UPDATE: I’ve been blogging since 2005 and I’m in the process gradually reviewing and editing the content to decide what is worthy of staying and what has become clutter.
I found this article I wrote in 2007 and decided it was worth keeping. It’s actually a great example of how mental agility works.
Getting unstuck and cultivating agile thinking habits was one of the most significant ingredients in healing my traumatic emotional attachment to things.
Becoming able to release things that were clutter up my home (and my heart) and has enabled me to function with greater ease than ever before in my life.
My things no longer have such intense power over my emotional state. Although I will always have a certain amount of “strategic” clutter, inability to let go of things does not keep me from being able to use my home the way I want to. I am willing to take care of the things I keep and I let them go easily when I no longer need them.
Resolving my PTSD related traumatized attachment to things and the chronic indecision I had about how to organize the things taking up space in my heart, mind, home and office spaces is among the most liberating and educational experiences I’ve ever had. My journey isn’t over, I’m still learning, but the progress is beyond what I ever dreamed was truly possible for myself. And it feels much different than I thought it would. I never expected to give birth to AgiliZen in the process of healing my life and in helping over 1000 clients and program participants heal their relationship with things and resolve the inner conflicts that lead to chronic disorganization.
I hope you find my story inspirational in your journey to making peace with things.
Things I had to UnLearn so I could Let Go of My Clutter
Like many of you reading this, I have had a tendency to hold on to things long past their useful life as far back as I can remember. Especially sentimental things, books, clothes, furniture, gadgets and paper. Okay, pretty much everything. When I was 30 years old, I still had most (95%) of the clothes I had ever owned and I had over 1000 books. Out of an un-questioned need to document my life, I was accumulating photo albums and souvenirs at an alarming rate. I had outgrown all my storage and was using any available surfaces and spaces to hold it all. In my journey to let go of the massive clutter I’d collected I had to “unlearn” lots of habits and beliefs that caused me so much stress and anxiety.
Here are a few beliefs I had to unlearn [2102 Note: I now call this “relinquishing or updating default settings] so that I could experience the freedom of living with less stuff – or better yet, just enough stuff to function with ease.
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.
Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed, Agile Lifestyle Design Coach, ADHD Coach, Organic Learning and Performance Strategist offers hope to creative, gifted, neurodiverse people, people with ADHD and anyone whose quality of life is impaired by chronic disorganization and time management challenges. She guides people in clarifying priorities, prioritizing, making difficult decisions and learning the tools needed to heal and agilize their relationship with clutter, change habits, and regain self-confidence. She is the author of a best-selling home office organizing book “Neat & Simple Guide to Organizing Your Office” on Amazon, and the popular organizing and decluttering blog, Neat & Simple Living. She offers a free Agile Life Design toolkit at www.ArianeBenefit.com