Letting go

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goodbye stuffThis weekend, instead of heading to the stores to endure the pains of Black Friday shopping, I am at my parents’ trying to make sense of the boxes and boxes of things I had to leave behind when I swiftly moved to San Francisco. If you have been following my blog, you’ll know that I tried to purge a lot of my personal belongings before the recent move. And I’m happy to report that the purging continues with me packing three garbage bags full of clothes to donate.

I am obsessed with the idea of decluttering for a few reasons. One, I have moved so many times in the past five years and having to cart around so much unnecessary stuff has been a pain in the booty. Two, I have had the opportunity to live in a number of places where space is more limited. My aunt and uncle live in Hong Kong and seeing their neat and concise living area was very interesting to me.

It also generally matches my interest in living a more engaged life. I realized that I was spending a lot of my money on stuff I just didn’t need and wasting time in the acquisition of these items. The stuff was taking up space in my home and generally making it a less copacetic living environment.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar on decluttering your life put on by my business school. The speaker shared common reasons why people hold onto junk as well as tips for pushing through and ridding your life of things holding you back. I took notes on the session, which I’ll share here.

When you’re looking at the thing that you own, these are some things you should think about:

1) Do you love the thing and are you using it? This is the quintessential question to ask yourself as you assess what to keep and what to give away. I also use the question “Do I love this?” when I’m shopping. I have enough stuff so unless something is extraordinary, it’s not worth buying.

2) When you hold onto something, you are choosing not to let something new come in. This is true for things as well as relationships, your job, and anything else that you might be holding onto. You have to think about opportunity costs– the things you could be enjoying instead of the thing you are holding onto today.

3) If you haven’t looked at something for 8-10 years, is it really relevant to your life today? If you are a different person today, the things that you own and use should match that.

4) The 80/20 rule applies. You will use 20% of your stuff 80% of the time. I find that this is particularly true with my clothes which is what got me started on purging my wardrobe.

The speaker said that there are lots of costs to life clutter. I mentioned the opportunity cost– that you prevent yourself from other better stuff by being too focused on the mediocre stuff presently in your life. There are also financial costs. Your energy stagnates. Clutter makes you confused and lethargic and the immensity of the situation can make you procrastinate from making changes. There is the avoidance of the pain that can lead to the emotional and personal breakthrough that can lead you to a better place in life.

When it comes to clutter, there are different reasons people do it. There is the “just in case” excuse. I am guilty of this one. I hold onto things because I think that I may need it in the future.

Sometimes things create our identity and we’re afraid that if we give them up, we will lose something of who we are. I think this one is applicable in bigger ways. This sense of identity relates to us keeping crap, holding onto relationships that no longer serve their purpose or staying in life situations, like a job.

Sometimes holding onto things and not thinking about it prevents us from having to face unpleasant things. Status quo, though imperfect, can be a more comfortable option than facing our fears and mistakes and making changes in our lives. I know that this one is true for me. I’m a pretty frugal person and when I have to look at things I have wasted my money on, I feel really bad.

For me, though I hate facing these mistakes, I do feel a sense of freedom and happiness from acknowledging the things that I don’t want and need in my life and taking small steps to rid myself of these energy-sucks and moving on. This opportunity really excites me and I’m happy for the small progress I have made this weekend.

I hope everyone can find some things in their lives that are impeding happiness and find ways to remove these impediments. It feels great to do so!

I hope everyone continues to enjoy a great Thanksgiving weekend!

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