Digging out, Part 3

(If you are just joining us, read Part 1 and Part 2, first.)

For everyone joining me in working on digging out an out-of-control house, how's your kitchen? Your laundry? Your bedroom? And biggest of all (and really the reason that we are doing this), how's your relationship with your family? Have you been smiling? Looking them in the eye when you have a conversation? Taking time to do things together? Are you working on being all on the same team? This last is super important, especially when we get to the point of involving the family in keeping the house under control.

If you haven't nailed these things every day, it's OK. Remember, you are in the process of creating habits, and habits take a bit to really sink in. At least the good habits, the slovenly ones which require no effort, take no time at all. Think about how you are creating habits when you are deciding what to do. You are creating the habit of putting things away in the kitchen right away. You are creating the habit of not letting things in your bedroom that will pile up. You are creating the habit of being sure to interact positively with your children before criticizing or asking them to do something. The day you head to your washing machine to throw in that day's load of laundry without having to consciously choose to do so, you will know you are on the right track.

We're about to start the process of going through the rest of the house. (Don't worry. Breathe! You'll be able to do this.) Before we do, though, we need to have a little talk about stuff. I've been thinking about stuff a lot, as I go through my entire house deciding what to pack and what to leave behind. In my opinion, there are a few reasons we surround ourselves with our possessions, all of which make it difficult for us to let go of them. Here they are:

1. We keep it because we genuinely like it and/or find it useful. These are things that make us smile, that we use everyday, and that would be the first to go into a box if someone said we could only take a certain amount of stuff with us. These things are not really the problems in our lives. It's OK to have these things. (I think with the minimalist/get rid of everything books, we can miss the message that it is OK to have some things.) You do not need to get rid of everything in your home to make it feel as though it is organized and calm.

2. We keep it because we just haven't thought about it. Some things we have just because they are there. They have become a part of the house and we don't think about their presence. Sometimes we don't even know if we really like them or not, usually because we don't even really see them. Usually it takes something drastic like moving to remind you that they are there, and make you ask the question of why do you have these things. Often I find that when I really think about it, either I don't like it as much as I once did (or never truly cared for it), or it has ceased to be useful. These are the things which are easy to part with. They weren't adding all that much to our lives, and they won't be missed. Short of moving, this is one reason why completely emptying a room of its contents can be useful. It forces to you actually pick-up and look at each thing in that room and re-evaluate. Is this item really worth the time it will take to find a home for and keep clean?

3. We keep it out of guilt. This is one of the difficult categories, huh? We paid too much for it. Someone gave it to us. It belonged to relative. If guilt is the only reason you are keeping something, then let me say it's not a good enough reason. Not only is this item taking up space in your house, it is taking up space in your head, too. It's not so wonderful to look at a room and see an item that creates guilt in you. This is not peaceful or relaxing. What would happen if you gave that item away? Really, stop and think about the answer to that question. What's the worst that could happen? Will the world stop spinning? Will the dead relative come back to haunt you? I'm pretty sure the answer is that nothing will happen. The wider world will not notice if you give this item away. If you don't believe me, try it. Sometimes we act as though our stuff is part of a giant chain letter, but instead of requiring you to send to send the requisite number of letters lest you run afoul of the universe, it's as though by keeping this stuff we are warding off something horrible. Instead, let me tell you that by getting rid of the stuff that causes you guilt, you will be ridding yourself of needless angst. Go ahead and get rid of the novels from college that you never read, but keep because 'some day you'll get to them.' No you won't. And that's OK.

4. We keep it because of the memories it represents. This is a particularly potent category. Things belonging to a loved one who died. Art projects made by now grown children. Items from a phase of life that ended long ago. These things are hard to let go of, because on some level to do so feels as though we are letting go of someone we have lost all over again. Keeping a few of these things it fine. It is good to have things that remind us of beloved people and happy times. It's when these things are so numerous that they start to take over our lives and stop us from living in the present. These items will not bring back what was lost or passed. There are ways to preserve the memories without keeping the things. For instance, photographs of children's art projects is a great way to preserve the memories. I've thrown out enough art projects that I have kept that became dull, brittle, and dusty that it just takes remembering that to get me to take the picture and let them go. Yes, there is always a twinge, but it passes and life goes on, and it actually feels pretty good not to be burdened with the piling up of physical memories. Other things could be photographed as well. Or parts of them could be kept. Or artwork made from them. Museums are fun to visit, but not a whole lot of fun to live in. Is the physical weight (and maintenance) of memories making it difficult for you to live in the present, and create a calm and joyful space to make new memories? How would that loved one feel about the time and energy their possessions are taking up in your life? There is a good chance that (if they were emotionally healthy), they would think that it was a little bit crazy. I've actually told my children (more than once), that just because I cared about or owned something does not mean that they need to take on that care. I absolve them of guilt about my stuff. Do this for yourself and as a gift for your children.

5. We keep it because we think it makes us look good. This is probably a better category for why we buy things, but it also holds for why we keep things. Are you keeping things around because they represent who you want people to think you are and not because you actually like them? Are you comfortable in your own lifestyle? This is your life, not someone else's. What they think about your life doesn't really matter because they are not living it. Decide to be comfortable in who you are and what you like. Don't keep something because 'they' say you should, keep it because you like it. Having more does not make it seem as though you are wealthy or important, it just means you have more to care for and clean. More often than not, our possessions do say something about us, but it is probably not what we think it is.

6. We keep it because we are afraid. A good friend of mine reminds me that by letting go of something, we are allowing someone else to be blessed by it. She also reminds me that if I ever need something like that again, then God will make sure it shows up in some way. When it comes right down to it, do we really trust God to provide for our needs? When it comes right down to it, we can get a pretty good temperature reading on our faith simply by whether we can let things go if we think there is the slightest possibility that we may need them again in the future. Let me be clear here. I'm not talking about giving away the luggage when you know you will be travelling again. There is the wise keeping of things and not being wasteful with our resources. This is the keeping of things that we do not have a need for, but could imagine one in the future. Hoarders fall into this thinking; the fear that they won't have what they need at some point. Do we trust God enough to allow Him to take care of us?

The first step in paring down an over abundance of possessions is to understand why we feel the need to keep something. Once we can identify that particular items hold, then we can deal with the actual issue, which often has little to do with the item itself. The next steps will be deciding what you actually need and want, so spend some time in preparation really thinking about why you personally hold onto the things you do.


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