Regret and the Fear of Letting Go: Part 3 of Over-Eating, Hoarding and Shopping Addiction
Regrets, I’ve Had a Few…
After I went on a clutter purge, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I was shocked that discarding could have the emotional charge that it did. I had all sorts of phrases circulating around my mind that were all filled with “what if…”, “but maybe…”, “suppose I need to…” and the all-pervasive “what if I regret it?”. I felt unsafe. I now truly understood that feeling of intense vulnerability that people describe when they have suddenly lost a lot of weight. Thankfully, I was able to wade through that vulnerability and I saw that it was coupled with a sense of liberation-even empowerment. Each time I wanted to cling to some ridiculous knick knack that rendered me almost paralyzed with nostalgia I reminded myself that I still have a working memory, as well as photographs. I was surprised that once I did discard the object I inflated the memory. I spoke about this last week in my post on the Mind-Body-Space Connection.
In her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo in no way advises giving away everything sentimental; she advises to keep only what brings you joy today. I ditched the prom dresses because I loved them once. I kept the wedding dress because I love it still-and sometimes I still put it on for fun. Yet there were a lot of objects that I was attached to for sentimental reasons, but no longer brought me joy. I let go of those. It wasn’t easy.
Letting Go of the Person You Were – It’s not in Your Outfit Anyways … It’s in Your Heart
I have been hanging onto hippie dresses, bags and jewelry for eons because while I love them still, they do not bring me joy. I don’t wear them. I don’t feel right wearing them; it feels like a costume from my past. My style has changed—evolved. It was hard to accept that I had moved past that because a part of me felt like a conformist, a sell-out.
I was reminded of a conversation that a friend (who was once a pretty hardcore punk) and I had about how our style has changed. We came to the conclusion that who are is not in our outfits, but how we live our lives. We don’t need those ‘costumes’ anymore; the philosophies that those phases in our life infused in us, shaped and deeply ingrained who we are today. We don’t need labels. In fact, I tend to run from labels as an adult. Whoever I believe myself to be is not in what I wear or what I own—it’s in my heart.
Your Memories are Bigger than Your Objects
Next I had to tackle the letters, the small tokens of places I have been, and the memories of what I have done. I had to remind myself that my memories with my best friend in grade 8 are so much bigger than a box she gave me when she moved away. Prom and high school graduation cannot be contained in a dress. Friendships are not diluted because I discarded bags and bags of old letters. Kondo talks about this in her book–that we cling to the past or fear the future through are attachment to our objects.
I began to realize my objects were starting to own me. It wasn’t just the nostalgic objects that had me. The everyday clothes, the CD’s I never listen to, the books I might want to skim again. They were all so tempting to hang on to just in case; it wasn’t the fear that I would need them–it was the fear of regret. What if I miss them? Maybe I will. Just as I miss people and good times. I’ll learn to cherish their existence instead.
Real regret is when you turn down a free vacation to the Bahamas. Daily life is full of regrets. I regret not meditating last night. I regret staying up late this week. I regret on a daily basis. I can recover from those regrets: I am bigger than them. I am bigger than the false sense of safety that my objects provided. Kondo assures that her clients never complain about their sudden and extreme discarding; she doesn’t deny that they occasionally say they regret throwing something away, but they learn to problem solve and life becomes simpler and easier without them despite the odd inconvenience of ‘small regrets’.
Extreme Weekend Discarding A.K.A. Meditation Retreat
I was a little bit annoyed when Kondo recommended that the discarding process should be extreme and all at once. Of course you likely can’t do it in a day or even two, but she does not advise dragging it out. This is the only way to get the dramatic transformation as well as the therapeutic effect. As I pondered on this more I guessed that a sudden, extreme purge teaches us to fine tune our intuition and prevents resistance masked as such excuses as ‘I don’t have time to get to that right now. I’ll just put it on pause’.
She advises starting with the categories she recommends, clothes first and sentimental objects last. Kondo describes discarding as a process of developing your intuition about yourself and about what brings you joy. I have written before about how we are so disconnected from our body and mind that we often aren’t connected to our body’s cues and authentic needs. In my Mind-Body Eating Program, I teach how to reconnect and restore the mind-body connection. I saw the KonMari Method of discarding and tidying as a way to further extend my mind-body connection by finely tuning my intuition and self-awareness of what no longer serves me and what brings me joy.
Within three days I had nearly purged everything in my house. I won’t pretend that it was fun; it was messy, dusty, discouraging and the initial mess was unsettling, to say the least. Half way through it dawned on me that discarding was much like a moving meditation. Despite the belief that the meditative state is peaceful and calm, meditation can bring up all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I am sitting with a ball of rage or anxiety for a good 10 minutes thinking “where are you ‘inner peace?’” and then I remind myself that meditation brings up all the gunk from the subconscious mind and it’s not always the peaceful state we expect. If we don’t allow it and stay with it, it cannot be released.
