“When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” Tao Te Ching

There are many reasons you may be holding on to things more than you would like to. Objects are often imbued with sentimental value and can seem central to our memories. Or you may worry about needing the thing you get rid of as soon as you no longer have it. Maybe you simply feel bad about the idea of getting rid of something that someone you care about gave you, or for spending money on something you, in the end, don’t use. Or you might still be holding on to certain things in the hopes that you will one day do X (become a mountain climber, play the piano, etc.). The thing is, whatever it is that’s tying you to these things you fundamentally know you don’t need, it’s probably not worth the space and energy they take up in your life and mind.

As Paige Smith puts it on the MakeSpace blog, “letting go of these things might feel like a failure or an embarrassment. It might feel like giving up on a dream. But as tough as it is to let go, it’s much harder to hold onto something that doesn’t bring tangible joy to your life.” [1] Not only that, depending on your psychology some things you hold to may even cause negative emotions to surface as you are constantly reminded of all the things you’d like to do but haven’t yet. With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies to help you let go of those things you just keep clinging to despite yourself…

17.1 Strategy #1: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” Hermann Hesse

One simple way to wean yourself of an object is to put the old dictum “out of sight out of mind” into practice. This works better with smaller objects, for obvious reasons.It might be a bit of a challenge to hide a canoe from yourself for example, but ya never know. Basically the idea is simply to remove whatever it is you’d like to get rid of but “can’t” from your sight by storing it away for a certain amount of time. This can be for anything from a month to a year, but it needs to be enough time for you to see if you actually miss having said thing around. If it’s an object that is seasonally specific (that awesome snorkeling gear you’ve been saving for the right vacation…) then you need to put it away for the season where you might otherwise use it. If it’s something that could potentially be useful anytime of year, then a few months is usually enough time to gage it’s level of importance to you. For smaller objects you can simply but them in boxes or bags and store them in the basement, under the bed, or somewhere equally inaccessible where you won’t be regularly reminded of their existence.

If you don’t have any extra storage space in your home, or if what you’re trying to get rid of is too big to be put out of the way, you might want to consider getting yourself a temporary storage space, especially if you have several things you’re trying to wean yourself of. After the allotted time has gone by you will hopefully know whether or not the thing is actually important enough to keep. If you haven’t missed it in any significant way then the time without it should allow you to be detached enough to let go of it. Make sure to figure out where or who you’re going to give it to before taking it out of storage so you don’t let it hang around long enough for you to get attached to having it around again!

17.2 Strategy #2: Long-Term Lending

This strategy work on very similar principles as the one above, the idea still being to get whatever you’re trying to let go of out of your mental and physical space long enough for you to clearly judge whether or not you should keep it around. The only difference is that instead of finding space to store it for a while, you find someone who you can lend it to in the understanding that you might want it back at some point. You may want to set a specific date by which you’ll let them know if you want the thing back just to make things simpler for you and for them and avoid future misunderstandings (“oh, but it’s been three years I figured you didn’t want your sofa back and now I really need it!”).

This approach is especially great if it allows you to help a friend or family member out by providing them with something they really want! Even if it’s something as simple as a super nice article of clothing that suits them better than you, lending something that makes someone we care about happy can be a very uplifting experience. It’s a great opportunity for you to practice cultivating your compersion capacity (an awesome word not everybody knows which means the feeling of joy you get from witnessing another person’s joy…for the etymologists among you, it’s derived from the French “compère” meaning accomplice or partner. ).

17.3 Strategy #3: Give it To Someone Who Will Really Appreciate It

“You’ve got to make a conscious choice every day to shed the old – whatever “the old” means for you.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Again building on the previous strategy, what if instead of long term lending you were able to just give whatever it is you’re holding on to away? “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to do!” you may say…but the difference between just giving something away generally and giving it to someone who will really, truly appreciate it in a deep and sincere way is not the same thing at all. And there’s usually someone out there who needs or wants the thing you want to let go of. If you think about your close friends and family is there someone who might put what you’re giving away to super good use? Or is there someone struggling who would be super grateful for some good luck and generosity from a friend? Or you could find a good, specific cause to give some quality clothing or furniture to, say direct aid for recent immigrants or refugees.

