has complained about hanging out on the floor when they visit!

And it feels wonderful. It means I have plenty of room to do yoga, to have empty space around my head and body when I meditate, and lots of room to dance! Because that was the other vision I had for this space – that I would crank up the tunes and dance and sing. And I do!

When I envisioned the space, instead of thinking what I would fill it with, I thought about how I could BE and Feel in that space. I saw myself as calm, relaxed, and filled with joy. And I am, more often than I would have expected a year ago.

The lists of what to Have and Do are at root about what we think it will take to make us “really” happy. But when it comes down to it, happiness in our day-to-day lives very often comes from enjoying a delicious cup of our favorite tea, glowing from a fantastic yoga session, going for a walk on a beautiful day, reading a great book, laughing with a friend on the phone, or cranking up our favorite song. It turns out it’s true: the best things in life are (mostly) free.

So I invite you, as you examine or revise your lists for the year, to give special focus to how you would most like to Be and Feel; what daily pleasures get you to that state of mind; and what you might want to subtract from your life, rather than adding. Discovering how little we actually need to enjoy life can be one of the most profound lists we can make.

Polly Washburn is enjoying life. She has several ideas she’s letting simmer before serving them to the world.


  1. I'm savoring your vision of the space for how you like to be and feel. All that lightness and room to feel relaxed and joyful appeals to me. Thanks for the inspiration - I'm going to ask myself what my space would be like.

  2. I love this post, Polly. I feel this way all the time--that all I really want is the time and space to be, to dream, to read, to appreciate life's details, and to work at a leisurely pace on my own creative projects. To feel safe, free, and relaxed. I'd love to know more about your story. Would you post a photo of your apartment?

  3. I too love this post. My space is filled with only things I love and quiet soft colors. I believe in a simple life but find myself gravitating towards being busy. Then I have to remind myself that is not what really makes me the happiest.

  4. I love the idea of only having one thing in a room. Having space to live.

  5. Thank you all for your thoughts! Glad my post resonated (like sound does in these rooms!). Will take a photo and see if I can figure out how to post it, Kelly.