Letting Go of What's Holding You Back
By Brooks Palmer
New World Library Copyright © 2009 Brooks Palmer
All rights reserved.
YOU ARE SACRED —
YOUR THINGS ARE NOT
There is no inherent value in things. Things themselves are neutral, but we ascribe them false value. Things will never make you happy. Nothing, even the most beautiful piece of art, is sacred, except you. When you take care of yourself, you are happy. When you are happy, you don't need anything. You are content. Your life is satisfying. You're not compelled to acquire things to make you happy. You are already enough as you are.
If you are unhappy and you buy something to help you feel better, you are buying into an ad campaign that was designed to part you from your money. You are still unhappy, though temporarily distracted by the thing. When the newness wears off, you feel bad again. This is usually the point at which you acquire something new in an attempt to feel better.
Stop. Add nothing new at this point.
Drop the habit and come back to you. You are enough. You'll see.
Happiness is not an object. It is a subjective state. It is not dependent on things.
Once you start letting go of the clutter that you brought into your home as a distraction, you'll notice yourself becoming very calm. What you were looking for was there all the time — just buried under stuff.
You Need Nothing
You are born with nothing, and you will die with nothing. While you're alive you grasp things hoping they will improve you as a person, give you pleasure, make you win, get you attention. Grasping is a symptom of anxiety — intuitively you know that nothing gives lasting pleasure, that nothing is eternal. You know that things break, lose their luster, or get lost or stolen.
Imagine that you are drowning in the ocean. You are grasping at the objects floating past you to keep afloat. You grasp something, and it slips out of your hand, or you swim toward something and it floats out of your reach. You think it's all over. You are going to sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown. You give up.
But you don't sink. You float. You are able to stay on the surface without anything to assist you. It's a peaceful feeling. You are self-reliant. You don't need anything. You thought you did, but you were wrong. The panic is gone. The anxiety has dissolved. You feel true happiness at just being alive.
This is freedom from clutter. You really don't need anything. It was pure superstition to think otherwise. As you are, you are self-sustaining. This is the place that beauty and joy and love and excitement and adventure emanate from. When you are naturally fulfilled, you can finally enjoy life right now. The neediness that drove you to endlessly acquire and hold on to things was insatiable. Trying to satisfy it through shopping, surface relationships, and misguided attempts at success, manipulation, and control only made you feel worse.
Break the chain of thinking that things will make you happy. When you look closely, you see that they never did or that they gave the illusion of doing so only for a few seconds. Actions based on that hunger only made you even hungrier for more things. The momentum of living that way can be stopped. You can turn it around. When you think about it, it feels impossible. But when you take action, the momentum carries you forward. There's tremendous power in action. Your action, when strongly directed, breaks the inertia of sorrow and depression.
Reading this, you are already turning around. You are changing in a way that is natural to you. Lean in that direction. It will give you what you need. And it will keep giving you that freedom and peace and happiness. Out of habit, the mind may fret about the change. Keep letting go.
Like all of us, you feel low at times. Maybe you turn to a common solution to help you feel better right away: shopping. It doesn't matter if it's online or at the mall. You felt bad and wanted to cheer yourself up. You remembered all the ads you saw on TV or in magazines in which someone got some product and felt so much better, or you remembered something from your past that cheered you up and you wanted that thing again. You want to be that happy. Now.
But you weren't thinking clearly when you were out buying. So whatever you bought was flawed. It's not going to be something you need. Things do not contain the ingredients to make you happy. If you're feeling bad, maybe you need to reflect on your life, take it easy, and be nicer to yourself. Slowing down and reflecting can help change your state of mind. And it's free! You will not get a Visa card statement for it a month from now. I'm not saying that we can't buy ourselves new shoes if we need them, or that treating ourselves from time to time is not okay. Rather, this is about becoming more deeply aware of what is truly essential in the moment.
Another way to reflect is to think of a time when you absolutely had to possess some object. You felt a rush of excitement just thinking about having it. It was almost painful not to have this thing. When you got it, suddenly there was fulfillment and joy. The joy came not from getting the object but from the relief of letting go of the pain of wanting. When a terrible pain ends, isn't there great joy? This comes from the gratitude for the ceasing of pain.
Watch your experience of wanting something. Really feel it — it's uncomfortable. You feel things will not be okay until you have the item. Then be aware of how you feel when you get the thing. The needing subsides. There is peace of mind. Getting the thing didn't give you joy. The happiness comes from calming your mind. Advertising and misguided memories create your mind-set of wanting and needing. The desire is created through amazingly powerful psychological manipulation. You have been hypnotized into a state of pain, and the antidote is revealed to you: the object for sale. "This object will alleviate your suffering."
But you are complete and happy as you are. The idea of terrible lack was introduced into your awareness by ads and unhappy people — maybe you — and suddenly you felt terribly incomplete and had to resolve it. That's why it's hard to get rid of things: you bought the item thinking it would make you better. If you get rid of it, you think you're losing something that makes you a better person. But that's a mirage. You're doing better than you think.
Only Your Peace of Mind Is Sacred
I'm effective at clutter busting because I believe that nothing is sacred except your happiness and peace of mind.
You come to me with two things: complaints about your life and extreme attachment to your things. You have convinced yourself that everything you have is of value to you. Your attachment to the clutter keeps you from seeing its harmful effects. But remember: things are functional. Their job is to make your life easier or to increase your level of fun. Things become clutter when they no longer achieve either of those results. If you keep them, you are then working for your clutter. You work hard to pay the mortgage or rent so you can have a place to store your clutter. You are overwhelmed.
Since you are now my client, I'm going to help you sort out the nonessentials so you can let them go and simplify your life. Simplicity is happiness.
First ask yourself, What is most valuable?
Nothing is irreplaceable, except your peace of mind. It's your best asset.
You may feel that something you own is irreplaceable. But that's because you've told yourself it is.
What if you never owned it?
What if you never heard of it?
What about the things you don't own now?
What's important to you?
What's essential to you?
Watch kids play. Often they will forfeit expensive toys and make up games out of sticks or paper or simply play make-believe. You've been tricked into believing that expensive toys are more fun. Become a child again.
Your Home Is Like a Fridge
To become open to your life again, start by taking an honest look around. The following analogy will help you focus your awareness.
You have food in your refrigerator. Some of it might be spoiled. It was once fresh, but over time it went bad. The spoiled food makes the fresh food seem spoiled. So you go out to eat. Your home is like a fridge. The stuff inside is both fresh and spoiled. The fresh things are the items that still suit your life, things that are useful and make your life better. The spoiled things are items that you don't need or use. They take up space and become stagnant. They may have been spoiled when you brought them home, or maybe they were fresh and went bad over time. The spoiled stuff spoils your life, so you find excuses to leave the house; you may never even want to be home. Or you spend a lot of time at home, depressed and confused. Now is the time to toss the spoiled stuff and start enjoying your life. This is about taking care of you.
Do You Have Enough for Three People?
But it can be hard to take care of yourself when you're inundated with stuff. Even though we never even use most of our things, many of us desire even more. "If I had the DVD player ... If I had the Lexus ... If I just had the partner and a baby ... then I'd be happy."
In the future we will be able to own an entire store. Whenever we feel lonely or depressed, we'll go to our store, pick something out of the thousands of items, and take it home. Then we'll come back an hour later. Well, the future is now. Stores give the illusion that they are there for you. "Whatever you need, come and get it. We're so happy to stay open for you." That's essentially how company websites operate. If things actually made a big difference in your life, you wouldn't need very much. You'd buy something and feel great for a very long time. When you're honest with yourself, you realize you never get a lasting feeling from any item.
That is because your life has meaning, and the things in your life don't. Visit a garage sale. The stuff there used to mean a lot to the person selling it. Rather than tossing or donating it and quickly moving on, they're now trying to give it away for fifty cents. In some ways, this is an attempt to show that the item is still worth something to them.
Anything can seem valuable to you. But that's only the meaning you place on it. It was your choice to give it value.
The value is in your imagination. You fuel it with your grip.
Hey, at one time you believed in Santa Claus.
Perspective is freedom. It's right now.
Clutter Is Inorganic
Before I started clutter busting, I used to bartend. I would go to people 's homes and make drinks for their parties. One guy was throwing a big bash for his best friend's birthday, and many guests were in attendance. This guy had a huge, expensive sound system, and he was preoccupied with getting the music just right. The guests didn't notice. They were busy talking with one another.
It came time to light the birthday candles. The guy's wife told everyone to go to the living room for the event. The guy said he'd be right there, but he kept fiddling. I could hear all the action in the living room. People were applauding the cake. The guy's wife called to him from the other room to come join her, "right now." The guy called back that he'd be right there. I could hear the reaction to the candles being blown out. Then the guests drifted back into the bar area. The guy was still fixing the sound system. The wife was very angry with her husband. He ignored her.
This is a great example of how people get fixated on things that don't contribute to their well-being. They get caught up in clutter. They don't even recognize what they are doing or why. I'm willing to bet that most of your life is caught up in this kind of activity in one form or another.
The things that move and inspire you are fertilizer. They make your life blossom. Clutter, however, is inorganic. Nothing grows from its existence — not anything we can love, that is. One day we end up looking at all the crap we've accumulated and sadly realize we are barely alive in an infertile field.
Loosen your grip on the meaningless. Take to the open road — who knows where it will lead?
Placing Clutter Higher Than You
Here is a good example of becoming so invested in material things that we don't notice when their value has long expired. One of my clients had a photo of a man on her dresser. I felt compelled to ask who he was. She smiled and told me it was her guru, saying, "He is amazing!" On the floor next to her dresser was a pile of old dirty clothes. Under the clothes were some papers. When I picked them up, they felt emotionally heavy. They were clutter.
When I asked her about the papers, she turned pale and breathed deeply. She didn't want to look at them — another clue that they were clutter. After some questioning, she told me they were from a yoga course she took a year ago. The photo on her dresser was of her teacher. I asked her if the papers were important to her, or could she let them go. She looked pensive and seemed burdened. She confessed to me that she was not very spiritual; she felt she could never be good enough.
I asked, "According to whom?" It was odd for her to hear this. She was not used to questioning an unhealthy belief.
She said, "According to the course." She said that everyone in the class did really well but her.
I said, "According to your comparison of yourself to other people in a class — according to some paper and questions arranged by that guy — according to your assessment of the way a few other people live, you have decided to feel crappy about your life."
She looked relieved, so I continued, "You're feeling down because you are trying to shape your life in a way a few others are attempting to live rather than letting yourself intuitively decide what is appropriate for you. The only real spirituality is letting yourself flow — naturally, in tune with your innate abilities." I told her she would only lose herself if she compared herself to others and that her pain came from trying to force a lifestyle dictated by others.
I watched as she recognized her clutter. She threw the papers in the recycling bin, and then she threw out the photo of the guru. She looked light and happy. She was beaming. She had made space for her heart to expand, and it did.
As you look at your things, notice when something makes you feel cramped or tired or when it drags you down. What does it do to your energy? Is it holding you back? Ask what significance you've given the thing. Often by asking and being open, you can define an object's worth to you. If it has no value to you, toss it. Now.
WE ASSUME FALSE IDENTITIES IN CLUTTER
You have an addiction. You are hooked on identifying with your things, on seeing them as representative of who you are.
If you are like many people, then you tend to identify with the labels associated with things: jobs, hobbies, whether you are married or single, and personal habits (you're a smoker, a nonsmoker, an early bird, a night owl). But those things aren't you because you are constantly changing. Yet you are addicted to describing what you are. That's why it's hard to let go of the things, the labels. If you really looked at who you are, without the professional and personal nouns, you would see that by nature you are very simple. Who you really are requires no support. You can enjoy things, but you don't need them.
You're doing better than you think you are. You are a unique brand — a unique identity.
Tossing Out Self-Blame
If you are feeling ashamed of your addiction, remember that your clutter situation is not entirely your fault. Billions of advertising dollars are spent every year to get you to feel that your life is worthless unless you buy things, whether or not you actually need them. You have been ambushed, continually, for years and decades.
What's the anatomy of an ad? A person is sad and lacks something. Suddenly a product is introduced into her life. The music gets louder and stronger, and the colors brighter. The actor portraying the person becomes happy.
When you are subjected to this thousands of times a year, you start to feel that "Things make me happy. Whatever I buy will change my life. Go, go, go out and get something, now!" You are driving somewhere — probably to buy something — and out of the corner of your eye you spot a billboard that plants a subconscious buying command in your brain. The same thing happens with magazines, product names on clothing, newspapers, designer labels, even movies with product placement ads. You are living in a society that has been programmed to think of buying as a way of life. You see everyone living this way, and you have not been taught to question this unsatisfying behavior. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Clutter Busting by Brooks Palmer. Copyright © 2009 Brooks Palmer. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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