Chicago-based Certified Professional Organizer Amy Trager suggests asking yourself if you’ll remember the occasion or person in question without the item attached to it. “If you can say yes, you can donate that item. Someone else will love it,” says Trager.[2] Sure, there may be some things you can’t foist on anyone (childhood drawings and love letters for example…) but for the most part a good home can be found for anything with enough thought. But what about those sentimental things that you can’t just pass on to the next person?

17.4 Strategy #4: Create A Meaningful Transition

“You can only lose what you cling to.” Buddha

Sometimes all we need in order to let go of something is to create a significant context, i.e. some kind of ritual or ceremony recognizing and marking the process of letting go. This can be particularly helpful in allowing ourselves to part with things like old letters, cards, photos or kids drawings etc. If you’ve been carrying around boxes of your or your family’s memories for years it can be very difficult to just chuck it all into the recycling. Take the time to sit down and figure out what an appropriate manner would be for you to say goodbye. If you have access to a space where you can safely build a fire, burning old papers memories can be very satisfying for the symbol-oriented soul. There are numerous traditions and step-by-step guides out there for creating your own burning ceremony.

Otherwise you can come up with your own way of honoring and letting go of all this stuff before recycling it. The important thing is marking the transition from having to no longer having access to all of these things, whatever they may be. If it’s your family stuff you’ve been archiving for ages, maybe you want to gather everyone concerned and go through it all together and even perhaps co-create a way of letting it all go! If that’s impossible but there’s still a lot of dense emotional content to what you need to let go of, consider calling in some support, a close friend or mentor who can be present or help you come up with an appropriate ritual or context.

17.5 Strategy #5: The Mini Memory Box

“Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go.” Anais Nin

Since one of the main things that keeps us holding on to stuff way after we secretly know we don’t need it is emotional attachment, why not just keep small snippets of things so you can still feel physically connected to your associated memories? The idea is that instead of keeping the entire collection of grandma’s socks and sweaters that don’t fit you anymore but which are the only thing you have left reminding you of her, you keep a piece of wool from one of them and put it in your tiny designated “memory box.” Instead of keeping all the popsicle stick decorations your kids made at age 5, just keep one and put it in the memory box. You get the idea.

There may seem to be things this wouldn’t be applicable to, but it works for almost anything if you think creatively enough. Figure out what the smallest piece of something you can keep is (ideally a piece that doesn’t damage the overall object enough that no one else will want it, if it would otherwise be upcycleable!) and let that be the physical representation of whatever memory you’ve been holding onto via said object. Simple, right? It’s actually amazing to realize just how small things can be and still remind us of an incredibly specific place, time or person!

17.5 Action Point Summary: Here’s What You Need To Do Now!

“A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.” Victoria Moran

Everyone struggles with letting go of certain things at certain times in their life. It’s completely normal to cling to stuff every now and then. Once you feel that you really ought to let something go the important things is to find a strategy that works for you in either a) finally letting go of the thing or b) realizing that it’s actually important enough to you that you should keep it, or at last part of it, around. Here’s what you can do to divest yourself of doubt and “separate the wheat from the chaff,” as it were…

  1. Storage. Find a place where you can store the things you’re struggling to let go of for X amount of time so that you can get a proper read on whether you really miss having it/them around. Decide on a time frame and take note of whether the thing comes up in your mind, and why. If it turns out to be not all that important in your daily life, it’s presence is more of a habit. Decide where and how to get rid of it before adding it back to your space.
  2. Long Term Loans. Lending things out takes it one step further on the emotional plane as you get to experience what it’s like for someone else to have the thing you’ve been holding on to. Also decide on a time frame and how you’ll get rid of the object if say your friend doesn’t want to keep it forever and you realize it’s not essential in your life.
  3. Give Away. Find someone who will really, really appreciate whatever it is and give it to them. If this feels impossible, focus on the other strategies listed.
  4. Create Meaningful Transitions. Come up with a way of honoring whatever these things have meant to you in your life so that you don’t feel like you’re disrespectfully discarding them. Reach out to someone to support you in the process if there’s lot of emotional baggage attached for any reason.
  5. Mini Memory Box. Give yourself a limited space in which to keep little bits of objects that can represent the larger whole. The tiniest shred of material can be enough to recollect whatever time, place or person you want to have a keepsake of!
  6. Enjoy the extra space and time freed up from less clutter!
  1. “6 Reasons Letting Go Of Stuff Is Hard (And What To Do About It).” Paige Smith, makespace.com, 2016
  2. Amy Trager, Certified Professional Organizer, amytrager.com

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