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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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A Pattern: Live, Acquire, Release

We live. We acquire. We release. There are many patterns in life, and this is one of them. Is this familiar to you?


We live.

What does it mean to live? At the most basic level, it’s about being alive, breathing, existing. Yet for most of us, that’s not enough. We want our lives to have meaning. We want to give, to love, to connect with others. We want to explore, to create, to taste, to feel, to see, to touch all that we can. We want to do and just be. Do we spend our time with what matters most to us? Or do we spend our time stuck, feeling anxious, overwhelmed by our things, wishing that life were different, or that we were different? We live. But how do we live?


We acquire.

The “stuff” of life comes to us. We either intentionally acquire it or receive it from others. The sources can be physical, digital, or emotional. We range in our acquiring patterns from overconsumption to more minimalist approaches. As professional organizers, part of the work we do is about helping our clients manage their acquisitions. We teach them to edit, organize, and let go of the “stuff” that no longer serves a purpose for them. The acquiring is easy. However, once something belongs to us, it gives that “thing” more importance than it had before it entered our lives. When our emotional attachment takes hold, it can make letting go more challenging. What is enough? Knowing that there will be a time to let go, how will that influence our acquiring behaviors? How much time do we want to spend managing our “stuff?”


We release.

The ultimate letting go is with our last breath. Before that happens, there are many other types of letting go along the way. All of the things that we’ve collected and edited and organized and struggled with eventually move on. Either we take personal responsibility for our possessions and make arrangements for their release, or we don’t. If we don’t, it becomes someone else’s responsibility. This someone might be a loved one or a stranger. Working with both elders and their adult children, this struggle around keeping or letting go is an integral part of my work. It’s also part of my personal experience as a parent and daughter. If our “stuff” is a burden on us, what does it become for those it’s left to?


We live. We acquire. We release. We know the pattern. What resonates with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you having challenges or successes in any of these areas? Please add to the conversation.

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Reader Comments (15)

Truly a simple process! How is it we get so stuck? I love that you have brought out how we need to move to the next step with our possessions.

I also tend to think of this process as seasons of our life. Each season brings different needs and as we move through the season, we can release what we no longer use or need.

Thanks for helping us through the process!

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Hi Ellen! Good question. How IS it that we get so stuck? Does it often seem like we spend less time thinking about the acquiring part and MORE time struggling with the de-acquiring part? I love the connection you made about this process corresponding to the seasons of our life. I'm sure that's true. I also wonder if we develop an awareness earlier than later what kind of positive influence that might have. Perhaps it would make way for less struggle later on?

April 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

"How much time do we want to spend managing our stuff?” Linda, that question is key. If always ask ourselves that, we probably start to get the big picture about stuff in life; realizing that the stuff in so many ways can holding us from doing things we really enjoy and worrying less about utilitarian possessions.
About stuff and burden, as you say, if something is a burden to me, why in the world I'd choose pass it on to a loved one? That is not caring about people we love. Is an egotistical way to deal with stuff, "I don't want to deal with things so I transfer that responsibility onto some other"
It's important to take full responsibility in our stuff, living to a full extend, acquiring those things we really need or enjoy and releasing them from their services once we are done and have no more meaning or use to us.

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

Hey Nacho- Asking key questions is helpful when it comes to figuring out how we want to live (with and without our stuff.) It's true that too much stuff can overwhelm and prevent us from really living our lives. It can become a burden, as you said. Letting go happens in many ways. And sometimes that letting go can be easier IF we release our things to others that can use or enjoy them. So passing them on to a special friend, family member, charity, recycling center can make the giver feel good about clearing.

April 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I always speak about the positives of the letting go -- the freedom, the lightness, the agility. So often we speak lovingly of shopping/acquiring/getting, and then bemoan letting go. But passing useless or burdensome items out of our lives can give you just as a good a release as buying new ones!

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJunk Angel

Linda, this process does sound so simple, doesn't it? But unfortunately, this pattern is not so 'natural' for many of our clients. I ask my clients to think about their acquiring as a natural life progression. Like 'life,' it has its beginnings and endings; life and death. Everything has a life cycle. Things come into ourselves and things go out.
This thinking has always provided a powerful perspective for my clients, and has inspired them to model this behavior to their children. Children mimic parents they are learning these important life's lessons that 'letting go' is a necessary part of life.

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Most times it is easier to acquire something than it is to let it go. It is the possession part I think that holds us hostage. We need to ask the question of why we are holding on to it to be able to let it go. You are right Linda, there is always a pattern.

