UNLEARNING my need to take responsibility for the ultimate fate of the things I own – as if they were people and had feelings.
This is what I now think of as the “earth mother” syndrome. I couldn’t let go of things unless I knew they were going to good homes where someone really needed them. I couldn’t throw anything away that was still in usable condition. (Kind of like leftovers. I also used to not be able to throw away food unless it was already rotten.) Once things were destroyed, it was a lot easier to put them in the trash.
I even kept a lot of broken things thinking I would fix them someday. I have to admit, I still have broken watches and necklaces in my jewelry box but I’m working on it. : )
I unlearned this belief to some extent by realizing that my approach was basically turning my home into a junkyard full of rotting stuff.
Why was I doing this to myself? That’s a whole other story I won’t get into here, but I will say that PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) had much to do with it.
I started learning how to donate and began to give things way like a pro. But there are things you can’t donate, so I had to make peace with the fact that sometimes I have to throw away things that still “work” simply because no one wants them and I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE for the fate of all things.
Things do not have feelings and ultimately, everything has to return to the dust it came from. It’s only a question of when. My updated belief? Some things have to be sacrificed so that I can have a home I love being in. My well-being is, for the first time in my life, worth more to me than keeping stuff just so the STUFF could have a good life. Seriously, I would never have said things were more valuable than a human life, but i was treating myself like they were.
UNLEARNING my fear that if I got rid of things I would never be able to replace them.
This one was really hard to get over because some things truly can’t be replaced. The solution for me was to question the fear itself. I had to ask “So What?”
My time and energy can’t be replaced either!
So what if an item can’t be replaced? Does that mean I won’t be able to go on living? Will my life be irreversibly damaged? I will have to get used to the fact that the item is no longer available. I have done it before. I will have to do it when I die. I will have to learn to fulfill the need for that item in some other way or just learn to live without it. It can be done.
It’s amazing how we as human beings can adapt to whatever life throws our way. I had to unlearn this self-limiting belief that because something can’t be replaced it’s importance is magnified. By practicing this thought process over and over, like an exercised muscle, I’ve gotten so much stronger. I still have thoughts like this from time to time, but now I can stop myself, course correct, and make better decisions. Some items I keep, but not if they are detracting from the quality of me life.
UNLEARNING my feeling that things I owned were a part of me and if I let them go I was letting go of all the hopes, dreams and feelings I had when I was still using those things.
It may sound weird but I honestly felt that by letting go of a book I had read, I would also be letting go of the experience of reading the book and in some weird way, what I learned from the book would be gone too. In effect, I’d be losing a part of my identity.
In my defense, I actually do have a tendency to forget the past. My personality type is ENTP – creative, sentimental, interested in many things, spontaneous and future-oriented. A personality type shared by many people who are disorganized and have a lot of clutter.
I’m always thinking ahead, and tend to take a long time to recall trivial things like the names of movies I’ve seen and titles of books I’ve read.
Keeping things was my way of remembering what I’d done and staying connected to who I used to be. I was an idealistic teenager of the 70’s who wanted to make the world a better place and didn’t want to become part of the bureaucratic machine. I swore I would never lose touch with that part of myself. I didn’t want to grow up to be just another cog in the wheel of the machine.
What I finally realized was that this part of me was so strong I could never forget it. It IS me. I will always be me, stuff or no stuff. After letting go of so much of the stuff, I realized that I will always remember the truly important things that shaped me and make me who I am today. Whatever I do forget was probably not important anyway.
The BIg AHA Paradox
Oddly enough, I came to realize that keeping too much stuff actually makes it harder to remember things.
How can you distill your experience when you are immersed in so much stuff that the important lessons can’t be noticed?
Eventually, I adopted a kind of “So What?” attitude toward forgetting. We are designed to forget things for a reason. Let’s face it, why do we have to remember every detail of our past? Who really cares? What’s really important to remember about the life you’ve lived anyway?
Is it really important what the date of that trip to Disney World was? Or is it more important to become the best person you can be and make a contribution to society and the world?
Clarifying my values and looking at my things with a fresh perspective required a lot of “unlearning” my need to document every aspect of my life. Not to say that I don’t still take photographs or acquire souvenirs when I travel, etc. But I do take far fewer photos, and sometimes my only souvenir of a trip is a postcard. I no longer spend excessive time and energy creating a museum of my life.
Instead I use that time to learn, write, travel and help other people. I relax more and enjoy my vacations more instead of worrying about documenting them so much. If I can contribute more to the world by writing. Isn’t that a much more valuable legacy than a photo album or a collection of stuff?
I hope you find inspiration in questioning your own attachment to things that clutter up your space and drain your time and energy.
© 2007-2009 Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed.