You Get To Choose

"You get to choose how you feel.  You get to choose how you feel about everything."

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time.  Danielle LaPorte in her sultry-voiced, slam poet wisdom said this in a recorded interview several years ago.*  I have relistened to it no less than a dozen times.

You get to choose how you feel about everything.

This wisdom can be applied to everyday shit-hitting-the-fan kind of moments (Bay Area traffic, I'm looking at you).  But on a deeper level, I think it's a powerful tool for reflecting on our stuff.  And specifically:

How your stuff makes you feel.

This past year I've been treading through the decluttering landmine of Childhood Memorabilia.  My parents decided to downsize and moved out of my childhood home this past August.  This meant that all my photos, art projects, writing, diaries, awards, etc. which had to-date lived in "my room" were suddenly mine to deal with.  


A daily, yet precious memory from childhood.  Around the dinner table with my siblings: Lauren, Robin, Zack and myself.  Yep, I know I had killer bangs. 

Arriving at my San Francisco apartment inside of a box and large suitcase were memories from every part of my life, from birth until I moved to California at 24 years old: every sports ribbon I'd earned, every photo I'd ever taken, even my first pair of shoes.

Where Do I Begin?

Opening these boxes up, it felt like everything inside them was a treasure: a marker of a time in my life that could never be recreated.  Each object or written page felt like a crucial piece in the puzzle of "who I am."

Not only that, everything had been kept for so long already.  They'd been stored for decades in Illinois and then lovingly boxed up and brought to California by my mom.  

Obviously, this would all have to stay.  Or would it?

There is a psychological principle called the Endowment Effect (look at me, mom and dad -- I'm using my college education!) which says that the longer we've had something in our possession, the more value it holds in our eyes.  Combine this with a healthy dose of nostalgia and suddenly it seems unfathomable to part with a single item from our personal history.

And yet, in my attempt to match my actions with my words (aka: trying not to be a total hypocrite), I decided to question everything and go through each item, one by one.

The Oriole cabin at Camp Lake Hubert circa 1993.  A brief but catalytic and deeply happy memory.  Also, this photo was mailed to me by my camp bestie, Annelyse, during our 3 year penpal spell.  Rad, right?

The Oriole cabin at Camp Lake Hubert circa 1993.  A brief but catalytic and deeply happy memory.  Also, this photo was mailed to me by my camp bestie, Annelyse, during our 3 year penpal spell.  Rad, right?

Question Everything

On the surface, each item was of somewhat equal merit: it was from my past and had, at some point, been deemed worthy of saving.  

So to help me through this process I called on Danielle LaPorte and decided to pay attention exclusively to how the item made me feel.  

While everything was tinged with a bit of nostalgia, some created a sense of real happiness and joy while others fell flat and others still called up for me strong feelings of sadness or isolation or embarrassment (ah, adolescence).  

The Criteria

The most joyful surprise of this entire process was noticing the threads of values and narratives which have remained constant throughout my life.  Nearly every item I kept spoke to the traits and values that I still love about myself: family, creativity, athletics, adventure, and writing.  

The things I kept: hysterical little notebooks that I've written creative stories and diary entries throughout my life, my songbook from camp, the journal from my NOLS trip in Wyoming, elementary school sports team photos (me and my tiny legs in huge shin guards with a soccer ball on my knee), elementary school class photos (some of those teachers shaped my life more than they could ever know -- Miss Badran, if for some crazy reason you happen to be reading this, thank you), a couple of my prized swimming awards, and nearly every family photo.  Just typing out this list makes me smile!

What I Let Go

1. Items that "fell flat".  This category mostly includes objects of achievement, ie: reports I got good grades on but could not care less about their content or don't even recall creating.  Also, objects from areas that aren't important to me: participation awards for mandatory science fairs and spelling bees, photos of people who I knew briefly and never kept up with, yearbooks in general.  

2. Things that made me feel negative emotions.  Photos from my surprise 16th birthday (all of that attention as a teenager still in braces felt mortifying), inappropriate notes from friends during my rebellious years (a shameful defiant, bratty period), a slew of generally ugly photos from said teenage/braces years (don't worry, there are still plenty in our family albums that my kids can tease me about).

On the shores of Lake Superior (my favorite place in the world) with my siblings (3 of my favorite people in the world). 

On the shores of Lake Superior (my favorite place in the world) with my siblings (3 of my favorite people in the world). 

What's Your Story?

I'm not encouraging a false sense of who we once were or a rewriting of history.  That time I snuck out in eighth grade and scared the crap out of my parents who then grounded me forever?  I will never forget that. But I also don't need to be continually faced with reminders of who I was, frozen in a particular time period during my personal evolution.  Of course, I still suffer, I still feel sad, but I choose not to have things that trigger those emotions in my home. 

