What can you learn from your clutter and unfinished business?
For one of my clients, (I’ll call him Sam) it was profound what several boxes of books sitting in his office brought to light. These books had found their way to him through someone’s estate. For whatever reason, the original owner, never having found a suitable home for the books, felt that Sam was the right person to inherit something she could not let go.
This is what we do. We can’t let go of something, so we try to find someone to whom we can give it. Then we can feel good about placing the stuff somewhere “useful.” Often, though, we are just passing our burden along to another. The recipient co-creates the misery by being unable to say no to the offering, or desperate plea, however it is perceived.
Sam, in turn, felt that the library should take these books, but the librarian didn’t want them. There was a bit of a standoff, which the librarian won. Sam was left with the boxes of books and the decision of what to do with them, where to donate them, etc. Like many busy professionals, he procrastinated and the energetic presence of the books in his environment created ongoing anxiety and served as a reminder of his frustration with the librarian.
Sam put it so eloquently, “This is just a story that didn’t end the way I wanted it to and I dragged it out. The fact is, it ended, and I just need to treat it as such and move on. We have a tendency to stop living if our whole self isn’t moving forward. “
Think about it. All the items in boxes, in storage, on shelves gathering dust, waiting for repair, waiting to be used, to find new homes that are piling up day after day because we can’t come to grips with the fact that their time has passed. Whatever and whomever they are associated with (whether another person or an old you), is gone; is an old story.
What if each of these items represents some way that we stopped living along the way; some way in which a piece of us got left behind and hasn’t yet caught up, leaving us feeling less than whole?
As Sam and I dove deeper, he discovered a tape he’s been running in his head since he was very young. It was a kind of rule of thumb he’d followed all these years. I won’t tell you his, but I will make up something similar for illustration: Don’t rock the boat and keep everyone smiling.
This is what we call a fundamental choice. It is a decision we make when we are very young that becomes a rule we follow in life without ever questioning its current validity. Once I uncover these with a client, we can look at it with an adult perspective and fashion a new, more useful fundamental choice for the client to carry forward (and in many ways, the new choice is what carries the client forward).
Other things revealed in exploring clutter, incomplete projects, etc. are basic beliefs that have to do with what you think of yourself and your place in the world; beliefs and rules that impact every aspect of your life. These are generally unconscious but running the show. Also revealed might be old identities and self-images that no longer serve you.
When you awaken to the energetic drag encapsulated in these seemingly innocuous boxes of old stuff, you stand a fighting chance of becoming free.
Becoming free releases the bits and pieces of you held hostage in the old story to come and join you in the here and now where you can be whole and create a new story that speaks to who you are now and who you are becoming. A new story begs new beliefs, new choices, new identities and images, new perspectives. It’s not that you have to make up all of these from scratch (unless that’s your preference). You are already here and you can already vision what’s next. The story you are writing is your choice. You are already on your way. You just need to lovingly and rigorously invite the outdated you to catch up.
Make a list of all of the things you own that you want to get rid of, but have not. Don’t worry about the reason for not releasing them yet, just make the list. Make sure to include items of clothing in your closets and drawers.
Add to the list all incomplete projects
Add to the list the people in your life with whom you have a wobbly relationship; not sure you are still friends, stay in touch with half-heartedly.
Add anything else that fits in similar categories for you.
After you have your list, take a broad general overview of it and ask yourself : What 2 or 3 main themes are revealed in this list? An example might be: college related, scarcity related (might need it some day), old relationships/lovers related.
Then write a brief story that is the OLD story associated with these things. Just a paragraph or two will do. This is not a literary work of art. An example might be: High School and College Athlete that weighed 20 lbs less. Spent all his spare time training. Proud of his letterman jacket. Found his identity in being an athlete.
Then, ask yourself, what parts of me are being borrowed or held hostage by that old story? Write down those parts of you. Perhaps it is the lover or maybe it is the artist or the adventurer. In our example, it might be the part that is disciplined and can stick to a program or is passionate or active.
Now, ask yourself, how might these parts of me serve me, if I release the old stuff and bring them into the now, to help me be whole and create a new story? Write down your findings and continue to contemplate this question for another week, preferably on a daily or ongoing basis. Notice what is showing up each day that gives you more information about this question.
At the end of the week, return to your original list and ask yourself, would I rather leave parts of me living in the past and attached to this stuff, or would I rather get rid of the stuff, complete the projects, release them and bringing ALL of me forward into my new story?
The choice is yours. I can’t say there is a right or wrong. There is definitely a difference.
Feel free to comment or email me with your discoveries!
Oh – and Sam? The boxes of books were gone from his office the very next day.
PS – “Sam” gave me permission to use his quote and use him as an example in this post.
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Copyright © January 2014, Kathy J Loh, All Rights Reserved