Lessons learned from letting go

Life is full of changes, and for me, one of those changes has been accepting that I am changing my focus. I am in week four of an 8-week book club, reading and doing what is recommended in “It’s Not Your Money”, by Tosha Silver. I am leading this as part of my work with DiscoverYourPathU.com.

In chapter/week two, she introduces clearing the clutter. Much like the KonMari method, this is about allowing the things in your home to speak to you. My initial response when I read this was:

“Yes, I’ll go through my kitchen and do some decluttering, and then I’ll get into that linen closet.”

But, the reality was, those hold no real emotional responses for me – they are just things that need some more time and energy in cleaning and clearing.

Books, books, & more books

Emotionally, however, what came up for me as I read the exercise was my law books – 300+ text books that I have accumulated over the past 20 years. Some of those books were from studying for my second law degree (in Spanish, rather than in English), and others from my Master’s Degree.

The reality – these are mostly academic text books which are no longer relevant to what I do in my day-to-day!

In fact, these books are not even relevant as reference books to my life – they are academically insightful, but they are not intended for law practice. Their purpose was served, and finished in 2012 when I received my diploma from my second Master’s Degree. But I failed to let them go.

What was I holding onto so dearly?

Misdirected value

Initially, I explained away my reticence to release and let them go because of their economic value. But the reality is, there were books there from 1985! What economic value? Admittedly, at the time I was studying, I poured hundreds of dollars into building that accumulation of knowledge. Well, okay – thousands.

I poured hours into reading and studying those books, and then writing papers and sitting exams.

These books look impressive on the bookshelf behind my desk.

As I was starting to run out of excuses and reasons to hold onto them, my final excuse was “no one else will appreciate them like I do“. I then came face-to-face with the truth – I wasn’t truly valuing them or appreciating them.

It was simply hoarding.

When was the last time I sat down and read or referred to one of these books? Five years? Ten years? Yes, they were organised and tidy. The only affection and attention they received was when they were cleaned.

Dusting.

Is that true appreciation?

Letting go of dreams that have died

Letting go of dreams that have died

Part of the reality of letting go was that I no longer want to study a doctorate in law. I have no desire to pursue further studies in law, and holding onto these books was simply holding onto a dream that had died long ago.

Yes, I obtained a certain feeling of security by holding onto those books – “proof” of how well-studied I am. But – hey – the diplomas on the wall have a bigger impact than the books do!

And so, I began the process of culling my bookshelves and deciding what I was willing to let go of.

I started with the easiest and most obvious books first – five boxes of books that I had packed up for giving away when I moved offices back in April. I never took the time them to find them new homes.

So, I picked up the first box and photographed each book. I found a site online for giving away things that you no longer need, and posted all of the law books “free to a good home with a law student”. Before the end of the day, the first box of books had already been claimed and picked up!

That made it easier!

People were interested in having these books, if I was interested in parting ways with them. On day two, I managed to photograph and put up two more boxes. And the final two boxes on day three.

Then came the harder part: going through the books that I had kept and thought I would use (and admittedly hadn’t touched since the move in April!).

In particular, I was very unsettled about what to do with some of the volumes of books that I had – these were not simple text books, but complete sets. Inspired by a college student that I spoke with, I called around the local libraries, and one of the law school libraries was interested – they wanted ALL of the sets!

Emotionally, that made a big difference – they would go to a new home where they were cherished and appreciated!

What is holding you back from letting go?

After that, it got really easy to let go of the rest of the books. As I realised what year the books were published and how I had been holding onto the past, I realised that this was no longer part of who I am today and certainly not part of my future!

On the last day, I easily packed up close to 100 books to give away to law students, and they were picked up by the end of that day.

Lessons learned

It’s really easy to get manic or mechanical in decluttering; but I don’t think it’s beneficial. Facing the feelings that I was having while I let go of the books was very revealing. I was able to differentiate between who I was when I bought those books and who I have since become.

I gave myself an opportunity to practice gratitude for each book and set before giving them away, as well as to bless them and the student that would use or receive them. It felt like closure.

Most importantly, it gave me a lot of time to consider who I have become and what my priorities are now. To consider how my hopes and dreams have changed over the past twenty years, especially about studying a doctorate.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have hopes one day of getting a doctorate, but I imagine it will be in philosophy or theology, rather than in law.

The deepest realisation that I had was that I held onto those books as if they somehow impacted my identity – WHO I AM.

Since when do my possessions play a role in my core identity? And yet, they can, if we allow them to.

At the moment, I am three papers away from completing 21 courses of Spiritual Experience and Education, and then continuing with further studies. But, which books will I hold onto in the future from this course of studies? When is the right time to give those away?

I found a new energy and creativity for writing once I gave those books away. Out of nowhere – like I had removed a blockage. By freeing up some of my emotional baggage – possibly even some subconscious identity – I created more space for creativity to blossom.

Final thoughts

If you are considering paring down your possessions – don’t force yourself to do this manically. Set aside a time each day or each weekend “to do a bit”, and give yourself permission to emotionally detach from the memories and feelings that the items bring to the surface.

Be willing to discover new things about yourself as you go through the process – as you discover whether you have emotional attachments or even identity crisis when you are letting go.

Give yourself the time to cut any cords that you have to those items, don’t just throw them away. Thank them for all the ways that they served you and bless them as they leave your home and hopefully find a new use somewhere else.

what can you learn from letting go?

3 comments

  1. I just love. It has made me consider my attachment to particular things in my house. I love that you don’t just declutter and throw them away but you consider what it is they say about you. That has such value. Thank you for sharing. I’m inpsired to declutter my book shelf too!

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