"Holding on is believing that there is only a past; letting go is knowing that there's a future." ~ Daphne Rose Kingma
Letting go is a big part of decluttering, which is a big part of Feng Shui. It’s also a big part of life, as all kinds of experiences, relationships, places, activities, and stages of growth inflow, and inevitably, outflow. We cannot truly hold onto anything forever. It’s a fact that when the time comes, we always have to let go of everything. So why do we have such a hard time letting go, whether it’s old items cluttering up our homes, or people and behavior habits we have — or should have — outgrown? What do we fear? The new? The unknown? Losing control? Or having no future, because we don’t trust that anything more will come to us, so hanging on to whatever we have feels like a necessary survival strategy?
Deciding to let go can be very emotional, with part of us screaming inside to hold on for dear life. But the eventual and inevitable result of letting go is a sense of relief or lightening, as the heaviness of stuck energy is released and we are free to move forward. In between, we have to allow the process to unfold, and ride the waves of fear, sadness, guilt, and sometimes, even grief. You may rip the bandaid off by clearing your home of all the items you no longer want or need all at once, but the emotions may hang around for a while, and you may need to go through an inner process even after the outer clutter is gone. In fact, the act of decluttering your home may trigger the process of resolving an old personal issue or healing an old psychic wound. This is a gift, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first, because these old issues and wounds always affect us and our lives until we face and release them. Letting go of physical things both symbolizes and is good practice for letting go of intangible things that are holding us back. Doing one helps enable us to do the other.
When we begin a process of decluttering our physical environment, we first have to become aware of all that is there. It’s easy to lapse into not even remembering all the stuff we have accumulated, as it fills up our physical and energetic spaces. We’ve stuck these things in closets and drawers, under beds and in attics, basements, and even rented storage units. Pulling it all out and looking at each item is like digging through our psyches to uncover old memories, events, relationships, and feelings. We then have to face them and deal with them to let them go. It’s the only way we can truly move forward, unimpeded by the weight of all that old stuff, whether it be clothes and dishes or fears and doubts. But it’s easy to see why we resist undertaking such a project. It can be exhausting to even think about.
Every item in our home is more than just a physical thing; it symbolizes something to us. When we take the time to look at each thing, we can recognize the symbol and free ourselves of its hold on us. For example, many women keep their wedding dress boxed up in a closet and may even pay a lot of money to have it properly boxed and “preserved.” But what for? In most cases, no one will ever wear the dress again. Yes, it cost a lot of money and you only wore it the once, but isn’t that what it was for? Yes, it has sentimental value for you, but you likely have plenty of photos of yourself in the dress and memories (and videos) of your wedding day. Do you imagine that your future daughter will want to wear it? Did you wear your mother’s dress? Maybe, like the top of your wedding cake, you’ll want to keep it for only one year, but after that, sell it or give it away. It’s too heavy with emotions and uselessness to keep around. Someone else could wear it joyfully, buying it secondhand.
“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”
~ Marie Kondo
We know that when we lose a game, or don’t get a job or promotion we want, or experience the break up of a relationship of any kind, that we have to let it go. Whatever it was is gone and will not come back. We may go through some feelings about it, but eventually, we just release the old and move on to the new. That’s normal and healthy, and we have to do the same thing with items we no longer need and habits that don’t serve us well. After the initial twinge, we can just thank the item for its service and let it go.
Common examples of physical items that often hang around long after their usefulness to us has passed include clothes, dishes, pots and pans, small appliances, electronics, exercise equipment, lamps, furniture, tchotchkes, artwork, bedding, books, and magazines. We can go through all of these, giving some away, throwing some out, and keeping only those that we still use, need, or truly love. Sometimes, we even find collections of things like empty boxes that these items came in when we bought them. Just because something is pretty, that does not mean that we need to keep it, and just because something once fulfilled a use perfectly, that does not mean it will ever be useful for us again.
There is also a difference between truly loving something and just feeling sentimental about it. For instance, an old shirt might symbolize getting creative to you if you always wear it to garden, paint, or decorate your home. You might “love” it because when you put it on, you feel ready to do something artistic, something you love doing. On the other hand, you might have received a gift from someone you love, perhaps even someone who has died since giving it to you, and you feel a terrible pang at the thought of letting it go, even though you don’t have any use for it and don’t really like it. Keep the creative shirt and honor the person who gave you the gift by passing it on to someone else who might truly love it.
Some of the most difficult items to let go of include old photos and videos. You can tidily store these in photo albums or scrapbooks, but today, there are companies that will take all these items and put them on a DVD or thumb drive or even just send them out to your cloud, freeing you to let go of the physical objects. You can have your children’s artwork likewise digitally saved or printed into books by other companies. Letting go of these physical items can clear out a lot of space in your home. Boxes and drawers full of papers, books, photos, home videos, and your kids’ precious creations are still just boxes of stuck energy, blocking its free flow throughout your home. You can buy a shredder to shred personal papers, from journals to bank statements, if you are concerned about maintaining your privacy, or take them to a shredding service.
