Undress Your Mess

I’m in the process of moving and I’ve already thrown away and donated at least 20 garbage bags of stuff – and I still have more rooms to go through!

As someone who has control issues and who struggles to let go, I have been dreading this process for weeks. I’ve been consumed with the fear of throwing things out asking, What if I really need the very thing I threw away? What if I regret my decision? How the hell have I even acquired or kept all these things?

In the last 10 years I’ve moved 5 times and I thought I had paired down the stuff I was totting around. But, here I was going through baggage I didn’t even know I had – makeup well past its expiration date, books so worn their covers were falling off, cards from past relationships, journals from the last 15 years with old written blog posts and notes – things I’ve carried from place to place without even realizing it.

As I went through my belongings, I felt crippled.

How could I possibly know what to get rid of?

I craved the liberation that comes from throwing stuff away and letting go – I had heard about the art of decluttering – but as I sat trying to pack and “declutter”, I wasn’t sure that was in the cards for someone like me.

I was in a panic about the entirety of what this process would entail when I began Googling “letting go” and “moving” (because, you know, Google always has the answers to Life’s Big Questions – ha!). While plenty of articles came up about “hoarding” (ugh), I did come across an interesting article on Well + Good where June Saruwatari, an organizational maven, speaks to the fourfold lens of organization:

Do you honestly need the item?

Do you love it?

Does the item hold significance in your life?

Does it serve a purpose?

I was skeptical – I mean, what IF I threw away something I realized I really needed or in fact did love only after the fact? Preemptive regret started to set in…but so did reality: I was moving in two weeks, I needed to pack, and I couldn’t take everything.

I decided to give it a try.

With each item I started to ask, Do you honestly need the item? Do you love it? Does the item hold significance in your life? Does it serve a purpose? and if it didn’t fit one of the lenses, it had to go.

Item by item, bag by bag, I began to throw things away and let go – slowly at first, and then with much more ease. With every item I threw away that didn’t have a resounding yes to one of the four lenses of organization, I felt lighter, less bogged down.

Don’t get me wrong – I have fleeting moments of wondering if I should have thrown away some childhood mementos, old photos, all of my CD’s – moments where I’d put something in the trash bag, only to move it to the “maybe” pile, only to put it back into the trash. But overall? I feel less attached to the things themselves.

Beyond that, this process has been more than just a cleaning for my physical world – in between taking stock of my physical possessions, I’ve also been able to take stock of my internal world: what habits, emotions or thought patterns are weighing me down and taking up unnecessary space in my life?

The more I started to shift my focus from what I was getting rid of to the things that I was keeping that served a purpose and sparked joy – the more I focused on the space I was creating, the lighter I felt and the more excited I became about my future.

How much stuff do you really need to represent that feeling or thing? How many items do you need to hold onto before it starts controlling your life?

Throwing things out gives you time to look after yourself. It gives you the opportunity to relieve yourself of all the stuff you’re hanging onto from past careers, relationships and unfinished business – things you really don’t need.

What physical stuff is taking up unneeded space in your life?

What mental clutter is keeping you from feeling productive and happy?

Keep in mind, the goal isn’t to live life without anything or with the least amount of things as compared to others. The goal is to see what objects we bring into our lives and how much space we allow those items to take up.

It’s about creating space in our life for the moments and experiences that bring us joy, purpose and happiness.

This week, take a look at your life. Where can you undress your mess? Where in your life are you holding on when you need to let go? What can you let go of physically or mentally?