A while ago, I met a childhood friend and after a few minutes of conversation, I realized…she needed to stay in my childhood. She was gossiping about people I didn’t remember and I felt like I was stuck in a high school, “mean girl” moment. When she finally said “let’s stay in touch” I dodged her statement like a superstar in a dodge-ball game.
After this encounter, I realized that some people and some things you outgrow. And when you recognize it, you need to let it go— no explanation needed. That old furniture just doesn’t fit in your new house and bringing it along will just create clutter.
Clutter is tricky and subjective. We are all a collection of diverse needs and what appears to be insignificant to one may be significant and motivation to another. What some see as disorder, others may see as creative chaos. Is this a distinction without a difference? Or an attempt to fill a void for what isn’t there? Personally, I prefer order because I believe that clutter (emotional or physical) can prevent you from seeing what is really in your life or maybe what is missing:
- A family friend was dealing with an aggressive form of cancer. After going through a divorce she was downsizing to a smaller home. I suggested she release the burden and focus on her health by selling the furniture that she couldn’t take with her versus storing it. She recoiled like I struck her and said “No!” I later realized that what I saw as expensive clutter ($300-$400K worth of home furnishing) that she could sell to pad her savings during her lengthy treatment, she saw as her identity.
- A casual acquaintance who was in her late-30s told me she remembered every hurtful thing someone did to her, dating back to grade school. She started detailing an incident that happened in 2nd grade. I asked her why she was holding on to what a 2nd grader said and she responded “because you never know when it’s your turn for payback.”
- When I was 19, I decided to buy a sports car because to me it represented excitement and awesome cool points. I excitedly purchased it on Monday, but by Wednesday I was over it and looking at another car which I couldn’t afford.
Experience taught me that external things (i.e., physical clutter) can’t drive your life because they are replaceable. What’s tough is you can’t change what you don’t recognize and lessons don’t have an age requirement.
What was harder to learn was how to replace or get rid of my “people” clutter. I had a bad habit of holding on emotionally to situations and people that weren’t in my best interest. Like most, I have been disappointed and hurt, but holding on to it was counterproductive. As I grew older, having peace-of-mind was important to me—so I learned how to release the details (people/situations) and remember the lesson.
Over time you will continue to outgrow people, things and situations. Recognizing this is one thing, but doing something about it is another.
Keeping people and things in your life that are of no use or that you have outgrown may be a distraction that keeps you from focusing on what should really matter in your life. My childhood friend, for example, isn’t a bad person, but she’s stuck—and I don’t want to be stuck with her. Life’s excess in many forms can cover a multitude of things and one of them is the unhealthy existence of growing old without actually growing up.
Learning the difference between your distractions and the cause (why you are holding on) may keep you from continuing to circle your life looking to land versus dealing with what’s on the ground or in front of you.
Written by: Gwendolyn M. Ward, Principal at FOOW?