By Lori Welch Brown
The SMART of Letting Go
I have issues, but just not 1,200 back issues of National Geographic or some other noteworthy publication which seems to be more common than you might expect. Granted, I have my own issues around ‘letting go,’ but they are more around people and relationships vs. periodicals. As a personal organizer, however, I think they are all closely linked. The letting go process starts early as we are encouraged to let go of and toss pacifiers, binkies and the likes. I’m still fervently trying to hold onto nap times. I still recall my mom’s failed attempt at trying to unceremoniously discard a geriatric Mrs. Beasley just because she had magic marker eye brows (I thought she needed a little more shaping and arching) and a really bad hair cut (my failed attempt at giving her a Dorothy Hamill which was tres’ chic in 1976). Mrs. B was part of my tribe. How could I be asked to part with someone I had shared countless tea parties with, not to mention bedtimes?
As I got older, my ‘letting go’ issues carried over to dating. I had a penchant for holding onto relationships with men who didn’t deserve a second date let alone my undying loyalty. Trust me—holding onto a decrepit baby doll is a lot less agonizing than trying to hold onto an alcoholic boyfriend no matter how good looking. I also struggled with letting go of under-performing employees. Looking back, I can see where there were a couple of folks I should have let go of a lot sooner than I did. There was Robin who was afraid to drive into the ‘city’ aka Old Town Alexandria and refused to parallel park anywhere which was slightly challenging because most of our clients were located in aforementioned city. Then there was Jenny who refused to write anything down which is impressive if you’re a waiter and can pull it off, but she wasn’t and she couldn’t. She inevitably called me 12 times to clarify the most basic instructions. Head. Exploding. Remember the entertainer Wavy Gravy? Yeah. I don’t either. But one of my fave authors Elizabeth Lesser quotes him in her book Broken Open when she says, “We are all just bozos on the bus.” What she forgot to mention is that the trick is to get the clowns off the bus sooner rather than later. The recurring theme here is that letting go of pretty much anything breathing (or with a dated hair cut) has been a lifelong struggle. I remember a long, teary night saying goodbye to a beta fish that was starting to do the dreaded back float. What can I say? We had bonded over the course of those 8 days and I am sensitive!
So while my own issue isn’t about letting go of ‘stuff’ necessarily, I do understand a bit about the psychology of holding onto things. Sometimes we attribute a heavy emotional value to items because they hold memories or we personify them or maybe we just plain ol’ think they are valuable. Sometimes these things are filling huge voids left by the loss of a loved one (death or divorce), loss of a job or other major life change. In 16 years of helping clients get organized, I’ve seen it all. I’ve helped to clear out mountains of newspapers, plastic combs, restaurant carry-out containers, clothes that no longer fit, plastic grocery bags, Beanie babies, etc. Letting go is hard, but whether you’re holding onto empty margarine tubs or deadbeat boyfriends, you deserve the freedom of release. You’ll breathe much better with all the space created once it’s gone.
The trick is to get ‘SMART’ about it:
Set an intention—what do you want in your life? More space? More peace? Less anxiety? Go into it knowing that there’s a payoff at the end—a goal achieved, space reclaimed, peace of mind, etc.
Make a plan—start with a room, but get even more specific (think closet, desk, drawer, cabinet, etc.). Every undertaking starts with baby steps. It’s even helpful to set a timer and not try to run a marathon on your first session. Try 30 minutes or an hour to get started. Graduate up to 2-4 hours.
Ask for help (from a neighbor, family member, trusted resource, etc). Sometimes it’s just nice to talk it through with someone. Be sure it’s with someone you feel comfortable talking about whatever feelings or emotions crop up.
Recognize the emotions and feelings you’re experiencing around ‘letting go’. Label them—sadness, anger, fear, etc.
Take action. Most of the time I ask my clients to make three piles: Donate/Recycle/Toss. If an item, however, is bringing up too many emotions, it’s okay to put it aside and come back to it on the next round. The goal is to make some progress. Pick the low hanging fruit and take action. If it is too difficult to donate your old wedding dress, move onto your hosiery drawer.
Life is way too short to be holding onto ANY relationship, item of clothing or plastic doohickey that triggers sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. If it doesn’t bring you happiness, it is potentially holding you back from happiness. Letting go can be hard, but most things in life that are worthwhile are worth the effort. There is an ‘art’ to letting go, but you have to be SMART about it. It takes practice, patience, and sometimes, the passage of time.
P.S. If you are dead set on holding onto something because it is important to you, be SMART and store it properly. I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me how much they love something yet it is lying around like rubbish exposed to dust/water/heat, etc. Show me the love!
If you would like to comment or have questions for Lori, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Open Space” in the subject line.