3 Steps to Letting Go of Something You (Used to) Really Love

This post was inspired by a question from Alison Sherwood, reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and author of the Tiny Closet blog.

"I found your New Minimalism website -- interesting that there is a market for that kind of work! What are the biggest challenges you face with decluttering clients' homes and how do you help them work through those issues?"

ur clients are really brave and wise folks.  Almost all of them turn to us during some transition in their life, be it moving, divorce, cohabitating, a new job, a new baby, major weight loss, new relationship and so on.  Typically this means that they are really ready to shed the objects from their past that no longer fit with their current life.  

The biggest struggle for all our clients (and me) is separating deep personal stories and emotions from things themselves.  In other words, letting go of things that they used to really love.

or example, was given a UCLA powder blue sweatshirt from my dad when I was about 8.  I was a child's size medium at the time, but he brought me home an adult medium from his work trip.  It was a hilarious mix-up which resulted in me happily wearing a "sweatshirt dress" on the deck of every swim meet for 14 years.  

By age 20 this sweatshirt was tattered and torn, full of holes, missing any feeling of elastic, with both the initial and worn-in softness having been fully used up.  Yet I kept this sweatshirt until 27, fearing that if I got rid of it, I would in some way be a bad daughter or that the love my dad and I feel for each other would be diminished by the loss of this sweatshirt.  

You can hear how tricky and triggering objects like that are, and nearly everyone has many of these types of object in their lives.  Below are the steps that I use with my clients to help them process the attachment to items and let them go in a way that feels loving, peaceful, and freeing.  

3-Steps to Let Go of Something You Used To Love (Without Getting Emotionally Triggered or Completely Freaking Out):

1 ) Honor the item.

Any object that is tightly wound up in important relationships or poignant memories is a valuable one (even if it is just a $2 snowglobe from JFK).  "Ripping off the band aid" doesn't work for these kinds of items.  If you just throw your snowglobe unceremoniously into the donate pile, it's likely a deep sense of loss of wave of anxiety will come crashing through you.

Instead, I encourage clients to take a photo of the item so the memory associated won't be lost.  (I personally have about 30 of these photos in a dropbox folder called "Things I Love.")  Other times, just the act of someone or a group of people listening to you telling the story of how this object came into your life or how it makes you feel is enough.  Sometimes calling up the person who this object reminds you of and remembering the object together is just right.

2) Find the space between your emotions.

It's crucial not to diminish the experience you have with your things and to know that even if it seems illogical, the emotions you are experiencing are very real.  With clients, I focus on moving us into a heart-centered place where we can honor objects and their history but also see the object clearly -- as an object -- fully separate from any relationship or memory.  

It's important to notice the difference between something reminding us of a person or experience (love-based thinking) versus feeling that object is actually holding the relationship or memory inside of it and therefore will be lost with this item (fear-based). 

3) Release with gratitude.

The last step is the most "woo-woo" but also my favorite: we offer up a thank you and blessing to the item when we release it.  It's incredibly cathartic. 

By taking a moment to thank the items as you let go of them, you close the loop.  You allow yourself to feel closure and completion.  You open yourself up to gratitude.  It's yummy.

My releasing mantra is always takes the form of a brief thank you note:  "Dear _{insert object name}_, thank you. Thank you for being mine for this short while.  May you continue to serve those who find you next, bringing joy and ease into their lives.  With gratitude for you and love for myself, I release you."

How do you deal with objects that are from a loved one or remind you of a special time or trip in your life?  

Have you tried out any of these steps before?