130 Shirts, 20 Pairs of Pants and a Problem Solving Activity
This weekend I held space for someone dear to me to let go of a big chunk of the past and deposit it squarely into the bin at the Goodwill. Initially I was more inspired than she was. I had picked up a copy of the best selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Since it is so much more entertaining to facilitate someone else’s journey through their past than it is to journey through my own, I was ready and eager to help her jump into the first category of tidying, clothing.
Simplified, Kondo’s system involves holding each piece of clothing to see if it sparks joy or if it brings up something else. It doesn’t much matter what the something is, if it isn’t joy, it goes. I was a tad skeptical as I gathered the first armload of clothes from her closet and put them on a pile on the bedroom floor. But as soon as I handed her the first item, she groaned. I can’t really describe the reaction, but it clearly wasn’t joy. I asked what she was feeling and she talked about what she had in mind when she purchased the item. Something that never came to pass. She wasn’t quite sure why she held onto to it all these years, but it made her feel bad every time she looked at it.
“Is that an event you still are hoping to happen in your life?” I inquired.
She pondered the question, “No. Not really.”
I followed Kondo’s instructions, urging her to thank the item for the purpose it had served and let it go.
“Maybe that wasn’t its intended purpose. Perhaps its intended purpose was to show you what you didn’t want?”
“Yes. Things would have been different. That’s for sure. I like the place I’m in much better”.
“Can you be thankful for that?”
She looked at the item for another few seconds and then with a sense of ease and grace, she slipped it into the Goodwill bag. This continued for hours. With each item let go, so was the energy attached to it. The blouse that was the go to item for dancing the night away back in the 90’s. The business suit that served her so well when business meetings were part of the deal. The jeans that she was saving for when she lost 15 pounds even though we all know that when you lose 15 pounds, the best part is shopping for new jeans!
Within a few hours, 150 empty hangers lay in a scramble on the floor next to 5 trash bags earmarked for Goodwill. She stood in her walk in closet with beautiful clothing, feeling the sparks of joy and happiness coming from her clothing. Repeatedly she commented on how much lighter she felt. And how she felt new space not only in the closet, but also in her life. How oddly she could feel that some of her current goals and dreams were ready to come to fruition simply because she had let go of old, stuck energy.
The next day I went to facilitate a retreat for a non-profit board of directors. I wasn’t surprised when one of the themes that showed up during the day was how attachment to the energy of the past clouds the ability to move forward in the present moment.
The team was doing Mimeograph, a problem solving activity where they recreate a pattern using a deck of Ubuntu cards. Each team member can look at the master for a few minutes and then brings data back to the group (sequestered in another room) and they work together to create a replica of the original pattern.
This is the second year I’ve worked with this team, but the first time ever using this activity or the Ubuntu cards. An amazing thing happened during their planning process. A team member reminded them of an activity they did last year (which was totally unrelated to this one) and during the time set aside specifically for planning how they would gather the data (what order they would go in, what data they would seek and how much time each person would be allotted) they began trying to solve this problem using the same framework of last year’s unrelated activity. I listened in amazement as they began arranging the cards in a way that told a story (which was not really possible with this deck) because telling a story was the point of the activity last year.
I was struck by how much the energy of the past was impacting this present moment. And how easily the whole team, even three people who weren’t there last year, were drawn into this energy. They hadn’t even begun to collect new data (what is happening now) nor were they focusing on the instructions (to recreate the layout of the cards on the table in the other room) nor were they using their planning time to plan. They were instead trying to put 52 non-related cards into a story sequence. The lessons from that previous activity were fabulous. And helped them grow throughout the past year. But those were over and it was time to release them and move forward.
It was the same with my friend and her old clothing. She was holding onto what was no longer bringing her joy or was actually relevant to moving forward today. She was stuck trying to make old stories fit into her present.
What places in your life can you examine old items and their stories, hold them for a moment to see if they spark joy and spaciousness and if not, thank them for the purpose they served and let them go?
Witnessing my friend’s transformation, I became eager to embark on this journey myself. Last night I ended up with my own 50 empty hangers and 4 bags for Goodwill. I am so grateful to Marie Kondo and her simple, easy to read book. I’m only half way through the book (and my tidying) but the lessons just keep unfolding.
P.S. If you haven't check out Marie Kondo's book, you can order it here!