Letting Go Even When You Don’t Feel Ready
I believe that we are more inclined to hang onto objects that relate to memories or stories we have not healed. We often struggle to discard objects that no longer serve us because we are also hanging onto those old stories, the pain, the drama—the past. This reminded me of the saying that ‘you have to feel it, to heal it’. Decluttering is the same. We have to let go of things our ego is not ready for (and may never be). In life we often have a hard time letting go of toxic people and painful experiences. Forcing ourselves to let go and forgive is usually counterproductive. Honouring and celebrating the story, the person or the object for their purpose (even if it was a painful one) is at the heart of letting go. Once we acknowledge its purpose, we can let it go.
Drudging up the university textbooks and notes, the leftover wedding invitations and the maternity clothes was just as uncomfortable, but I knew I had to stay with the mess to finally get rid of it instead of hiding it back in the basement where I didn’t have to look at it again. This might seem a stretch, but think of your basement like your subconscious. If your basement is a mess of disorganized clutter and useless objects, I’m willing to bet the same is true of your subconscious. So clean that shit up! Remember: as above, so below; as within, so without.
By the time the stuff was in boxes, I already felt lighter, clearer and calmer. Everywhere I walked there was space between the objects that I needed and loved, there was organization: my house was simple, but I still had everything I needed. I have to admit when I looked at my tidy drawers, cupboards and shelves I was inclined to think “OMG I have turned into one of those controlly neat-freaks!” I quickly reminded myself of the difference between organization which re-enforces mindfulness and O.C.D. organization which is based on the need to control the environment to feel safe.
Hoarding and Discarding – Is Your Primal Brain Calling the Shots?
I imagine we are inclined to hang onto stuff since for most of the human existence we did not have enough. In his mind-body eating weight-loss book, The Gabriel Method, Jon Gabriel talks about how the primal brain will cause us to hang onto fat if it feels unsafe—any kind of stress, not just a lack of calories, can cause our body to slow down our metabolism in order to survive the crisis. Gabriel describes how any kind of stress can trigger our primal brain’s alarm bells that there is a crisis and to preserve resources: job stress, marital crisis, parenting challenges etc. While I’m no evolutionary psychologist I’m willing to bet that if the above sends of alarm bells then our primal brain definitely sends off alarm bells when we start throwing stuff away. That’s lack mentality kicking in. Don’t let your primal brain override your higher self. Remind yourself it’s safe to let go and move forward.
Lack Mentality – Conservation and Thrift Redefined
We don’t have to go back to the cave days to understand where this came from. Many of us absorbed our parents and grandparents lack mentality of “you never know”. This was a value system of thrift and conservation that developed as a result of the Great Depression and even further back when there genuinely was a lack of basic essentials.
Neo-Thrifting and Conservation
The fact is that today we have more stuff than ever before and instead of making life simple (which is what inventions are supposed to do) we have complicated life with too much of a good thing. I think we still need to value thrift and conservation—our consumption is destroying the planet after all, but we need to reform it. I buy plenty at thrift shops. I’m a huge fan of Kijiji and I’m getting better at making stuff last. Hanging onto useless stuff that we will never use only creates clutter and weighs us down. That’s far from environmental; donating a hoarded possession that someone was going to buy brand-new is my idea of 21st century conservation and thrift.
Learning to let go is likely one of the plights of the human condition. Once we can let go of objects, we can also learn to let go of stories we tell ourselves, painful experiences that no longer serve us, as well as people for whom we have outgrown. Letting go of the past is the only way to make enough room for the future and discover what we truly love and want in our life. Kondo explains there are only so many things we can love. If we live in clutter then we cannot even begin to see what brings us joy.
I know both myself and others tend to do this as much with people as with objects. In the past I have found myself constantly returning to a relationship or friendship that no longer served me—not because we had an argument or a conflict, but because we had outgrown each other. Yet I boomeranged back to them a few times until I realized, the past is in the past. Meditation is often compared to peeling the layers off an onion to get to the core of our truth and who we are. Discarding, like meditation, can be painful and provoke some uneasy feelings because we are forced to let go of who we thought we were.
The Purge: And it’s Side-Effects
As my home holds less of who we are not as a family and only what we love, I can’t help but notice that my mindfulness and gratitude grows in turn. Instead of shoving a shirt in a drawer, I mindfully take the time to fold it (KonMari style) and place it in its home. This slows me down. I need that because my instinct has always been to do things quickly. I talk fast, write fast, read fast, work fast–but fast is often not mindful. The more I slow down, the more calm and present I am in my life (and the less I need to tear the house apart to find a set of keys).
The other side-effect I noticed is that my shopping has become more mindful. I am more careful when I am shopping about what I want to bring into my home. Do I love this enough or am I buying it because it’s ‘a sale’ and ‘you can’t go wrong‘. Is it a sale that I feel like I cannot refuse? Am I buying it because it kind of looks like that thing I want? Am I settling or compromising? Am I being impatient? Will I actually use this or is it a novelty because I’ve had a bad day? Do I already have three black shirts that are almost identical?
Nobody is perfect and I am in no way saying I won’t go on shopping sprees, but my goal is to buy only the things I love as opposed to because they are on sale, because I compromised or because I needed to fill up an emptiness inside of me. I don’t expect to become a discarding or shopping Buddha. I will be careless and forget all about mindfulness sometimes, but I intend to approach it in the same way I approach mindful eating. Mistakes are teachers; practice makes progress.