This morning I was making the bed as usual and as usual, I shoved the blue exercise ball out of the way to reach the far corner of the bed to straighten the duvet. This is the exercise ball that I haven’t used in two years that I roll out of the way every morning.
Attachment to the past
And fear of the future
I, like many of you, loved Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I love the idea of only having things in my life that spark joy. But I struggle with the items that have positive memories from the past and/or could be useful in the future. I waffle between a vision of freedom I would have when I have less stuff and the desire remember the past and be prepared for what’s to come.
After I reduced my wardrobe (see my post Getting Dressed in 3 Minutes) I saw how much time and energy our stuff really sucks from our lives. Looking at this blue exercise ball you wouldn’t think this is taking up time and energy but there’s a whole set of questions that must be answered about this object.
Where should I put it so I will use it?
Where should I store it when I’m not using it?
If it’s not meeting my needs could it be changed or improved so it will?
Could it serve multiple purposes?
Should it be replaced with something that I would use?
One or more of these questions go through my mind every time I shove the exercise ball aside to make the bed, so once a day. That’s a lot of mental energy used up. Neuroscience research tells us that the more decisions we make on mundane things the less energy we have for decisions about real things. (You can see more about this in the amazing book, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal). So if I spend all my energy on decisions about what to wear, where to put stuff, what toothpaste to buy and what to watch on TV then I don’t have energy for important decisions like who to vote for, who to marry, what my next book should be about and what to do with my life.
As mentioned, hanging on to things that don’t “spark joy” is done for two reasons; attachment to the past and fear of the future. Here’s my blue exercise ball as an example.
The past: There was a time when I was young enough and fit enough that I could balance on a ball like this and if I fell off I didn’t risk breaking a hip. Sometimes I wish for the past body I used to have. These days I would have to set the phone right by the ball so when I did fall off I would hopefully land on the button that speed dials 911.
I have other memories too. Once I had a party here and so many people showed up that I ran out of chairs. I sat on this exercise ball while we talked, ate, and had a wonderful time. So the ball gives me the feeling of being social and having friends. I have to remind myself I would actually still have friends even if I didn’t have a blue exercise ball. Sometimes my brain is not rational.
The future: Am I envisioning a future where I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to use the exercise ball? Yes, in this future I use it every day for years and years. It becomes the best thing in my life and if I hadn’t kept it I would be missing out on this marvelous experience and perhaps a shot at Cirque du Soleil stardom.
Or do I see a future dystopian nightmare where the world has become so poor there’s no money for furniture at all and I’ll I have left is this blue exercise ball to sit on?
Yes, a bit of an exaggeration but my point is that when I define my feelings about an object I can see more clearly why I’m having trouble getting rid of it.
So if the past and the future aren’t good reasons for keeping something then I need to look at the present. In the present, I don’t need a blue exercise ball or any color ball for that matter. And someone else in the world might need it. So into the car it goes and it will be taken over to my favorite Goodwill store that sells off many other of my former possessions.
One item down…several thousand to go. I know the process will get easier and faster as I continue. Let me know about your letting go process. Do you have items you’re holding on to even though they don’t serve your present needs? Do you struggle with items that bring up memories of the past? Do you hang on to items because you think you might need them in the future? And let me know if you would like to see more posts on this topic.