Letting Go of the “Things” in Your Life

I will let you in on a secret that not many people know. In my garage are several (ok probably 10) boxes full of my childhood. In them you will find old stuffed animals and horse statues, notes from girlfriends in junior high and probably t-shirts I couldn’t part with (luckily no old gum or rocks). I have been lugging these artifacts of my past around for almost 20 years and I can’t really tell you why or what I am hoping to do with them. Sure, one day my sons might play with my Ewok Village and Star Wars figures, but I highly doubt either one of my boys will get excited over my old Barbies and doll house furniture. Every couple of years I sort through the boxes again and cull a few more items out for the trash or donation box. Every time I do this I am flooded with memories of playing doll house with my sister or waking up on Christmas morning to the one present I had really been hoping for. It is kind of nice to stroll down memory lane, but couldn’t I still do that without keeping the actual items? Isn’t it time to let them go? Is there a time to let them go?

I know part of me loves knowing that they are still out there and available to me, but the other part just wishes that a fire would send the whole garage up in flames so I didn’t have to deal with them anymore. I’d be sad yes, but I also suspect on some level I’d be relieved. I’m not that little girl anymore and keeping the items almost feels like an albatross around my neck. It reminds me of the scene in the old Jim Henson Movie Labyrinth where the junk lady is just walking around with all her treasured items literally weighing her down and hanging off her body. It’s a burden but yet, I still can’t say goodbye.

I guess maybe I am still hoping for the happy ending where all my childhood friends and happy feelings will be there if I need them. This will never happen if I give the items away. Okay, it may not happen because it is impossible too, but I prefer to believe the  unbelievable.

I recently read a blog (sorry, I can’t remember which one) where the person suggested that the best way to let go of the past, especially childhood memories, is to take pictures, salvage one or two items that truly define that time period, and let the rest go. This is what I will try to do with my memories this weekend. Who knows how successful I will be, but I’ll keep you posted. I might not be ready to let it all go yet, but I feel confident I can make a dent in the pile and at least lighten my load (9 boxes instead of 10?). I like the idea of taking pictures to keep as memories, certainly pictures will be viewed and remembered more often than items in a box.

Childhood memories are the hardest to part with for me . The rest of life’s tangible items get easier and easier to let go all the time . I have two methods of keeping my life clutter free and simplifying. The first is I just don’t buy things. I know you are thinking that is monumentally un-fun, but I have never bought anything that made me feel as good as money in the  bank does. There is no pair of shoes,  outfit, decoration, or toy that has ever lasted longer in giving me the happiness high than about the same amount of time it takes to use it or wear the first time. After that the high wears off and now you just have something that is no longer new, no longer makes you happy but you still have to maintain or find a place for in your life. Or worse you may have to one day let go of it and the unfulfilled promise it once held of making you happy. This is how I refrain from buying things beyond the necessities (I do not consider new clothes a necessity btw)

  • Think about how many hours you have to work to make enough money to buy the item. This puts things into perspective and gives you a better idea of an item’s true value. If you consider you have to work X hours to buy something specific, you may rethink its value compared to the value of your time.
  • Think of how often you might use the item, if it is less than once a week then you probably don’t need it or you already own something that does something similar.
  • Consider if you already own something that does the same thing or fulfills the same purpose. If you own 10 pairs of shoes, you probably don’t need 11. If you have a rice steamer, you probably don’t need a veggie steamer too.
  • Honestly assess if you have room or a space to store the item when you aren’t using it. We have a small house, to bring in a new item truly means we will be displacing another item. If you are already living fairly simply this means you may not have room for the new item.
  • Does the item align with any of your intentional identifiers? Does it help in your creation of your intentional identity? If one of your identifiers is to be a photographer, then perhaps you should hang on to that tripod, even if you haven’t used it in 5 years.
  • Don’t buy it. If you still want/need/or are thinking of it in 30 days then consider buying it, but ask yourself the first 4 questions here first. Be honest with yourself, impulse buys are usually the most disappointing over time.
  • Don’t watch commercials or read magazines, they only make you want stuff you don’t need. I once read a Parents magazine on the treadmill at the gym. By the time I finished my cardio I had figured out I was not only a lazy parent, but my children “needed” a whole bunch of crap I had never heard of before. Don’t get trapped, just don’t read it to being with.
  • If it doesn’t sustain life, you probably don’t need it.

Consumerism is a real problem for most people. We buy items we don’t really need based on a compulsion or belief that the item will make us happy. It is important that you assess the value of “things” vs the value of living creatures. People and animals are always worth investing in, owning the new thing or another gadget rarely is. Really assess your level of happiness and what makes you happy. If you truly feel that only buying new things or owning new gadgets is your source of happiness you need to consider why and how to change your perspective.

As for letting go of what you already have, I suggest simplifying your life. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you own, how big or how small your house is, there are likely items in it that you no longer need or find useful. Nothing feels half as good as purging your house of things you no longer find value in. Nothing feels as cleansing as dropping off a load of boxes to the Salvation Army. The best way to tackle item clutter is to start small in a drawer or closet. Work your way up to rooms and then the house or garage. Consider each item carefully. If you haven’t used it, touched it, thought about it, looked at it, or picked it up in 6 months consider tossing. If you haven’t done those things in a year you absolutely should toss the item. Try not to get nostalgic or convince yourself how you are about to find a use for the item. Trust me, you aren’t. If you aren’t sure and are torn about certain items put them in a box and store it in your garage. Put a date on the end of the box, 6 months out. When the date comes and you haven’t needed the items in the box, and possibly can’t even remember what is in the box, just take it to donate right away. Don’t even open it. You won’t know what’s in there, but that’s ok, that just means you don’t really need what’s in there and you just proved it. Case closed.

I keep hoping my newly cultivated skill at de-cluttering the tangible items in my life will lead to the ability to de-clutter the other intangible things in my life. It seems if you have the skill for one, you should have it for others. I am hopeful of what tomorrow will bring me.