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Letting go: Learning an essential life skill


September is back to school season, and heralds changes in households up and down the country. In this post, organiser Jodi Sharpe of The 25th Hour contemplates the back to school season and explores the opportunities for teaching the valuable lesson of letting go.

The start of a new school year

For those with kids, the start of a new school year is not only a busy period but also one with plenty of emotion attached to it. Whether your little one is entering the school system for the first time, or your “not so little” one is returning to complete their final year, it can be a source of both pleasure and pain. The passing of time is brought into sharp focus. When I see all those first day back pics on social media, I hear myself repeating my own mother: “How did that happen?”, “The years are rushing by”, “How did they get that big?”, etc.

Each age brings a new stage and a little more “letting go”. In this post I’d like to explore how dealing with the “things” your children no longer need can be managed in a positive way for both the parent and the kid. Letting go is a life skill that CAN be learnt. Making it part of your family life will ease your day-to-day living and make tricky transition times and difficult events such as moving home, illness and break ups a little easier to cope with.

A build-up of “things” can be a real burden. It’s not just the physical result of too much stuff, but also the emotional weight it puts on a person.

young person holding school books

Making room

“Letting go” makes more room for other stuff, and I don’t mean more things! When my teenage daughter shifted from a high sleeper to a regular double bed recently, she also had a pretty major declutter of her walls. Some of the pics, medals and “creations” had been around since she was in primary school. Yep, they are lovely but they’re not a reflection of who she is or the way she wants to be right now. Some bits we popped into a memory box, but most have been moved on. She’s now really enjoying flopping on her bed, reading and just chillin’ in there! There’s also plenty of SPACE to add meaningful bits and pieces as the next stage in her life unfolds.

Leo Babauta, author of “Zen Habits”, talks of letting go of possessions as “delicious and liberating”. He identifies a process that most of us follow in letting go:

Our own particular route might raise a few more questions, some nagging doubts and possibly some procrastination too. Some will find getting past number 3 easier than others.

Decision making

At times we’re afraid of making the wrong decision. “What if I let it go and then I NEED it?” is such a common thought. This can be magnified when we are looking at other people’s items, especially our children’s. There is usually no WRONG decision. From letting things go we might learn how to find an alternative solution, how to go without or simply accept that it’s just not that important.

Why not think of it as an opportunity for growth, as well as an unexpected surprise? It’s OK if you don’t get it quite right. In fact, that can be a pretty desirable outcome.

Getting back to Babauta, he goes on to explain that every possession gives us something more than just practicality. What he’s talking about are the things like comfort, security, love and even self-image. It is NOT the items which have these properties – it is within YOU. When we understand this, it can help us to make those really tricky decisions.

Untangling feelings

Let’s think of another example. Last year I worked with a single mum and son (aged around 8). My client had recognised for some time that there was simply too much stuff in most of the rooms in their house but she couldn’t quite pin down why she struggled to part with things. Together we decided that her bedroom would be the first room to be tackled and tamed.

Once we started, we moved surprisingly swiftly. Over just a few sessions, she started to untangle the feelings she associated with the items. There was make up she had held onto for security in case she couldn’t afford to buy more, not because she was actually going to wear it. There were partly-completed craft projects which she felt she SHOULD be doing, projects which added to her self image but were no longer important enough to be on her ‘to do’ list.

Then there were mementos from a very different period in her life which she thought she gleaned love from but which were actually dragging her back into the past. When thinking about what to keep and what should stay, it became increasingly clear to her that she no longer needed to hold onto physical items to feel safe or loved, or to bolster her self-esteem. Her bedroom was transformed.

colourful toys arranged on a white background

With this new-found energy and insight we were then able to move onto her son’s room. Whilst this was a slower process, we still made substantial progress to a warm, comfy, fun and pretty well organised space. We used some tools to aid the declutter – taking photos of special stuff which was going, transferring the REALLY precious items to a memory box and focusing on the benefit to others of the donations which would be made. At the end of our work together, both mother and son said that they felt refreshed and happy with their “new” rooms. This is the joy of letting go.

Embracing the present

In conclusion, we are sometimes AFRAID to let go. We often focus on the past rather than being in the moment. When we embrace the present, we can find the courage to let go. Establishing our honest response as to “why” we (or our child) wants to keep something is not easy to do, but with practice it really does get easier! This in turn, allows us to move forward in achieving our decluttering and organising desires for both ourselves and our children.

If Jodi’s post has inspired you to make some changes in your own home, you can find your local professional organisers here.

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