“The most important things in life aren’t things.” – Ann Landers
One of the most frequent questions at my SOMEDAY salons is, “You gave away 95% of your stuff? How?!” They can’t wrap their heads around the fact that I gave away most of my belongings before launching my Year By The Water. One woman said incredulously, “HOW did you do that and WHO did you give all your stuff to?!”
I couldn’t have done it without good friend Mary Loverde. Mary, (check out her books The Invitation, I Used to Have a Handle on Life But It Broke here), took a week out of her life to come to my home and go room by room with me, guiding me through the decisions of what to take, what to keep, what to donate.
Our criteria wasn’t “I can’t give that away. Do you know how much it cost?!” … it was:
1. Would I need/use this on my travels?
2. Do I want/need to keep it because it’s meaningful (ala gifts from my sons) or because it’s legally required (tax records)?
3. Will it fit in my car and my suitcase?
4. Does it deserve to be in a POD for a year or more?
Those questions helped me realize, for example, “YES, that’s a beautiful set of dining room and bedroom furniture … but do they deserve to be shut away in dark storage for a year where no one’s enjoying them, using them, getting value from them?
So, I giftted them to Martha, the woman who loyally took care of our home for 12 years. Most kitchen and household items went to a local shelter. My sports stuff went to my personal trainer. My business clothes went to a non-profit that gives jobseekers something to wear for interviews and their first week at work. The rest went to Salvation Army.
And you know what? I don’t miss any of it, and it was some very nice stuff. (Smile). Letting all that go … freed me up to go.
As the saying goes, first we own our possessions, then they own us.
Paulo Coelho put it more eloquently, “If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”
As soona as I was brave enough to give away what I had accumulated for the past thirty years, I was rewarded with a lighter lifestyle where I had the autonomy to get up and go and do more of what I wanted instead of staying home to take care of “things.”
Look around you right now. Do you feel your energy sag just looking at all your stuff? Is it weighing you down, holding you back?
Please understand, I absolutely believe there are seasons of our life where being in a beautiful home filled with meaningful things is a top priority.
But sometimes, that beautiful home becomes more of a burden than a blessing. We have to earn a certain amount of money (and perhaps even work at a job that’s not what we want) to pay for that home. We have to spend a certain amount of time, money and energ buying things, fixing things, cleaning things, organizing things, replacing things.
Sometimes, that beautiful home and everything in it is keeping us in one place, preventing us from being more adventurous – from having the free time to travel, have new experiences, go new places, meet new people, learn new things.
Be honest. Are your home and possessions a chore or a joy? A burden or a blessing?
Do you spend most of your free time cleaning, running errands or doing household repairs?
Wouldn’t you rather be having an adventure? At the end of your life, would’t you rather have experiences than objects, memories rather than material things?
If your possessions have become a burden, it may be time to downsize, or as Mary likes to call it, rightsize.
Do you really need that big home? Do you really need all those things? Do they add value to your life or do you feel exhausted and overwhelmed just thinking about them?
Carol, a 40-something women who worked in DC at a federal agency, filled out the Happiness Box and it revealed some very surprising answers.
What she wasn’t doing that she wanted to (Square 2) was dating or spending time with friends. What she was doing that she didn’t want to (Square 3) was commute 2-3 hours EVERY DAY, work 9-10 hours a day and feel guilty that she was never home to play with Aussie, her Australian Shepherd.
When we unpacked what was going on in her life, we uncovered ONE KEY thing that needed to change if she was going to get off this aircraft carrier of habit where her current lifestyle kept her locked into an unhappy status quo where she was on a nonstop treadmill and constantly felt behind.
She realized that Aussie was at the center of her dilemma. She had bought him 6 years before with the intention of competing with him in obedience trials.
If you know anything about Australian Shepherds, you know they are very active, so she needed a backyard so he could play outside while she was at work all day. The price of real estate was so high in DC and neighboring suburbs, she had to buy a place in Leesburg, an hour from DC … on a good day.
The thing is, in the six years since she bought her home, traffic has gotten much worse. She was usually out of the house by 6 am and didn’t get home until 7 pm. She dropped Aussie off at a doggie day care every morning, but he’d developed separation anxiety. Every time she dropped him off, he “cried” which made her feel even more guility.
When she got home at night, she was too tired to play Frizbee with him. On weekends, she had to do house and yard chores, so she didn’t have the bandwidth to continue his Obedience Trial training – much less enter competitions with him.
And for years, people at work would ask, “Want to go to that concert with us at the Kennedy Center?” Want to take in a movie this weekend?” and her answer was always “No” because she (once again) didn’t have the time and energy.
When I asked if there was someone she could give Aussie to that would take good care of him and give her “visitation rights,” she, at first, didn’t even want to consider it.
But the more she thought about it, the more she realized she was working hard to pay for a house and a dog she loved – but never had time to enjoy or appreciate either of them.
She realized things were going to stay the same unless she did something differently.
So, Carol gave her dog away.
Now, you might be shocked (!) she could do such a thing, yet please consider the long-tail impact of her decision.
First, she was lucky because she was able to give her dog to her son who lives in the area. He is a runner and takes Aussie on his trail runs near Great Falls Park. She gets to see both of them whenever she wants and Aussie is happier now that he gets outside on a long romp 4-5 days a week.
Now that she no longer had Aussie, she no longer needed a home with a backyard. She sold her home and moved into a apartment on a Metro Line less than 10 minutes from her job. Yes, it’s smaller, but she doesn’t have ANY yard maintenance and doesn’t have to commute, so when co-workers ask if she wants to go out for a drink or dinner, she is free to say YES.
Another win is that her apartment building has a gym in it. Carol told me she’d become sedentary and out of shape over the years because she sat in a car and at her desk all day.
Her new routine is to get up in the morning and go downstairs for a workout. She’s getting back into shape, feeling better about herself, and finally has a social life. All because she had the courage to honestly assess her life and make changes that had a catalytic ripple effect.
How about you?
Do you like your life the way it is? If so, good for you.
If not, what is ONE THING you could change that could have a catalytic ripple effect?
Maybe it’s giving away (or selling) belongings that are taking up your time, money and energy.
Maybe it’s moving closer to work to cut out commuting so you’re free to do things that are more important to you.
Maybe it’s swapping your big home for a smaller condo so you don’t have to pay an expensive mortgage and you’re freed up to travel.
A favotie quote in my SOMEDAY book is, “Life doesn’t come with a remote. You’ve got to get up and change it yourself.”
What are are you going to change this week to change your life – for good?
What will you be brave enough to say good-bye to … so life can gift you with a new hello?
P.S. By the way, I know this is a complicated, emotional topic.
You may be thinking, “I have a family. I’m not the only decision-maker here.”
Or you’re wondering, “What about the valuable heirlooms I’ve collected that I’ve just discovered my kids don’t want?”
You’re right, there’s a lot to consider.
The point is, isn’t it worth talking about this with loved ones to get clarity about whether your stuff is helping or hurting your health and happiness?
Isn’t it worth honestly assessing whether your accumulated belongings could be holding you back from the life you really want?
Ask yourself, “Do we own our possessions – or do they own us?”
If so, what are you going to do about it … now not someday?
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Intrigue Expert Sam Horn is on a mission to help people create the life of their dreams. Her TEDx talks and books have been featured in NY Times, on NPR, and taught to NASA, Intel, Nationwide, Capital One and YPO. This is excerpted from the “Let It Go, Let It Go, Let It Go” chapter in Sam’s book SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week. Want Sam to share her keynote with your group? Contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com