Autumn seems to be the season for letting go. Nature all around us is giving an example.
As deciduous trees are shedding their old leaves to prepare for a restful winter and then a renewed spring, so should we shed unhelpful or old habits, useless stuff, toxic relationships.
Letting go is a truly useful skill. If you don’t have it, learn it.
In its more extreme form, it is the human equivalent of a snake shedding its skin so it grows a new one. I am told that we also get renewed every 7 years or so. Every cell in our body basically goes through a replacing cycle, so every 7 to 10 years we are a brand-new person. At least from a cellular point of view.
Letting go works in numerous areas:
- letting go of useless junk
- letting go of toxic relationships
- letting go of burdensome responsibilities (if we can)
- letting go of time-consuming activities
and the list could go on, with many different qualifiers… useless, toxic, burdensome, time-consuming, unwelcome, soulless, soul-crushing etc.
I never had a very hard time letting go (or getting rid) of toxic relationships, for which I would like to publicly thank my lack of patience. That which is considered a fault can sometimes be a blessing, engendering a limited or zero tolerance for certain kinds of people or behaviours.
In other areas, though, I’m as helpless as a chronic hoarder in a thrift shop. Or a foodie in a French cheese shop. I’ve been in both situations, by the way, without being either a chronic hoarder or an actual foodie – but I do love cheese.
On my first Christmas holiday going back home from Luxembourg, half of my checked-in luggage was full of many wonderful cheeses I had never encountered before in my home country. I was enthralled.
My parents, though, were unimpressed. You can tell they have a healthier attitude to life, although they do tend to be hoarders – in the old sense, i.e. if it ain’t broken, don’t throw it away, it might come in handy at some point in the future; and even if it is broken, hold on to it: perhaps we can use the parts.
They grew up in different times, when household appliances had to last a lifetime – and they often did – and consumer goods weren’t easy to come by.
Now me, a Gen Xer growing up in an increasingly consumerist society, bombarded with ads from every direction and finally in possession of my own credit card, I splurged. I got myself all that I wanted and that I couldn’t have before, either as a child or as an adult.
Except a big house.
That, I decidedly didn’t have the money for. Not in Luxembourg, not even with a 30-year mortgage.
So it happened that at some point all the stuff I had accumulated began to weigh on me. I would come home and feel overwhelmed. Sure, I like to have a cosy place to live in, but it was becoming decidedly stuffy. I figured that soon all that stuff would come to life and kick me out.
I started giving some of it away. (Selling was also an option for various choice, or more expensive items. For example, I recently sold my bike. Which I bought one year ago and never used *facepalm*).
- clothes I was no longer wearing, nor did I see myself wearing anytime in the next 2 to 3 years
- clothes I no longer liked
- many clothes that no longer fit me (sigh)
- objects that sat unused in cabinets and drawers (including that pesky potato masher that blocked the drawer every single time, prompting passionate invocations to Annoia)
- things I tried maybe once or twice but that was it
- cat toys and feeder puzzles my cat royally ignored
- and books
That last one was more difficult, but I decided to only keep books that I would really like to re-read one day. That is, after reading them for the first time. Which, given my limited spare time and towering to-read piles that increased every month or so, wasn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future.
Which brings us to an item of the utmost importance: time.
Time is a limited resource, especially when you have responsibilities that eat up a large chunk of it (full-time job, family, both, you name it).
At some point I came to the realisation that I would need 2 or 3 lifetimes to do, read, learn, watch, create etc. everything I wanted to. As I wasn’t sure we were allowed the luxury of reincarnation – not to mention having to start from scratch every single time anyway – I admitted to myself I suffered from a form of gluttony and I had to go on a diet.
To illustrate how serious the situation was, here is a list containing just a few of the things I wanted to learn and do over the past 15 years. Really, a tiny sliver.
Play the guitar
Bought a beautiful guitar, never learned how to play it; sold the guitar after a few years. Even studied solfège for 2 years (can’t remember much now), and entertained the idea that I might learn how to play the piano. Luckily, my solfège teacher (who was a wonderful pianist himself) warned me I would have to practice every day. Every. Single. Day. So I said no. I didn’t have the time.
Ride a bike
I never properly got into it. I learnt how to ride a bike, bought a cheap bike, used it once or twice, sold it after a few years. Fast-forward to last year – bought an electric bike, thinking I would use it to go to work and maybe also take some cycling trips with my cycling enthusiast friends. Didn’t do any of that and finally sold it off last month.
I did learn how to, still have a lot to learn. On hiatus at the moment, due to the need to prioritise other things.
As in the art of the actor. Did.
Not as much as I would have liked to, though.
Eventually gave up because I realised I wasn’t passionate about it enough to go be a starving artist in London or another big acting hub, and it was taking up too much time, even at amateur level).
Learn many other foreign languages
I currently speak fluently 2 foreign languages, plus an additional 5 with various degrees of fluency. I would have gone on, but it’s a time-consuming process and a language gets easily lost if you cannot practice it. I might still learn Greek or Russian one day, though. Or maybe another language altogether.
Become a published author
Erm… did. Sort of. A short story of mine has recently been published in a collection, and another one is due to be published in an anthology. Soon, I hope. However, my aim was to publish novels. Which leads us to the next point.
Write and publish novels
Did not. Not for lack of ideas – I have loads! I’ve started about 7 novels so far; they are in various stages of their first draft. However, I am a major procrastinator. In the absence of a pressing deadline, my ‘instant gratification monkey’ rules supreme. Watch this video and you’ll understand. It’s also very funny.
I have three paintings on my name, but somehow neither drawing, nor painting seem to beckon very strongly.
I do have a shelf full of books and magazines on various types of drawing and painting techniques – because I’m a glutton, that’s why. I would like to, but I can’t seem to find the time or the disposition to simply sit down and draw. Or paint.
I get excited with an idea, I run away with it, then I sort of lose interest and abandon it.
Wait a second.
That’s not a glutton. That’s a monkey!
I’m a monkey *facepalm*
And many, many other things
Such as various sports: climbing, squash, tennis (still do, occasionally), ice skating, skiing (also still do, just once a year. I have my own helmet, but have refrained from getting my own skis and boots), sailing etc.
So, so many…
Another thing that hindered my ability to let go or declutter my life was FOMO – that scourge of our hyper-connected times: The Fear Of Missing Out.
Around last autumn, though, I began resisting this scourge (as well as many other urges to have or to do). Maybe as a result of watching the leaves fall, maybe realising the brevity of our time as human beings, maybe – who knows?
The fact is, that’s when I finally started saying ‘no’ to many (or some) of the above – and to others, not listed here (for lack of space and readers’ patience ;)) ).
And I started letting go.
Now that autumn is here again, I feel energised to take a hard look at my life and shed a bit more unused or useless stuff.
You should do that too.
Follow the trees’ example and do a few exercises in letting go.
And feel better 🙂