I was not born with a green thumb. I struggle to keep cut flowers alive, even when they come with plant food. I tend to forget about our plants and shrubbery on the back patio until they are so overgrown that I can’t stand it anymore. Then I take out the gardening shears and get a little carried away.
One time I got so carried away cutting overgrown chives that I cut my fingertip and had to go to the emergency room. Another time I cut a shrub almost down to the roots. My husband came outside and looked at me quizzically. After making sure that I was okay and encouraging me to put down the shears, he said, “Ummm…you know that’s not going to grow back, right?”
Pruning is an art, something that I haven’t mastered when it comes to gardening. I never know exactly when to prune, or how much, or how often. But in doing some research about pruning, I’ve realized that I’ve had many seasons of pruning in my own life for the last seven years, ever since I discovered minimalism. Some may argue that the world has been going through a pruning season during this global pandemic, where we’ve been forced to cut away what we thought we needed to reveal new growth.
My most recent season of pruning has caused me to pause and reflect on what truly matters to me, and to make decisions about how I want to spend my money, time, energy, and attention. The Latin root of the word decision comes from the Latin words de (“off”) and caedere (“to cut off”). When we prune our lives, we are making decisions about how want we want to cut off – including physical belongings, relationships, commitments, or thoughts that no longer serve us – and the direction we want to go moving forward. Here are four lessons I’ve learned from my most recent season of pruning.
1. Pruning requires us to remove the superfluous and undesired parts of our lives, but can also mean removing something that is good to make room for growth. Because of this, it can be an uncomfortable process and one we may resist.
When you look at a plant, it’s easy to see what parts can be easily pruned such as dead branches, overgrown stems, or parts of the plant that are crowding neighboring plants. Similarly, when we first start to declutter our lives it may be easy to figure out what can be donated or trashed – the broken items, ripped clothes, duplicate gadgets, or items we clearly don’t want or need.
But at some point, we may need to prune something that is good. Something we paid a lot of money for but never use. A commitment that fulfilled us in the past but no longer does. The “just-in-case” items, sentimental items, or aspirational clutter. After a flower blooms, it may seem counterintuitive to cut back the bloom. But “this stops the plants wasting their energy in forming seed.”. It can be painful to part with “perfectly good” items, or to remove things from our calendars that we feel like we should be doing. But we need to stop wasting our precious energy on the things that don’t align with our values, even if it’s uncomfortable.
2. By removing what is no longer needed, pruning stimulates and directs growth, as well as improves our overall health and well-being.
Careful pruning can actually alter how a tree or shrub grows. Each cut stops growth in one direction and directs it to another. Cutting away dead, diseased, or unnecessary parts of the plant also improves its overall health and vitality. If we do the work to discover what is most important to us and keep this front and center in our lives, we can remove the unnecessary and direct our growth in the areas that we choose. As a result, we become the healthiest version of ourselves and have the margin to contribute to the world around us.
3. The results of pruning may not be immediate or in our timing, but eventually, the fruit of our work will become evident.
Similar to pulling weeds, pruning may seem like a tedious chore, especially if the results of our work are not immediately visible. Oftentimes pruning is done during a tree or plant’s dormant season, and we can be impatient to see whether our efforts were worth it after all. But the result is usually larger, healthier, and more bountiful blooms and fruit in other seasons.
Sometimes a season of pruning is self-directed, but oftentimes it is a result of circumstances outside our control that force us to change. Pruning the unnecessary from our lives is not a glamorous process. It can be tedious, uncomfortable, and forces us to ask ourselves some difficult questions. The results of our work may not come right away and we may doubt whether it was even worth it in the first place. But as we make room for what is important, we find ourselves breathing deeper. Being more present. Spending our time and energy on our health, our relationships, and the things that bring us joy. This is the sweet fruit that comes from pruning our lives.
4. Pruning is not a one-and-done event. After it has been completed once, it can be used as a preventative measure to ensure health and happiness for years to come.
Pruning occurs in seasons, and not all trees, plants, or shrubs will be pruned in the same season as their requirements vary. While the initial work of pruning may be difficult, maintaining a regular pruning practice afterwards can make things much easier. It can be a preventative measure to ensure the health of the plants or to make sure that your property isn’t damaged during a storm. Similarly, you may decide to declutter your entire home in one fell swoop, but decluttering is an ongoing process. Maintenance decluttering, however, is far easier because you have a thorough understanding of your needs and the needs of your family to help you make decisions that align with your values. By proactively decluttering, you are able to weather life’s storms far easier as well.
Are you in a Season of Pruning?
Perhaps you are in a season of pruning, one that you’ve initiated or one that’s been dictated by external circumstances. It may be uncomfortable or even painful to have parts of your life cut away, even if you know that new growth is on its way. But as Leonard Sweet says, “No one likes the process of pruning and the pain of loss, but fruit only grows on new wood.” Find comfort in the knowledge that when you cut away what no longer serves you, someday you will enjoy the sweet fruit of new wood.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.