For me 2009 was a year of tremendous learning and change, love and loss, as well as shedding stuff and organizing. Now that the frenzy of activity has passed I have enjoyed some time to reflect on many things including lessons learned.
The lesson revealed to me was one my dad tried to teach me more than once. You see we moved quite a few times. Each time he had us take things that were perfectly useful, but that we had not been using (or even remembered we had!) and put them in a box labeled “good junk”. He would date the box. One year later, after we were long since settled into our new home, he would take the box and donate it.
Despite our pleas to take just one last look because we felt compelled to be absolutely sure there wasn’t something we really needed in that box, he would say NO emphatically. He reminded us that we already knew what was in there. Given we had not felt the need to open the box for any of it for a whole year, why would we think we needed any of it now?
I think the reason is because it can be really hard to let go, even when we know it is the right thing, the best thing, or simply that we have no real choice in the matter. While I started 2009 on a mission to get rid of things, in the process I let go of much more: some out of choice and some due to circumstance, and sometimes more gracefully than others. Yet I leave this year feeling somehow lighter and freer.
The most obvious thing I learned is that clearing physical space creates mental space. Turns out it is also the key to staying organized. This is common wisdom perhaps. But as the saying goes “if you know but you don’t do then you don’t know”. Thankfully, I now know this to be true!
Yet the practice of eliminating physical clutter in my home carried into letting go in other realms. I have numerous boxes in my attic and drawers full of stuff from prior jobs and clients. I have for years planned to go through and sift out the “good, still useful stuff”, but instead I simply keep collecting more to “go through some day”.
I now realize it is nothing more than “good junk”. It was important to me once. It all served a meaningful purpose. There are things in there I am sure I was proud of creating or being a part of at the time. It might even be a fun walk down memory lane to go through it. I will keep a few artifacts of my past work, of course, but the ones that have mattered to me are not hiding in those boxes – I know exactly where to find them. Besides, how much do I really need to keep and what is going to be relevant anyway?
Perhaps the most important question I asked myself is what could any of it have to do with my future?
My ultimate answer: nothing…if I am willing to put my faith in the future.
- Whatever I truly learned will stay with me will be naturally reflected in whatever I do next.
- Whatever articles and magazines I saved are old news. If I need information on a topic there is a world wide web to scour now.
- Whoever touched my life in a meaningful way is either still in it and/or remains vividly in my memory, my heart and even my pictures. And thanks to tools like Linked In, Twitter and Facebook, I have reconnected with many of those people this year.
- Whatever I did not complete or fully let go of, be it relationships, failures, mistakes, regrets, grief, etc. will reveal itself again only to the extent it is in the way of my future. Then and only then will it support me to deal with it.
Making the choice to cast off those boxes un-opened was in and of itself a completion for me. It represents my stand for the profoundly different future I am designing and living into now and my faith that I have all that I need to make it a reality.
So as I say goodbye to 2009 I am thinking about what to put in that “good junk box” next that I will cast off in 2010. Thankfully this year there will be a lot fewer physical things to put in that box. I now have a lot more mental space to focus instead on some of the other things that can become baggage in our lives like expectations, beliefs, regrets, etc. that have no place in our future despite how they may have served our past.
My favorite folk artist David Wilcox wrote a song called “Farthest Shore” (track 78) that captures the essence of the power of casting off the “good junk” in this one line:
“Let me dive into the water leave behind all that I worked for except what I remember and believe. And when I stand on the farthest shore I will have all I need.”
What will go into your “good junk” box this year?
May 2010 bring you an abundance of success and satisfaction in your life and in your work. I am grateful to all who have been reading, sharing about yourselves and your work, and sharing your wisdom and insight here at Random Acts of Leadership this past year. As I write this I am approaching the one year anniversary of this blog. Thank you for making my adventure into the world of social media tremendously rewarding and enriching. Happy New Year!