What If We Started All Over Again?

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image: Jim Blob Blann

There are times we’re so buried in the thick of our lives that we lose focus of what’s important, what we actually need, what enhances our lives, and what holds us back.

So much seems to call our attention, drain our time, seduce us into thinking it’s the-most-essential-thing-in-the-world-ever-and-if-we-don’t-attend-to-it-right-now-very-bad-things-will-happen, that we end up reeling dazedly from task to task, project to project, day to day, feeling like we’ve had our head in a washing machine on its fastest spin cycle. About 50 times in succession.

It’s immensely helpful then to re-evaluate what we have, what we need, and what we want.

A great way of doing this is to simply consider this question:

What if we started all over again?

Take this basic example to get us started – Clothing. If you lost your entire wardrobe, every item of clothing you owned, how would you start again? What are the first ten items you would purchase? What if you only had a hundred pounds or dollars? What do you actually need to go about your day?

This may seem like a trivial example, but it explains the principle of this exercise very well, and can reveal a few unexpected truths.

If you did start again with your clothes, do you think you’d manage perfectly well with less than you do now? Maybe only half the items you have now? Only a quarter?

What about furniture? If you lost all you have and could buy just five pieces to get started again, what would they be? What are the core essentials, the things you genuinely don’t feel you could live without?

Moving on to your creative life, what about your art materials?

If you lost everything and were starting all over again, what would the first ten items you invested in be?

This will vary depending on your main art forms of course. A writer may need only a laptop, whereas if you’re a painter you’ll need brushes, canvases, a variety of paint and so on.

Or do you?

What are the true essentials you need to create?

Any one of us could be given nothing but a pad of paper and a pencil for a week, and create interesting, expressive work, whether it be words, sketches, plans, designs, musical notation, interior schemes, choreography for a dance performance, a new fashion line, or a thousand other things.

The list of what can be created with just a pencil and paper is endless.

How would actually feel if you did lose everything overnight?

Does the thought fill you with panic and dread, or actually give you a sense of freedom and the opportunity for a new start? An opportunity to actually get rid of all the stuff that’s been overwhelming you and holding you back for years?

What if you lost your entire back catalogue of work? It wouldn’t take all your talents with it.

You’d be no less creative, in fact, again it may unburden you from trying to replicate past glories or live up to expectations you’d created.

You could create anything you wanted. Yes, even all those things you were too afraid to try because of what other people might say and think.

As well as helping us realise how little we actually need to be creative (and how little we need to live perfectly comfortably and happily in general), imagining this scenario of starting over again also helps us see how much we have to be grateful for.

I don’t mean grateful for all the stuff you’ve acquired.

I mean grateful for the things you can’t measure or replace or put a price on.

– Your ability to create with the simplest of tools, or no tools whatsoever, just your imagination.

– Your creative talent that you’ve nurtured and developed over the years, the artist you are today because of all you’ve ever created up to this point.

– The gift you have to connect with people, to touch people through what you create, and to inspire others to create.

What do you need to be able to use these things? Again it’s very little.

Give this question some deep consideration. Write out a few thoughts around it, let it percolate in your mind a few days and see what comes of it.

What if we started all over again?

Could it be the greatest, most clarifying question we can ask ourselves? The question that will help us refocus on creating what matters, creating what’s most meaningful to us?

There’s no harm in asking, and plenty to be gained.

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17 thoughts on “What If We Started All Over Again?”

  1. Thanks Laura. We don’t have to go to the extremes of throwing out all our stuff and starting over again but maybe sometimes we need to.

    On a smaller scale, just seriously considering different areas of our lives, how we’ve hemmed ourselves in, and how we would build them if we started again gives us great inspiration and hope to try things differently.

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  2. Some great questions to think over, Dan.

    I actually did have to let go of about 90% of my possessions when I moved to the States. Apart from one or two small traumas, it was actually a very freeing experience and opened up a lot of energy. The two difficult things to let go of held emotional, not material, significance.

    The sad thing is the rate at which I re-accumulated a whole lot of stuff.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Dave.

      I’m going through a phase of lessening my “stuff” at the moment, though I’ve never been a hoarder really. Just like the idea of traveling light and not being held back by baggage, whether it’s physical, or emotional. Too much in life to be done to be caught up in that!

      If I had to start over again, I know I’d have less than half the stuff I currently do, maybe only a quarter, and the sound of that is very appealing. Like you I know it’s not just the objects, it’s about the emotional attachments too.

      Have you seen Bindu Wiles’ Shed Project? “An 8 week adventure in letting go”, it sounds very interesting and I’m planning on taking part myself.

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  3. My wife and I ended up moving a whole bunch between 2005 – 2007 and of course, when you move a bunch you get rid of a bunch of stuff.

    In all honestly, we were thrilled to be rid of a lot of it. We moved to Oregon with almost nothing and it was amazing. We didn’t really start accumulating more until this past year. We’ve managed to keep our living space fairly minimalistic and that excites me.

    Peter Brook said that all you needed to create theatre was a person in an empty space. The idea applies to most forms of art. You don’t need much.

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    1. Corey, thanks for your comments, I love that quote about creating theatre. Absolutely agree, you need hardly anything to get started. And it can be incredibly rejuvenating, as you and so many others have found.

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  4. Hello Dan:
    I too am reaching out to begin over taking baby steps this time around. Riding an emotional roller coaster has certainly produced some unusual sketches of various kinds. Never a dull moment when one is not sure of what will appear next!
    Blessings,
    Barbara

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    1. I wonder if your art is just reflecting what’s coming to the surface as you let go of what’s past and begin anew? I’ve been having loads of vivid and often unsettling dreams lately, and I see it as old stuff just working its way to the surface so I can move on through.

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  5. Dan, Thank you so much for the article. I just had to make a major move from my house into an apartment. My family and I had to start from scratch. Your article just made me realize that it does not have to be a negative thing, but a chance to start new. Thanx again!

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    1. Yes that’s what I’m already feeling Margie, having been getting rid of a few of my unnecessary items. The whole concept behind it is if you have less stuff, you can focus on it and enjoy it more, and only have what you really need to lead a happy and creative life. Same whether it’s clothes or furniture or books or art supplies.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. Your recent posts about reducing and minimizing have encouraged me to do some serious reduction in my own life. Also the fact I spent an entire day looking for legal documents I needed (one item still not found, grrrr). I have way too much material and mental clutter I need to be rid of.

    It will certainly be a relief to have less to clean and search through, plus reduce the aggravation level and visual chaos. Definitely will benefit the creative processes. Planning to attack the closets and file cabinets first…

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    1. I’m in a similar place Diane, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “material and mental clutter”. I think the two are connected and by lightening one, you automatically want to lighten the other. You will feel more free and calm, and create more easily.

      Good luck with your decluttering, mentally and materially…

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  7. This article really made me think about what I really use enough and need enough to replace. You also made a really good point about not really needing anything additional (new paints, canvas,etc) to be creative. I have everything I need to create something but sometimes use the need to get supplies as a distraction so I don’t have to confront a blank page.

    Thanks for the great post!

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    1. That’s a classic procrastination technique Jennifer, and in the moment we do actually believe on some level that buying just one more tube of paint or new pen or downloading a new bit of software will help us be creative and that we can possibly live without it. I think it comes from decades of being influenced by advertising whose core message is: “Your life is incomplete and you can’t possibly be happy/successful/attractive until you buy our shiny sexy new product”…

      Thanks for stopping by. You might also like this post – You Have Nothing. You Have Everything.

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