We all say it, “I’ve got to clean out this closet.” It might be a closet, or a room or your storage unit. Or, “I’ve got to simplify my life,” as we head to the container store. Our intentions are good, but we still have too many possessions.
Sometimes it’s because we’re lazy or procrastinating, but most of the time, it’s fear. Yes, fear. Fear is the driving motivation behind many of our purchases. And it’s what keeps us from clearing out the piles of stuff we’ve accumulated.
Why Do We Struggle to Let Go of Things?
Let’s look at some situations. Here are seven reasons why we tend to hold onto things that we should let go of:
1. Your garage is full of useful things; you pack three suitcases for a weekend trip. You keep these things because you could need them. In these situations, your fear is called, ‘I might need this and I won’t have it.’ Or more truthfully—fearing the loss of security and assurance.
2. You have a trip coming up or a big event to plan for. You buy more than you’ll need because you’re unsure of what you will need. The weather is uncertain—will this be a formal affair? This is the fear of being unprepared, but essentially it’s the same fear as above—the fear of loss of security and assurance.
3. Does this sound like you? You keep a storage unit because you could need ‘stuff’ in the future. You don’t need it now, but you might need it again sometime. Again, same fear. You are unsure about things.
4. Do you keep things you don’t use because you plan to use it at some point? Maybe that flute you always wanted to learn to play, or the weight lifting sets you’ll use when you get an exercise room.
You keep these things because of hope. Giving them up is like giving up that hope. The fear is that you won’t be the exact person that you desire to become. You are afraid that you will not be enough just the way you are.
5. We keep sentimental things because they remind us of our love for that person. These things bring back memories. If we give up the sentimental items, maybe we’ll lose that love.
You may be holding on to items from your childhood or toys that your grown children haven’t touched in decades. The fear driving this behavior could be summed up as, ‘The love that I currently have right now will not be enough.’
6. We resist getting rid of our things because those things were expensive. Getting rid of them, well, we might as well have thrown that money out the window. But the truth is, we’ve already spent that money, and not using it—that’s the waste. There is someone who would love to have this and also use it.
This is most likely the fear of doubt, indecision, and insecurity. If you made a bad decision in buying it, what other bad decisions have you made?
7. Maybe you keep things in order to express who you really are. Clothes, jewelry, makeup, and nail polish—you name it. Somehow your self-expression is connected to the number of items. True self-expression doesn’t need anything. This could be a fear of not being good enough the way you are.
How Can We Learn to Deal with Fear?
Most of the things we own are not necessities. We keep most of our things as insulators against our fears. Our hope is that these things will offer comfort to our anxieties and will help us be more secure in our lives—feeling better about what is yet to come.
Of course, we know that’s not true in the literal sense. But we still keep our stuff close at hand. What do we do about this?
We need to deal with fear differently. Buying things and keeping them is only an avoidance of the fear. Let’s face the fear head-on and discard things that are taking up our physical space and our mental energy. If you are ready, here are a few suggestions.
Recognize That the Fear is Real
Simply acknowledging the fear is a big step. Why am I buying this? Do I honestly need it in order to survive? If it’s bottled water, go ahead and purchase it. If it’s another pair of shoes, think about it.
You already have shoes, right? (Insert any item in place of shoes to make it personal for you.) As you look at these shoes in the store, are you feeling some anxiety? Insecurity? Are you looking for comfort?
Do Not Run Away from the Fear
Once you’ve recognized the fear, don’t run away. Stay with it. Sit with it for a while. Breathe. Face the fear head on. Recognize it as a fear. A lot of problems are caused by running from fear. Don’t run away this time.
You Need to Smile
Now that you’re looking fear in the face, give it a big smile. Recognize that it’s okay to have fears—we all do. But we can’t let them rule us. The act of smiling takes away much of the power fear holds over us. I know, it sounds silly, but it works!
Become Friends with the Fear
Much of the trepidation associated with fear comes from the unknown. So let’s get acquainted with this fear. Treat it like meeting someone new.
Fear should not get in the way of your happiness or your future. Ask questions of your fear and remain open to realizations. Once you get to the bottom of the fear, it will dissipate. You will find a new sense of freedom. You no longer have that need to comfort yourself with new shoes. And more importantly, you are not compelled to purchase them.
Leave the shoes in the store for a few days. Then revisit that urge to buy them. You may find a whole new reason to buy them, but it won’t be fear.
When the fear has been eliminated, you’re unburdened and free. You’ll be able to let go and discard the many things you’re holding onto, knowing they don’t comfort you at all!
Finally, you’ll have the great realization that you are wonderful just the way you are. And that is priceless.