zen habits : breathe

Letting Go of Possessions

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Picture your home, full of clutter, full of possessions … and now imagine most of those possessions floating away.

You’re left with a much less cluttered space, a living room with just a few beautiful items that you love and use. It’s nice, having the peace of a space unencumbered with a multitude of possessions.

This is the image you have to have in your mind as you consider letting go of possessions … because it can be difficult to let go of things.

Why We Hold Onto Possessions

We hold on usually for the following reasons:

  1. Sentimental — a loved one gave it to us, or it holds memories.
  2. Security — we think having it makes us safer, or we’re worried we might need it someday.
  3. Procrastination — it’s too difficult to even consider tackling all that clutter.
  4. Fear of waste — we don’t want to waste what we’ve paid good money for by getting rid of it.

Letting Go

And so, knowing the causes of our attachment, let’s talk about letting go.

Letting go is about realizing we’re attached to something, usually because of fear or longing. We think that if we let go of something, we’ll lose something important. But in truth, we also gain something by letting go — by giving up prized possessions, we gain space, peace of mind, time, money (it costs a lot to own a lot).

Let’s look at how to let go of the reasons we hold onto possessions:

  1. Sentimental: The truth is, neither our love for the person, nor their love for us, nor our memories, are in the possession. The love is in us, and so are the memories. Letting go of the possession doesn’t mean we lose the love or the memories. Maybe a digital picture will help us remember — take some snapshots, upload them to Picasa or Flickr or iCloud or something like that, and you’ll always have the memories. Then focus on giving love to your loved ones now.
  2. Security: In truth, possessions don’t make us safer — they only give the illusion of security. Having more things around you doesn’t make it more likely you’ll survive tough financial times. In fact, buying them makes it more likely you’ll face tough times, because you’re spending yourself into debt. Also, you almost definitely won’t need it someday. I’ve gotten rid of thousands of things, and have never once regretted it. If you really do need it someday (you won’t), you can always borrow it, or buy it again in the worst-case scenario.
  3. Procrastination: Instead of thinking about the entire mountain of clutter you have to get rid of (and honestly you can’t get rid of all the clutter right this moment), focus on what you can do in the next 5 minutes. That’s small enough that it’s not overwhelming — just take one step. Then another.
  4. Fear of waste: It’s not wasteful to give something to someone else — it’s wasteful not to give it to someone else if you’re not using it. And the waste doesn’t come from getting rid of something — the waste came in the past, when you bought it in the first place.

When you consider letting go of something, ask yourself, “If I didn’t have this, how much would I pay to get it?” Usually, the answer is nothing. And you can let go of something that’s worth nothing to you, in order to gain the much more valuable peace of having an uncluttered space.

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