Last weekend I helped an acquaintance with way too much stuff move to a different home. That process brought some essential life lessons into sharper focus for me.
Lessons about the danger of holding on too long.
Lessons about the freedom of letting go of things that no longer serve us.
Carol’s life is a lot like yours and mine – filled with good decisions and some pretty crappy ones too. And those bad choices led to starting over. . .
Unfortunately, she’s clinging desperately to the material things representing her old life. A life whose doors have slammed shut and will never, ever open again.
There are closets crammed full of clothes that no longer fit.
Four complete sets of china stacked in a corner of the bedroom.
Boxes of old stuffed animals.
Special cups for drinking cocoa on Christmas morning.
Sadly Carol’s hoping for a genie to pop out of a bottle to grant her wishes.
Or maybe some pixie dust that will magically let her return to the past, a past that’s gone.
Life Lesson #1: You can’t control the future or bring back the past by clinging tightly to the things you own. Before you realize it, your stuff controls you.
There was no way to organize all those things or even find places to put them in Carol’s new dwelling.
The best we could do was pile everything up haphazardly filling every available space. There was little room left to move around, much less attempt to build a new life.
Don’t get me wrong here. I love my mementos just as much as you do. Keeping a few special ones sparks beautiful memories. Mementos are one thing.
All the extra baggage we haul around, that’s something else entirely.
And that baggage is more than just stuff.
It’s the festering resentments we can’t seem to let go of.
Of not being good enough.
Fear of those not like us.
That maybe the “good life” is out of our reach.
It’s burning anger toward anyone who disagrees with our particular political point of view.
Hatred born of prejudices and lies.
That’s a lot of baggage to haul around every day.
And if we’re not careful, it takes over all the space in our lives.
We all need a bit of “empty space” — space where we can relax and think and create. Space to contemplate. To reflect on where we’ve been. Where we want to go. How we want to show up every day. What we can contribute to building a better world.
“Empty space” gives us a bit of shelter from life’s storms.
A place of calm.
A place to stop and rest for a little while.
How would your life be different if you shed some of that extra baggage? What if you had a little more “empty space” in your life?
Life Lesson #2: Clinging too long to our past tethers us to a life that no longer exists. Lingering on the last pages of the closed chapters means never writing new ones.
My life was oh so different years ago.
Work consumed 10-12 hours every day.
Grab and go meals.
But there were also fancy dinners, the theater, and elegant evenings dancing with my husband ‘til the wee hours of the morning dressed in slinky sequined ball gowns.
Jeans and T-shirts are pretty much my daily “uniform” now. Life has changed. And that’s OK. Actually, it’s more than OK. This new chapter in my life is pretty darn good but I have to admit, the transition was exactly smooth.
Clinging to the past is about much more than the material stuff we hold on to. It locks us in a place that doesn’t fit any more.
Just like a butterfly struggles to emerge from it’s cocoon to become the beautiful winged creature it’s meant to be, letting go frees us from our own cocoons.
Life Lesson #3: The memories will always be there. Learning to let go of what we no longer need is like hitting “refresh.”
For too many years, those dresses claimed lots of space in my closet. When I finally decided it was time to donate them, I didn’t lose the memories those lovely gowns conjured up.
And sending them on to be part of some other woman’s special moments created another happy memory.
But getting rid of things turns out to be much easier than letting go of preconceptions, intolerance, and biases. That’s where the real struggle is.
Learning to be less judgmental and more open.
Learning to discriminate between facts and opinions, between truth and lies — even when it shakes up our world views.
But that’s how we grow into better people, isn’t it?
That’s how we write those new chapters in our lives.
Life Lesson #4: Life should be about a whole lot more than things.
The best part of life isn’t found in the stuff we buy or the kind of cars we drive or the size of our bank balances.
Things are nice to have but character and relationships are what truly count.
The things that money can’t buy, no matter how many Benjamins you’ve got.
How we treat each other.
What we’re doing to make the world just a little bit better.
Getting up every day and doing the best we can, knowing that some days we’ll screw up royally and other days we’ll get it right.
Looking for the good, the hopeful, the beautiful.
And knowing that by seeking those things, we will find them.
10,000 Butterflies is dedicated to planting hope and growing change. Every one of us has the power to create positive change — in our own lives and in the lives of others. Together we can solve problems and build stronger communities. 10,000 Butterflies is a place to connect with others making good things happen, to find resources, to be inspired and to celebrate what connects us instead of what divides us.
Please join us.
Bonnie Pond is the founder of the 10,000 Butterflies Project and author of The Power of Three: How to be Happy and Get What You Want in Life (Without Doing Anything Illegal, Immoral, or Unethical) and Unlock Your Creativity: 30 Days to a More Creative YOU!