He was sitting on the edge of the couch surrounded by trash bags filled with old clothing and a sea of plastic bins caked in dust. A lifetime of memories flooded his entire being and yet he was clear the time had come to release a few of them.
Tears began to flow as I observed him holding a gently faded infant size t-shirt to his chest. I tenderly placed my hand on his shoulder and simply said, “I know.” He inhaled the soft cotton fabric and began to cry the most beautiful tears. Being witness to a grown man shedding tears as he embarks upon a new chapter of life post divorce, might be one of the greatest honors of my profession.
I’m the one who sees what many of us attempt to hide. Most of us do our best to conceal our dirty little secrets. We’re not inviting our friends over with the junk drawer on display or an open door to a basement piled high with neglected bins and boxes. Yet, the biggest secret, the thing we really don’t want anyone to see, are the deep emotional attachments we’ve acquired over the years. Although physical items do not hold emotion on their own, we are quick to assign meaning to what a particular item represents. This can mean status, wealth and confidence or the opposite for those of us who have less. If one doesn’t have the latest iPhone or handbag then we are the lower class, the worthless, the unlucky ones and so on. We’ve steadily built up a collection of items so mired in emotional attachment that if one were challenged to let them go, that punched in the gut, I was just broken up with feeling might take over our entire being.
The number one human desire, more than anything else, is connection. We need connection in order to survive. Some of us find this deep, yet false, connection with inanimate objects. We’ve begun to identify and create strong attachments to clothing, jewelry, and heirlooms to the point where we are ruled by them. We’ve become so co-dependent on our stuff that a 2008 survey conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research claimed 25 million Americans as shopping addicts. Why? We want to connect. We want to feel something. The meanings we have assigned our possessions have become stronger than our ability to really feel. The Amazon delivery has replaced the hug, the instant gratification on social media has replaced real conversations, the lack of awareness feeds the disconnection from our bodies and so on.
Whether you are conscious of the meanings you have assigned to your things or not, there is a certain level of energy that your belongings either give you or take from you. The idea that we need a lot of stuff to feel connected is false. The more you strip away, the less you need, the easier it gets. When you lighten your load, you lighten your life.
Assess what you possess
Once a person calls on a professional for help, they are generally open to the process of letting go. I always start with an inventory assessment. One must look at all of their items with clarity and awareness before the editing begins. First we will categorize all your possessions into clear groups. For example, if we start with clothing, put all short sleeve t-shirts in a pile, then all the long sleeve t-shirts, then tank tops and so on.
Do you love it?
Next, we begin to look at each item. Yes, each and every single thing. Are you happy with the vintage t-shirt that looks a bit yellow under the arm pits and it is generally falling apart at the seams? Does it light you up? If you still wear it and it makes you feel good, then by all means keep it! If you look at it and think, “I used to wear that all the time but now it’s a bit snug where it shouldn’t be and it doesn’t represent my current lifestyle” consider letting it go. I will share that for most people clothing and jewelry tend to hold a very high charge. And this probably won’t come as a surprise, but most of us assign much bigger meaning to things that have high price tags. A simple way to know if you still love something is to ask yourself this: “Would I walk into a store today and buy this?” If the answer is no, it’s got to go.
Feel it and tune in
Going through each item may cause you some sadness and some pain but it may also bring you joy and freedom. Notice how your body feels when a certain thing is really hard to release. Notice how your belly feels. Do you have butterflies in your stomach? Maybe you feel a little dizzy or your palms have started sweating? Pay attention to the physical sensations you experience as you go through your things.
I help my clients get into their hearts and out their heads as we go through each piece. Sometimes our mind blocks the truth. Like an archeologist digging deep into the earth, I will ask a series of questions to unlock what is hidden in the cellular memory. When the tears begin to flow, when a smile lights up their face from ear to ear, that’s when I know that we’ve found the answer. When they feel the connection deep from within, not from a place of judgement, comparison, shame or self doubt, that’s where the truth lives. The body never lies. The body always shows us what feels good and what doesn’t. The answer is always in there but we have to be willing to go on the journey to find it.
After we have uncovered the deeper emotional connection, it’s time to reframe and rename what we think our belongings mean. It is possible to have our emotional needs met from the inside out instead of from the outside in. We are so quick to assume that a purchase will soothe our soul when in reality the best soothing comes from taking care of ourselves. Retraining the brain and creating new habits might be more challenging than letting go of items that represent our past, however, there is no amount of stuff that is going to make us happy. There aren’t enough diamonds in the world to replace the feeling of connection. No amount of shoes, handbags, watches or electronic gadgets will replace laughing so hard with friends that your cheeks are still sore the next day. There is not a thing in this world that can replace the first time someone tells you that they love you. It is possible to live a very happy life with less. Living with focused intention and a lot of self care is a sure fire way to avoid filling up on retail therapy. Before you buy, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I buying this because I need it or I want it? Or both?
- Am I buying this to fill an emotional need
- Can I take three deep breaths before I buy and see how I feel?
- Is this item both useful and beautiful?
- Is this an item that is earth friendly and sweat shop free?
- Does my purchase help benefit the greater good making it a win-win for all? -Five years from now, what will this item be in my life?
Try your best to always make purchases from the wise part of your conscience.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
— William Morris
Positive mind to positive life
Once you have let go and thoroughly edited your home, make sure you set yourself up for future success. I encourage my clients to write down a few like-minded, positive affirmations that summarize their new way of living. Creating a vision board is another beautiful reminder to help you stay on track. Lastly, surround yourself with like minded positive individuals. As the saying goes, “We are only as strong as our weakest link.” If you want to sustain lasting change, do your best to create a supportive environment where everyone knows your boundaries. Remember, you are in charge of your transformation. You’ve got this!
Can we be so brave, so bold as to let go of the unnecessary, the out of commission, the tired, the worn out, the reminders of a life we’re done living?
Can we look at all our belongings with a new set of eyes? Instead of giving what you possess a ton of power, try to see each thing you bring into your life as a helper. If it doesn’t feed your soul, if it doesn’t light you up from the inside out then please don’t bring it into your home. Within every pile and every mess there is a huge opportunity for growth, for reclaiming your power and for having what your heart desires. With every breath we have an opportunity to begin again. With every breath we are essentially a new person as we are constantly changing every second. In this moment, in this new place, where life is different, you can begin again. You can decide to start over, right here, right now.
I’d love to hear from you and learn about any successes or failure when it comes to your personal clutter. How have you been clearing? What works? What doesn’t work? Are there rituals or self-care practices that help you stay on-track? It’s all welcome!