I am living in a much smaller home than what I used to. I was not forced into the situation, but it is a sacrifice of comfort that must be made to serve a bigger vision.
That does not make it easier. For most working adults, particularly men, there is something in our psyche that demands us to be better at providing for our family. It feeds into our sense of masculinity (which is why some men struggle when their wives earn more than them).
Moving your family into a smaller home, especially because you can’t afford a bigger one, can make you question yourself: Are you are a good husband? A good father? How can you let your family be in this situation?
It’s a tiny, sharp needle in your heart.
Regardless of whether we are men or women, our ego creates a connection between how big our house is and how big we are at living life. We know it’s not rational. The geometric size of a building we happen to stay temporarily before we die is a poor indicator of spiritual fulfilment.
But it often does not stop us from peeking at others’ bigger homes, then feel a bit sad when we look at our own. The good news is, there are ways to manage our spiritual relationship with our home.
A smaller home does not mean a smaller life
That seems obvious, and it is tempting to say, ‘Yeah, I know that’ and move on. But having it only on the surface of your thoughts is not enough.
You have to allow this truth to seep in deep into your soul.
The method of preference for this exercise is up to you. You can write in your personal journal, or have an intimate conversation with your loved ones. Here’s what you do: when you feel sad about having a smaller home, write or talk about everything else that you are grateful for in your life.
At first, it might feel disingenuous, especially if you’ve never done this before. That’s okay. Take deep breaths. Take your time. Don’t just mentally list them, but emotionally experience how grateful you are for them.
You can start with the obvious: your career, investment assets, large items at home, the position at work or in your community, degrees, access to technology, skills that most people don’t have, parts of your body that are healthy, the absence of war in your country.
Then, go through the invaluable: your wife or husband, children, parents, siblings, those adorable kittens or puppies, close friends, people that share your mission in life, the hobby that you enjoy, the books you have read and how they change you, your spiritual teachers, your meaningful memories.
This exercise, when done with all your heart, helps recalibrate your perspective. You will deeply realise that the house you live in is only a small part of the totality of your life story.
Envision a better home to live
Only after you regain that perspective, you can start asking yourself whether your family needs a bigger home. This comes second because you want your questions to be generated in the space of gratitude, instead of anxiety and fear.
It allows for the presence of pure, honest answers. Maybe you genuinely need to relocate to a bigger place, for example, because you have more children than before. Practicality should be respected. But you don’t want to decide based on egoic desires, or the worry of what others think of you.
You want to decide it in a calm, thoughtful way.
While doing this, consider the distinction between a bigger place to live and a better place to live. Don’t be surprised if you realise that you need to move to a smaller home to be happier.
Bigger does not always mean better, and a better place may not mean somewhere else.
A smaller place or a smaller space?
For many, the stress will return even if they move from the smaller home into a bigger one. The issue is not how small a place is, but rather how small is the space we end up having — and the villain is clutter.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico define clutter as ‘overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces’. It creates ‘the dark side of home’, making you feel drowned in stuff, and severely affects mental health.
In a less scientific way of putting it, clutter makes you crazy.
Similarly, another team from UCLA did a comprehensive study on how clutter affects your stress level. For example, females with the messy and cluttered room are associated with elevated cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
The funny thing is the researchers found no physiological changes in the male participants. In other words, clutter stresses out women, but not men.
If you are a man reading this, you might smile and think, ‘Haha, then why should I bother?’ All right, take a few seconds to enjoy that thought.
Now, I would like you to recall your experiences being around stressed out women. How’s your cortisol level now?
So, be a man and help them clean the house.
Care more about your Kingdom
There are few things in life that we take quite personally. Our home is one of them; it is the little palace of our kingdom in this world. There’s nothing wrong with that.
We simply need to remember that the kingdom matters more than the palace.
While his contemporaries of the Sassanian and Byzantine empires resided in grand palaces, the Prophet of Islam lived in a simple, humble house. Yet, he was one of the most influential individuals the world has ever seen. His kingdom lives in the hearts of billions, over the thousands of years, whose spiritual lives are elevated by his legacy.
Perhaps, where we live matters less than how we live.