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The Singapore Law Gazette

Decluttering Life

As we celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary last month, I wrote spontaneously on the anniversary card to the Wife: “Let us really try and live life this year and not just live to work”. The Wife agreed with me, not a common occurrence in our marriage.

We have not figured out how to do it yet. Looking at the year so far, we have had to work hard at living life. In a social media post, a lady wrote a refreshing article, “What if I want a mediocre life” to say that a life filled with less or no significant achievements is still a good life.

Many people I know or have met seem to subscribe to real living versus living a life filled with a busy career, and the involvement in many activities to fulfill personal wants. Finding the spark of joy by decluttering according to Marie Kondo can be extended to decluttering life.

Decluttering life, to me, would be first to sit back and reflect on my life to find out what is really important to me. During this month’s Call to admit 10 lawyers into the legal profession, Justice Choo Han Teck made a call for young lawyers to reflect during their legal practice.

Why do we seek to be engaged in so many projects and activities in our life? What are the personal unmet wants and needs that we are trying to fulfill through these engagements? What and who do we need to be to have clutter free lives? If we are satisfied with ourselves and our lives, we may be healthier, rested, at peace and happier.

After reflection, we have to make choices, real hard choices on how we want to live life. During the last few months, I discovered that it was not difficult to cut down on certain lifestyle “needs”. The line between needs and wants is often blurred. I decided that I do not need any new material possessions. It took me a while to realise that I have all I need for the rest of my life.

The Firm went paperless last year and we are moving to a co-working space at the end of this month. As I was decluttering my office in some form of Kondo style, it was liberating to have fewer possessions. The many gifts, cards, mementos I collected over the last 16 years were a reflection of a life filled with numerous activities.

I next looked at the people in my life. We often hear of people clearing their friends list in Facebook. At a recent event involving relatives, I looked at each table of relatives around me – these are people who are seen at weddings, birthdays and deaths only. The extent of the relationships is customary greetings.

Relatives and friends form our social network. We spend time with them. The relationships we form fulfill our social and emotional needs. How close are we to them? Does the closeness go beyond platonic conversations and into really knowing a person, his thoughts, feelings and his values? I do not think there is a need for many people in our lives if we have deep relationships with those who matter.

Technology is another life clutterer. It deprives us of communication and interaction with each other. It has been instrumental in ending many relationships, not to mention constantly eroding the quality of other relationships. One way to declutter is to make a conscious effort not to use mobile phones during meetings, meals and at bed times.

Our lives are filled with activities. Examining and choosing the activities we engage in clarifies our life priorities. To me, finding Life in Work is a better substitute to work-life balance. Both co-exist. There is a time for work and life. In the world of technology we live in, conventional offices and work hours are constantly changing. The new office can be your kitchen table, at cafes and even in other countries. If we get work done and clients’ needs are met, then does it matter whether formal working hours are kept?

Technology has invaded law practice. So why should law practice still remain conventional? As we were shredding documents in preparation for our move, I questioned the necessity of voluminous exhibits in Affidavits where no one pays attention to every page. So why so many exhibits? Can legal authorities be referred to via an internet link rather than through bundles? Besides creating document management systems, technology can play a larger part in law practice in the form video conference hearings and paperless court hearings.

Decluttering life needs conscious and continuous effort, planning and a willingness to accept and embrace change. It must create more than a spark of joy – it must bring contentment and happiness.