This sorting process is a metaphor for what we do in our lives - how many times do we "save" relationships that don't work/are dysfunctional/we've outgrown? Or "store" our resentments, anger and/or crappy life experiences? All of us do, to some extent, and some people find it easier to let go of these things than others. Some of us are more like me and my "stuff" - it feels hard or maybe even impossible to let go. We may not want to, we may not know we've accumulated this much "stuff," or we may simply not even know HOW to let go. We may feel paralyzed by fear and anxiety - "Where do I even start? This is overwhelming and I'm not sure I can do it!"
In my basement, the first step was to start sorting - and I started with one corner of the room. "Stuff" went into three piles: Throw away/recycle, Give away, and Keep. Here's one thing that applies when we're doing our mental sorting - pay attention to where your emotions are during the process. Strong emotions usually indicate something going on; in my basement they indicated some kind of attachment to the object. In some cases, I couldn't bear to throw something away, but couldn't keep it, either (infants' playyard, anyone? Little Tikes Castle?) - those all went to Goodwill. *I* didn't have them anymore, but someone else could enjoy them and use them.
In our lives we have this kind of stuff too...relationships we don't want to give up, but that aren't really helping us or other person anymore, or activities we hang on to "because I've always done it this way," but that don't work for us anymore. So what do you do with these? You can't exactly give them away. For me...I work on releasing them. I don't necessarily take direct action, but I "give it away to the universe" and let it go emotionally. I figure that the old saying of, "if you love something, set it free and if it was meant to be it will come back to you," applies here. Some kind of releasing ceremony or ritual may help you here...writing a good-bye in your journal, blowing dandelion seeds or bubbles into the wind and watching the breeze catch and carry them away - something that will help you emotionally release the situation. When it crops up again, think of what you did to help release and revisualize letting go again. Or, if you need to, do it again. It may help.
The stuff that you "throw away/recycle" may be tougher in a lot of ways. Much of this stuff is composed of dead relationships that you still hang on to, situations or memories that you dredge up and use to nurture old resentments and/or anger, anger at the past that you can't change - there are so many things that fit here, it's impossible to list them all. What do you do with these? There isn't exactly a cosmic stretchy-trash bag you can throw them in, right? These take longer to heal, and acceptance and forgiveness is a part.
Now, before you jump all over me with, "How can I forgive what s/he did to me? It's unforgivable!" or "S/he doesn't deserve my forgiveness," etc. I want to tell you that I'm talking about acceptance and forgiveness in a different light than any religious or "approval" context.
Acceptance and forgiveness are processes where you realize you can't change what happened or change the person who did it and you begin moving on - for your sake. In the work I do, we call it "radical acceptance." Acceptance here is "radical" because it's total - there is no room for fantasy, for imagining "what you'd do if..." or "if only I'd..." - this is dealing with what actually IS, rather than what we want it to be or what it could have been. And it's hard. We don't always like what we see - and it's also necessary to clear out the clutter of these resentments. It also doesn't happen overnight - it's a process and takes time, and you'll likely be doing it over and over for a while before it starts to feel right.
One thing to realize with "acceptance" is that it's NOT approving or agreeing with the situation. It's not resigning yourself either - it's simply acknowledging that the situation is what it is. There is a certain peace that comes when you accept, but you may also find yourself needing to move to acceptance over and over - that's part of the process. You also get to look at the real options you have - when you accept what is, then you can see what you can do with it. One option is forgiveness.
The other piece of this equation, forgiveness, is also not quite what it might seem on the surface. We've all heard the maxims, "forgive your enemies," "forgive and forget," and "turn the other cheek," etc. This is not the kind of forgiveness I'm talking about. Our process may end up leading us there, but that's not the important part at this moment. The important parts are that a) forgiveness is for US, for OUR peace of mind and that b) we try. Like acceptance, this is a process and doesn't come overnight. Forgiveness here tends to take the form of coming to terms with our past or with the relationships that are not right for us in a way that we feel healthy about. It's NOT a blanket, "I forgive you and let's forget and move on." First of all, there is no way that many of us COULD forget what was done to us and second, moving on is for US.
When we're stuck in these relationships, in our pasts, or in our hurt and resentments, we're not moving on, and we're hurting ourselves. I'm not going to minimize the pain of what others do or have done to us, but we don't have to continue their process of hurting us by not letting go. Acceptance and forgiveness here is oriented toward ourselves - and letting go is the process by which it happens. Note the word "process" - this isn't something you decide to do in the morning and be all done with by lunchtime. Like the other processes I've mentioned, you'll have to come back to it over and over again, and do it over and over again.
I've also noticed that in a lot of these situations, there is so much self-blame and hurt - forgiveness here means forgiving yourself. (Some of you may be saying, "What? I have nothing to forgive myself for! I wasn't the one who hurt me!" You're right - and you're in a different place from the people I'm addressing here. And honestly? Good for you if you don't have it! :) ) A lot of us carry guilt, or harbor feelings of "If only I'd..." or "I should have..." Forgiveness here means again, first accepting the reality of what you did do and realistically could control, and then also accepting the reality that you did what you could do. Forgiveness here means letting go of the punitive "shoulds" and being gentle with yourself so healing can happen. And as always in this post, it's a process, and learning to trust the process is an important part of letting go.
Some of the ideas I gave you earlier in "giving away" things also work here - creating a "farewell" ceremony, writing a eulogy in your journal, or releasing the pain and hurt to the universe (burying it or a symbol of it, maybe) sometimes help. The key work is done inside you, though.
Some of the things in my basement were hard to throw away - my dissertation articles ("What if I need them again?"), boxes of things I"d kept from my first marriage (they reminded me of a very unhappy time in my life) and letters from old loves ("what if I'd..." "I wonder what could have been..."). And as hard as it was, it was a necessary process. When I began thinking about this, the clutter was about half clear, and I was still excavating. Occasionally, I came across things I still needed: teaching materials, art supplies, old photographs...these are like the things we keep in our lives. These are the things that lift us up, remind us of who we are, and of what's important to us. And once the clutter is cleared, it's easier to remember and easier to appreciate these things.
And now? It's time to re-evaluate and clear the clutter again. Like life, it's an ongoing process.
Please Note: The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. This is not therapy, and if you wish to work in therapy, please contact your local mental health agency or your physician for a referral.
If you are in crisis or danger, please call 911 for immediate help. Please, again, realize that seeking out help really IS a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be alone in facing these things – there are people who care and who will help.