I recently spoke to a wonderful group of women from the Fort Sam Houston Retired Officers Wives and Widows Club in San Antonio, Texas. They asked me to speak to them on the topic of organizing…specifically on letting go. Many of these women, as military family members have moved several times in their lives, supporting their spouses’ military careers. Many of them have traveled coast to coast and even overseas. And with every move came with it exposure to new people, different cultures, and amazing experiences. Those experiences are usually remembered and paid tribute to by collecting a few gifts and memorabilia. And there is absolutely nothing wrong having collections…it’s just that after 20-30 years of moving around and collecting, it can get a bit overwhelming. Ask me how I know… I’ve lived my entire life in the military. Combined with my husband’s 26 years of service we had quite the number of “collections” to sort through and get rid of!
Fortunately my husband and I have found the beauty of owning less and have learned how to let go gracefully. But letting go can be difficult…very difficult as a matter of fact for many people and for several reasons:
We feel the need for abundance. God bless our country! God bless the American way! But boy oh boy are we a consumer-driven society. It’s all about quantity over quality. We have this need to have all this stuff like, cars, boats, big houses, multiple televisions, tons of toys and countless kitchen gadgets. It’s like we’re “keeping up with the Jones’”…because that’s the American way, right? I know not everyone reading this is from the US, since last month there were readers from 43 different countries that came to the blog (wow! amazing)…but no matter where you’re from, I’d be willing to bet you identify with this in your country, as well. I just wanted to speak from first-hand experience…
We’ve lived a life “without” and find security with having more. This may be common among folks who lived through the Depression. They struggled to survive and find a sense of security in having more…even if it’s stuff they don’t need or will never use. It may also be common with folks who grew up in modest and humble households. They’ve found financial success and now want to have the things they didn’t have growing up or want to make sure their children never have to live “without” like they did.
Forget Justin Bieber…we’re more influenced by Justin Case. You know, “I might need this someday…just in case.” Some folks want to be ultra-prepared for any scenario: stock up on cold-weather gear and ski supplies even though they live in the south and haven’t been skiing in over a decade…stock up on party supplies, tables and chairs just in case they throw a party for a 100 people every year…or store a ton of children’s clothes and toys in their basement even though the grandkids only visit a couple of times a year and only for a few days. It’s ok to be prepared, but try to be realistic…especially if all that stuff is getting in the way, taking up too much space or never getting used.
We feel a sense of obligation. Many feel a sense of obligation to keep every gift or greeting card they’ve received, every letter or piece of art they’ve gotten from loved ones, and every hand-me-down from family (even if it’s something they don’t like or will never display in their home). Again, it’s ok to hold on to those things but you do have the ability to say no. You do not need to feel obligated to keep things if they are intruding on your space, time and sanity!
We fear losing the memory if we get rid of something. I can totally understand this. We all have wonderful and meaningful experiences throughout our lifetime and have received beautiful or thoughtful gifts from our family and friends. Many fear that if they get rid of a gift, they’ll forget that person, experience or important time in their life. But those items are only physical objects…that can’t take place of your memories and you will not be dishonoring that memory by letting go of something you no longer need.
We’ve spent too much money and feel it’s a waste if we give it away. Let’s face it. We’ve all probably spend a good fortune on things that we never used or never really liked. Boy does that sting! Nothing is more frustrating than buying something that you’ll never use. So go ahead and get mad. Get mad at yourself. Then get over it! Chalk it up as a lesson learn and be more frugal and studious in your research before purchasing another product. Oh how my husband and I have wasted money on things in the past. But now when we want to get something, we think on it for about a week. If we still want or need it, then we reconsider buying it and figure out what we can let go of first before bringing something new into our home. We’re going though this right now, trying to decide if we really want to make the leap to a Keurig coffee maker…check back in a week or so to find out if we finally bit the bullet.
We’re holding on to the past. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of items that remind you of a happy time in your life. A time where you felt youthful, happier, or successful. You may want to hold on to those hip, cool clothes from the 80′s and 90′s because you were a hip, cool person. But really, do you think you’ll ever wear them again? I finally…finally convinced my husband to get rid of his stone-washed jacket from the 80′s. And he finally…finally convinced me to get rid of my high school softball jacket that I haven’t worn since…well, since I graduated from high school. So, stop holding on to the past and cherish what you have right now.
Ok, “so what” you ask? You now know why you’ve got too much stuff. What do you do about it? Well, one of two things usually happens: 1) You are simply influenced and inspired to live a life with less and are ready to take action or 2) You’ve reached some sort of breaking point. I’ve actually talked about my own breaking points in my fitness and finance that caused me to take action. The same goes with organizing. And to get started I recommend taking the following actions:
Start with the space that’s causing you the most grief or anxiety. This could be the home office, the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedroom etc.
Then start small. Pick a small area to work on like a drawer, a shelf, a cabinet, one spot on the kitchen counter, one filing drawer. You wouldn’t eat an elephant in one sitting right? You’d take small bites and eat a little at a time. (Not sure I like that analogy…the thought of eating an elephant is stomach wrenching but you get the point right!)
Then ask yourself these questions for each item:
1. Do I love it?
2. Do I need it?
3. Do I use it?
4. When was the last time I used it?
5. When do I plan on using it?
6. Can I borrow it?
7. Can I rent it?
8. What’s the worst that will happen if I got rid it?
If you answered “yes” to the first 3 questions…keep it! If you answered no or you are unsure, ask yourself the remaining questions. Question #8 is perhaps the most poignant and sobering question…but one that makes you take action and often allows you to let go.
So take a look around (or maybe you already have) and figure out what’s keeping you from letting go. Are you ready to live a life with less? Are you ready to take charge of your space? Are you ready to live a less-stressed life? A life more simplified…organized? I’ll bet you are. Stick around for my next post on the benefits of organizing. Maybe I can inspire you to take action!