Although I call myself a professional organizer, I have found that most of my clients actually need help getting rid of stuff—not organizing it.
Recently, I was helping to clear out a house that had been owned by the same family for over 40 years. The father had died about five years earlier and the mother had been in memory care for some time. The house was vacant, except for a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff that the two grown daughters now wanted to dispose of so that they could sell it.
Aside from a few family treasures, everything either needed to be auctioned, sold, donated, or trashed. It was a big job, but one that I always enjoy because I never know what wonderful things I will come upon. In this particular home, there was a large trunk that was a time capsule from the 50s with vintage bathing suits, hats, evening gloves and gowns, and other wonderful stuff—much of which found new homes when we finally held an estate sale.
It is satisfying to me to see long-neglected items going somewhere they will be appreciated. Unfortunately, many things get thrown away because they simply aren’t “marketable” anymore. This is always the case with stuffed animals.
Shelters love to have plush toys to give to children, but they only accept new ones; and resellers like Goodwill cannot sell the used ones. So in the trash they go.
In this particular home, there were many stuffed animals that needed to be thrown away and I could feel my resistance to doing it, even as I put them in the dumpster. I was aware of a story running through my mind about how these animals needed to be taken care of and loved. Not any other items—just the stuffed animals.
I have spent many years learning to allow my unconscious feelings to rise to the surface where they can be truly met and let go of—no matter how uncomfortable; and I’ve consciously kept myself open to whatever experience needed to be seen and felt. Even so, I was surprised by the intensity of what came up for me in the next few days.
I was taken back to an event that happened when I was about four or five years old, where I accidentally left my plush red dog behind at a hotel. I guess I simply forgot it in the excitement and rush of the morning.
By the time I realized that I did not have it with me, we were hours down the road and my parents would not go back for it. At the time, I was distraught, and as I stared at these stuffed animals, all those feelings came to the surface again to be fully and consciously met.
As I connected with the sense of responsibility that I felt for abandoning my friend, I could see how that had become a belief that if I wasn’t always responsible, there would be dire consequences. So I had lived my life by micromanaging as much as I could in order to avoid some nebulous, catastrophic event.
It was a relief to see what was behind my behavior, even if it didn’t feel particularly good to get there. It even allowed me to finally talk about this event with my parents, see how they remembered it, and have a feeling of true closure at last.
I have also been exploring this sense of needing to manage, especially other people. Stepping away from the need to control certain things has felt very freeing, like not following the urge to handle something for someone else unless I am actually asked to do so (and usually I am not).
We all have our own flavor of emotional connections to physical stuff. We sometimes keep, or even dispose of, particular items rather than looking more deeply at the stories behind them. There is no requirement that we do this deeper looking, but if we want to feel more peace and emotional freedom in our lives, then we can use these feelings to help lead us there.
To do this, we first have to acknowledge that an uncomfortable feeling needs to be attended to, rather than pushing it away. Then we wait. Often such feelings, and their accompanying stories, take time to reveal themselves; but if we hold the intention of being open to whatever comes, whenever it is ready, we send the message to ourselves that it is safe to feel what needs to be felt.
When an emotion or story works its way into our conscious awareness, we can sit with it, without judgment, no matter how intense.
Next, we can ask ourselves what this feeling needs, what it wants to share, and how it can show up for us. Like the emotion, the answer will come in its own time—perhaps in that moment, or hours or days later. I find that it is best to be gentle with myself and simply trust this letting go process. Staying open is the key.
Since then, I have been in a couple of homes where there were stuffed animals that needed to be disposed of and I was able to do it without upset. I did, however, still find myself honoring the imagined connection that these animals had with their young children, as I so often honor what I discover in people’s homes.
But I find that I am at peace with the disposal, with letting go in each moment, not just of the item, but of my need to control.
Author: Julie Klopp
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
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