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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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« Learn One Amazing Secret That Helps You Let Go | How to Figure Out Where to Start Organizing »

What Makes It So Hard to Let Go?

Difficulty letting go is one of the reoccurring themes that I frequently encounter in my organizing work with clients. In fact, this is often one of the first steps in the organizing process. You can’t organize if you haven’t gone through the editing phase. Many clients find it extremely challenging to let go of their physical stuff, places, ideas, unhealthy relationships, items from their to do lists or unproductive habits. Of course the challenge with letting go isn’t reserved only for clients. I see this also with family, friends, colleagues and myself.

The tension between holding on and letting go is part of being human.

I find it interesting too, that even nature is finding it hard to let go this year. Winter just hasn’t seemed ready to transition. Just this week, what should have been a beautiful spring day was anything but that. I was surprised waking up to plants covered with snow and cool temperatures to match. Spring wants to arrive, but winter isn’t ready to let go and make room for growth.

Isn’t that what our challenge with letting go is all about? We hold on tightly to what we think we might need or want even if it’s value or usefulness has long passed. We hold on because it’s familiar or comfortable. We hold on because we’re fearful of letting go.

So what makes it so hard to let go? For me it depends on the what. Letting go of clothes I no longer wear or don’t feel good in, I can easily donate. However, books that I’ve read and might want to refer to again, I have a much harder time giving away. Papers that need to be saved or archived for tax purposes I keep, but junk mail, read magazines or notes that I’ve attended to, I recycle without hesitation.

I suspect that you are much like me. There are things you can easily let go of and others that prove more challenging. I also recognize that sometimes it’s OK to hold on. We might not be ready yet to let go. However, when we are ready to clear those things and thoughts that are holding us back, it is liberating and energizing.

What is hard for you to let go of? What’s easy? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Come join the conversation.





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Reader Comments (12)

Like you, Linda, clothes and things I don't use anymore I can easily let go of. Books for the most part I can because I use the library, but I do buy on authors books and those I keep because I love to re read them when I have nothing new. I think paring down is sometimes an easier transition for some than letting go completely.

April 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

@Jill- You make an interesting distinction about "paring down" vs. "letting go completely." Even in the paring down process, letting go is involved. But the perspective you offer speaks to the degree to which we let go. So if we frame it as, "I'm just going to let go of a FEW things," as opposed to MANY things, that might take some fear and pressure off the process and in turn make letting go more doable. Thank you for offering this to us.

April 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I definitely agree that each of our struggles is unique, reflecting the individual way in which we all encounter and interact with the world. Letting go is ultimately a change, and change is rarely easy. Focusing on the end benefit -- more space for what matters most -- can help alleviate the anxiety of making a hard decision.

April 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

@Seana- Such wise words…"focusing on the end benefit…for what matter mosts - can help alleviate the anxiety" for letting go. It's so true that often what we say we want is one thing. But being able to do the work involved is another. When decision-making becomes challenging, it's helpful to revisit the desired benefit. That can help with increasing focus, and as you said, lessening anxiety.

April 6, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I have a hard time letting go of books that were my mother's, even if I probably won't read them again.

April 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet- The emotional attachment to our possessions is strong. I was just thinking about my book collection and some of the books that feel close to impossible to let go of. As you said, they are ones I'll never read again, but the attachment is strong because of the person that wrote them or gave them to me. It's a good thing we have a large amount of bookshelf space.

About once a year, I try to review the collection and donate at least a bag of books to our local library. Some years I'm more successful than others.

April 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love books. I love to hold them, to look at them, and to read them. But I've stopped saving them because it just doesn't make sense to me. They take up space, are a hassle to move and in reality I'll rarely read any of them again.
I owned several old, old Wizard of Oz books that my father had gathered for me at local yard sales and thrift shops. He's long gone now and I've given those books to my adult daughter because she loved to read them over and over. When she no longer wants to read them she knows I have no problem with her passing them on.

April 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Great post, Linda. My biggest struggle when letting go of things is memoriablia. I started weeding through old pictures, especially pictures that brought me sad memories and that helped. I remove many of them from various points in my life. It's nice to know that we all struggle with something when getting rid of things.

April 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

Love the reference to the weather and Mother Nature. So true that we are given challenges in life that teach us about letting go. Mother Nature is very wise and can teach us a elot.

April 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKim

@Janet (the wise)- Very brave of you to pass on the books. One concept that I've read about is something called "safe passage." When we find a place or a person to give our things to so that we know they'll have a good home, it's easier to let go. And it looks like you've done exactly that with your Wizard of Oz books. Lovely.

@Sabrina- Thanks so much. Memorabilia IS challenging. So many memories and strong attachments to people, places and who we used to be. Recently one of my clients decided to let go of some photos she'd kept her entire life for the same reason as yours….they made her sad. It's a brave thing to do.

@Kim- I'm with you 100%. There are many teachers in our lives and Mother Nature is one of the best ones.

April 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I've been working with a client who was struggling with this, specifically around a deceased family member's belongings. Yet when we changed the wording from letting go to releasing it, it helped changed her mindset. I have trouble releasing some of my son's belongings. I just want to freeze him from growing up and I feel like saving his stuff helps me do that, though I know it doesn't.

April 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Soboleski

@Sarah- What a great discovery around the language that we use. Just a small shift in word choice can change our perspective. I totally understand what you mean about wanting to "freeze" time with our kids. They DO grow up so fast. Treasure all the moments…and the good news is that they'll keep on coming.

April 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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