Sometimes, when we don’t let go of things we should, they let go for us. This can be very unsettling, such as when you lose all your bookmarks on a computer browser (yep, this has happened to me), or when a burst pipe floods your basement and all the old things down there have to be trashed. When my bookmarks disappeared from my browser, I panicked, thinking that I really needed them all. But in trying to remember and re-bookmark the sites I really did want and use, I soon realized that my browser had been cluttered with zillions of old bookmarks I never looked at anymore and didn’t need at all. I felt lighter and clearer using my bookmarks afterwards, since there were so few of them that I could easily know what and where they were. I caught myself about to bookmark an article I liked and thought, “When am I ever going to read it again?” If I thought of someone else who might find it interesting, I emailed them the link and that was it. It inspired me to dump a lot of old emails as well, and now I delete things as I go along to keep from accumulating so much stuff on my computer. Rather than waiting for the stuck energy to up and move itself, we need to take control and clear our own spaces — in our homes, cars, offices, and on our computers — and keep them cleared.
Not everything we need to let go of is a physical object or even a digital file. Sometimes, we need to let go of an old habit of behavior that is not serving us well. Other times, we need to let go of a place or person, as we move on to the next stage of our life’s journey. To let go, we have to trust that other good things, people, and experiences are coming to us in the future. We have to believe that letting go of a familiar idea, habitual behavior, emotion, relationship, or interest will not leave us permanently empty and alone. It’s ironic, but we humans do tend to cling to what we already know, even when we also know that it’s not good for us and doesn’t make us happy. We feel more in control with our familiar routine than venturing out into the unknown future. But the feeling of control is not real. We do not have control over anything or anyone but ourselves. Other people, the world, circumstances and events will always surprise us. No one expects a car accident or a diagnosis of cancer, any more than they expect to fall in love or win the lottery. Life inflows and outflows, and all we need to do is accept and let go, allowing the natural inflow and outflow.
Which brings me to my last thought about letting go, and that is its opposite. When we let go of everything we need to let go of, new things come to take their place. We don’t want to begin collecting clutter again, but we do want to welcome new opportunities for joy and love. When we go through all our things to see what we want to let go of, we are also choosing what we do want to keep. You may end up with a lot of things you actually do use all the time and other things you do love. That's fine. The goal is not to pare down to nothing but bare essentials, but to live with objects that really belong with you now, that reflect who you are and how you live and what you truly want in your life, and that make you feel happy.
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” ~ Marie Kondo
The same goes for habits, relationships and other intangibles that you have now examined to see if they still fit into your life and uplift who you are and want to be. Maybe you'd really rather live with a cat than with showpiece furniture that will never get scratched or covered with cat hair. Maybe you truly love a hobby that you could afford to pursue if you stopped spending money on cable service you hardly use. When we choose carefully and consciously, our lives are filled with people, places, activities, and pursuits that are healthy and positive for us. Letting go makes room for these affirming, helpful, and supportive replacements. The goal is to release what makes us feel stressed, overwhelmed, or stuck and welcome the things that bring us joy and ease.
Marie Kondo does not go through a client’s home room by room, but rather by categories of items: clothes first, then books, papers and miscellaneous stuff, and then finally, things to which you are sentimentally attached. Other people use other methods, and personally, I find the room-by-room method works well for me, as I think about the energetic areas of a home, according to its Feng Shui bagua. Choose whatever method works for you, but get started!
• Look at your home's bagua and choose a room where you feel the need for improvement. For example, if your career has stalled and you'd like to move it in a better direction, find the Career area of your home.
• Choose a drawer or closet and become aware of everything that is there. Take it all out and look at each item. Sort these items into trash (keep a trash bag handy and toss these things immediately), give away, repair, or just keep. Now go through all the repair and keep items to make sure you really need or love them.
• Immediately put out the trash, take a trip to your local library to give away books, drop off clothes and household items at your local charity, and repair (or make arrangements to have professionally repaired) broken items.
• Take stock of what you are keeping, clean it, and make sure you have a place for it, where you will see it, use it, and love it. Put it in its place, lovingly.
• Go through the whole room, decluttering every drawer, closet, and space in the room. Open windows, if you can, to refresh the air, and perform a space clearing (using sound or citrus water), if you wish.
• Choose the next room where you will declutter based on the next most important life area according to your home's bagua. For instance, while your career may have been your top priority right now, you may also have a minor nagging health problem or issue with a family member; go next to your Health and Family gua and repeat the process.
• Declutter your entire home, letting go of items you no longer need or love.
• Examine you life, activities, relationships, and habits. What do you need to let go of in order to be healthy and happy? Make lists, if that helps you, or just choose one thing to work on first. Meditate on the matter and visualize thanking it and letting it go, floating off into the air away from you. Repeat this a few times for a few days, and then move on to the next thing you want to let go of. Take the needed actions to make this letting go a reality in your life.