April 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

Love all the perspectives and thoughts you've added. What a great group!

@Seana- Such positive encouragement you bring here about acquiring and letting go being "just as good a release as buying new ones."

@Junk Angels- Thanks. Glad you stopped by.

@Nancy- You're right that this process, while reduced way down to the simplest of forms is in fact NOT always simple to do. It's more of a recognition of a pattern I've noticed and an opportunity to examine and ask some questions. You're so right about the positive modeling opportunities we have as parents…to help our children learn and practice letting go.

@Jill- Colorful language...Possessions holding us hostage! In so many instances that's so true. Our stuff becomes our excuse for not doing, not communicating, or interacting with others. It can weigh us down and hold us back from living.

April 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda, like Ellen, the simplicity of the process jumped out as I read the post. And yet, the emotions we bring to the relationship with things can make it so difficult to let go. My personal "break free" from managing stuff came because of 6 moves in less than 11 years and having 3 boys. I truly felt all I did was to manage things and not live "a life", so I decided to always keep it simple. But I had to feel that overwhelm deeply before a change happened, was quite interesting. Now, when helping clients, I focus on what are their life priorities so they too can gauge if their "stuff" is a helper or on the their way.

April 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

Helena- You've been through so many changes. 6 moves in 11 years, along with having 3 children during that time too. Wow! Also amazing is that in your effort to reduce your overwhelm, you sought out change and learned to simplify. How wonderful that you're able to use your experiences to help your clients identify priorities and decide if their stuff helps or hinders them. Just beautiful!

April 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda, As always your post is so timely and I've enjoyed reading the perspectives of others who have commented here. As you know, this has been a big year of change for me and now my husband has decided that it is really important to reduce his commute time by moving closer to the city. We've talked about this in past years as something to consider "down the line" and it looks like that time has arrived a little sooner than I expected it would.

As such, my "plan" of downsizing slowly over the course of the next 3-5 years and setting aside our furniture and household castoffs for our kids who will be setting up their households, might be shifting to warp speed. Faced with the thought of having to release so much, so quickly without necessarily being able to dispose of things the way I had anticipated has me tied up in knots and feeling like one of my clients.

What Nancy said about everything having a life cycle struck a chord with me. At this point, I don't feel that the life cycle is over for my relationship with so many of these things I'll be releasing. Finding a way to consider "life cycle" from another perspective may serve me.

Helena's words have inspired me and I admire her ability to "break free." I feel that I too am going to have to experience "that overwhelm deeply before a change happen"s with respect to how I feel about my stuff. Thanks for the opportunity to process what is going through my head today. It helps. : )

April 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Sharb

Andrea- I can see the wheels turning. Lots going on. So glad that you joined us to share. So the plan has sped up and you're not quite ready for faster pace? Change is often challenging, no matter what the pace. It'll be interesting to see if perspective shifting helps for you. And I have to ask…is it possible to slow things down? Or is the swifter pace a definite? There have been times for me personally and also for my clients when there seems to be an urgency to change something, but that urgency is causing undue pressure and stress. And when there is the luxury of time, we've opted to slow things down. I get that we don't always have that luxury. But again, just had to ask. Is slower possible?

April 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Dear Linda, I love this post. It reminds me of the conversation I have with my hoarding disorder clients. So many times we help the children of someone who has died and left them a houseful of possessions filled to the brim. Most often, the children are overwhelmed with this new burden, and decide to pick through what they want and donate the rest.

You cannot take anything with you when you take that "final release" (you gave me chills when I read that!). It's not fair to leave your kids with so many decisions, and they most often don't honor your possessions as you do.

I had just as much fun reading everyone's comments! Thanks for another great article Linda!

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Seavey

Rachel- The scenario you describe is so familiar in terms of adult children being left to handle the contents of their parent's home once they've passed on. Overwhelm IS the word to describe how so many of us feel in this situation. Your clients are lucky to have your help. It's such an emotional time and having the support of others present during the process of choosing the treasures and releasing the rest is so important.

I've worked with many clients and family members that wanted to organize and manage their things so that their loved ones wouldn't have to. However, during that time, life took unexpected turns with health, finances, or passing away. So they weren't able to accomplish their goals and their families were left with a lot to handle. It's challenging to create a sense of urgency when we think we have all the time in the world to get our things together. Sometimes we do. And unfortunately, sometimes we don't.

Awareness comes first. Action next.

May 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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