As humans, we are given the gift of narrative.  We might think that we tell events exactly as they were, but we don't.  We tell things as we saw them, through our own eyes from our perspective based on our own values and stories.  And so I'm deciding to only surround myself with things that create and inspire a positive narrative in my life.  


*PS- This quote was from Ms. LaPorte's interview with Mastin Kipp on The Daily Love Extravaganza 2012.  I have this saved to my iTunes but unfortunately could not find a live link!

When It's Time to Let Go

Last week I donated two items which had both been really important to me in the past.

The first was a pair of shoes.  Not just any pair, my original "fancy" work heels.  

I purchased them on a mid-day shopping trip to Neiman Marcus with my former boss/first real mentor.  She had demanded that we take a shopping break in the midst of an all-consuming trial preparation month to "clear our minds."  We'd been working 12 hour days for weeks.  We deserve this, she insisted.

And to be fair, in 2009 I was all about shopping.  3% of my income was being directly diverted into my 401(k), almost half of each paycheck went to rent, and they rest went straight into my "entertainment fund."   Said fund was emptied each month in the form of clothing, purses, iPods (I know, I'm really dating myself), and breakfast/coffee/lunch/happy hour/dinner/drinks out.  All of which is to say she wasn't exactly twisting my arm.

She bought Manolos, I bought Cole Haans with Nike Air technology.  They were more expensive than any clothing item I'd ever owned and were purchased with my own hard-earned money from my real-adult corporate job.  

(Side note: I don't have a single photo of "Corporate Cary."  Is this because our phones didn't yet function as cameras or because I've never felt less like myself than in a pantsuit?)

Fast forward to today. 

Everything else from this time in my life is loooong gone -- all my suits, conservative silk tops, briefcases, tolerance for being yelled at by people who don't even know my name, etc. 

But the shoes...  After two years of them collecting dust at the top of my closet I knew I was never going to wear them, yet I was really struggling with the thought of letting them go.  I felt like they represented this whole period in my life, a point of pride, an old mentorship.  

These shoes symbolized to me that I was an independent, adult woman. 

The second item was a kelly green Diane Von Furstenberg dress.  I purchased this dress (using a Bloomingdale's credit card I signed up for to get 20% off -- oh how I've changed!) also in 2009 as a potential bridesmaid dress for my older sister's wedding.  

To date, I've worn it to just shy of a dozen weddings and have celebrated the nuptials of some of my favorite people in the world while wearing it.  I wore it in Montana, Tennessee, New Mexico, Chicago (twice), NorCal and SoCal.  I wore it while I danced with my best friends, when I celebrated with my family.  

So how on earth could I let these memories go?

For exactly that reason: my memories ARE NOT my stuff.

It's easy to confuse the two.  

To conflate the experience you had with what you were wearing when it occurred.  

To think that the joys of a trip are wrapped up in a souvenir.  

But those precious memories are far more resilient and powerful than that.  The things that happened in your life cannot be taken away or thrown out in the trash.  They are real.  And no matter how much or how little "stuff" you have in your life, that will always be true.   

As with the case of my precious shoes and dress, it's not that I wanted these things for their functions, they were worn out and no longer my style.  What I wanted was to preserve the memories I associated with them.  


So how do I know when it's time to let go?

1. It's either a "Hell Yes!" or it's a no.  One of my favorite pieces of advice ever comes from Derek Sivers and it's another way of creating incredibly high standards.  Essentially, when you're considering whether to keep an object or agree to a commitment, you don't want the answer to be "yeah, sure" or "ok."  For something to earn precious space in your life, it needs to be a Hell Yes!  Otherwise it's a no.  For me, whenever I cannot answer the following questions with a "Hell Yes!" then I know clearly and absolutely that it's time to go:

  • Does the item fit into my current life?
  • Does the item reflect my current style or does it suit my current needs?
  • Do I feel the ways I most want to feel when I use/wear/interact with this item?
  • Would I buy the same item again right now at the same price?

2.  Take a photo.  I kept my shoes and dress because I wanted to be sure I had the occasion to jog my memory about these times in my life.  So I took a photo of each and added them to my digital album entitled "Things I love."  Now I can see those things and access those memories whenever I want without simultaneously dealing with the clutter and the stress of having things in my life that I don't enjoy anymore.

3.  Say Thanks.  It might sound silly, but sometimes what we want most when we part with items that meant a lot is to acknowledge them (ahem, like this post).  So tell the story aloud of how you acquired it, why you loved it, why you're grateful for the experience it brought you.  Then give it a little hug, say thank you (aloud), wish it well as it serves whoever uses it next.  Then let it go.  *This is how I was able to donate my wedding dress. *

So how do you know when it's time to let go?  

Have you ever donated something that used to be incredibly important to you?