Letting Go

By Jeremy McCarthy / September 12, 2011

I recently moved in with my girlfriend. This is a bold move for both of us, being the first time either one of us have lived with another. I packed up myself and my one-bedroom apartment’s worth of belongings and brought them to move in with her and her one-bedroom apartment’s worth of belongings. Some of you will quickly see the romance of the situation — two lovers bringing themselves closer together, two hearts becoming one. But others will see the cold, hard mathematical facts: two one-bedroom apartments full of stuff being crammed into a single one-bedroom apartment!

As romantic as moving in with the one you love may be, it is not without its share of trauma and drama. The most painful part of the process is the act of reducing our inventory of physical belongings to a reasonable level so there is still room in the apartment for other necessary amenities (like air, for example). We became the best friends of Habitat for Humanity as we began to donate half of our stuff including furniture, clothing, dishware, etc. It sounds so noble, giving things away to those less fortunate, and it is. But it doesn’t feel that way when you are doing it only out of necessity and when you struggle to part with each and every item.

Why is it so hard to let stuff go? I didn’t want to part with my sofa, which had hardly been used, and its green color reminded me of the pile of money I had paid for it only two years earlier. I struggled to give up perfectly good kitchen utensils that, while redundant in my new home (which already had a kitchen stocked with even better utensils) could certainly come in handy at some point in the distant future (like when my girlfriend has decided she’s cooked me my last meal and throws me out onto the street). Perhaps the most difficult thing for me was letting go of clothing, each article of which represented another time, another place, or another body size, slightly more svelte than the current.

You don’t realize how attached you have become to your own stuff, until you try to let it go. Giving things up, I truly felt a sense of loss, as if with each asset I was giving away, my self-worth was lessened. I had to remind myself that giving away the brightly colored floral shirts I got in Indonesia did not take away from the time I spent there. Furniture I had bought had served its purpose for a time, and now it could decorate the house of another. I can always afford another sofa (or microwave, or alpaca sweater) should the need arise.

And so, with the help of Habitat for Humanity, I let stuff go. And the amazing thing is, for all the attachments to stuff that we have, once it is gone you don’t miss it. In fact, you feel lighter for having been unburdened. You realize an abundance of time and energy, no longer consumed by the stuff around you. Less things to take care of, less things to worry about, less things to be organized (or if they aren’t organized, less time to sift through stuff in search of other stuff).

If you have some stuff to let go of (and don’t we all), consider these tips to help you make a clean break while cleaning out your closets:

Ask yourself if you will truly miss it. Once something becomes present in our lives we grow attachments to it. The true measure of its importance is in how much we miss it after it is gone. If you haven’t worn it, used it, or read it in over a year, you won’t miss it.

Can someone else get a greater benefit from it? Donate books you have read so others can enjoy them. If you have extra clothing, think of those who don’t have enough. If you have extra furniture, think of those who are without even a home. It never feels good to wastefully dispose of things. Find a good home for your stuff and you will find it easier to part ways.

Enjoy the extra space. Letting go of stuff clears up space both physically and mentally. It’s always nice to have a little extra breathing room.

Somehow it’s easier to accumulate than it is to let go. But once you start letting go, even with something small, it does get easier. In my case, I lost some stuff but grew closer with my girlfriend. I still have plenty more junk jammed into whatever closet space we now share. But “spring cleaning” is just around the corner… and I could use the breathing room.


Jeremy McCarthy

Jeremy McCarthy

Group Director of Spa at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
Jeremy McCarthy is the Group Director of Spa for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group leading their internationally acclaimed luxury spa division featuring 44 world-class spa projects open or under development worldwide. He has over 20 years of experience operating luxury spas in resort and hotel properties worldwide and is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing. You can find more of his writing on his blog at http://psychologyofwellbeing.com.
Jeremy McCarthy

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