For the past three months I’ve been playing a game with my brother-in-law, Tom, where we text each other every time we clear and organize some part of our home.
I’ve cleaned out basement closets; he’s emptying his garage. I’ve donated old shoes and clothes; he’s organized thousands of pages of sheet music into three-ring binders. I’ve given away treasured items on our community freecycle page; he’s also used social media to sell several pieces of musical equipment he’s held on to for years.
This morning, while talking about our progress, we compared notes both in terms of the process and how it’s changing our lives.
Tom’s decided there are three steps to tackling a project. The first step is to remove the low-hanging fruit – the stuff you know you need to let go of.
Next is the “why did I keep this the first time” step where you go back to the same spot and let go of more stuff because you feel motivated having completed step one.
The third step is the hardest, what Tom calls “time to have a come-to-Jesus conversation with myself.” During this step he asks:
Why am I keeping this?
Does this really add value to my life?
Am I just hanging on to history?
Tom, who’s a musician, says, “I’m a nostalgic guy and letting go of an old piece of musical equipment felt like killing a memory until I realized the memory is in my head and I don’t need to keep the physical item anymore.”
For me, I found this last step hard as well because certain items felt important. For instance, I had a tough time letting go of a beautiful pair of shoes given to me as a gift even though I’d only worn them once in the last three years. When I asked myself why I was hanging on to this piece of history, I learned something valuable: The shoes held some kind of unexpressed energy that still needed a place in my life – a desire to get dressed up more.
So I kept the lesson and the shoes .
The big win for Tom and me has been in how good we both feel as our spaces are being cleared, organized, and simplified. We feel emotionally free knowing that we won’t leave a mess behind for our spouses should something happen to us first.
We feel inspired to do even more because of the progress we’ve made. We feel happier while at home. Just looking at a completed project makes us feel good.
Tom admitted, “I still open my tool cabinet now and then just to admire how well-organized it looks and to remind myself that I can easily find what I need.”
I feel the same way about my laundry room.
And then there’s the energy. We both had no idea the negative impact that hanging on to old stuff had inflicted on our lives. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, we’ve been beating ourselves up for procrastinating and keeping too much clutter around. These negative voices are now being replaced with positive thoughts of joy and ease as we learn to live simply and elegantly with less stuff.
I’m excited for Tom because this will be the first winter in years that he’ll be able to put his car in the garage!
And I’m excited for me, too, because I have a buddy to celebrate with along the way.
Which brings me to the biggest lesson of all: Don’t do tough stuff alone. And make it fun. Joining forces with Tom has allowed me to make more progress in three months than I have in three years and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Thanks so much, Tom . Now on to my garage… .
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