letting go

Four agreements for less stress and more joy...happier holidays may require a little shift in thinking.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, as my family does, or any of the beautiful cultural traditions that we find in December, the Winter Solstice is a time of year that can increase stress if we allow the goal of perfection to guide us.

You know what I am talking about…the perfect gift, the perfect outfit, the perfect party, the perfect meal, the perfect guest list…you get the idea.

What if you were to strive for your own version of excellence and to let good enough be good enough? Could this shift in thinking shift your experience of the holiday season? I say, “Yes!”

Home Organizing Solutions

About a year ago, I read a book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. In his book he describes four basic principals for approaching your life. His words are simple, yet profoundly important and applicable to daily life. I find them inspiring and since it is the season for sharing, I will share them with you now.

#4. DO YOUR BEST

Yes, I am beginning with the fourth because it is my favorite. It allows us to be human, does not expect perfection, and implies that forgiveness is near at hand. If we operate from a place of always doing our best, we are free to focus our energy from our strengths and, I hope, to feel less judgment with the results.

With guests due to arrive in two days, I have a festively decorated home, my gift shopping is finished, and gifts are wrapped. But I have NOT shopped for the food yet, and have one bathroom out of order. Not ideal with a house full of people, but a small problem in the scheme of life.

I can stress about it, or I can let it go. This year I will grocery shop with the crowd but make the best of it. The food will be fresh, and it will be good enough. And, as they say, “Many hands make small work.”

Doing your best means letting people know what is helpful, and then actually letting them help. Let them do their best and you will multiply the joy in the day.

#3. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

If there was ever a time to ask questions, it is now. This could be as simple as asking guests about food allergies, or your daughter what she wants most for her holiday feast.

Since everything revolves around food with my family, it is imperative that I find out what people expect to see on the table. Lord help me if Elizabethan Carrots or brussel sprouts are not on the menu this year. I assumed that people would prefer traditional, pumpkin pie for dessert, but it is a unanimous “no.”

So this year, dessert will be an ooey gooey chocolatey goodness from a recipe to be discovered and executed by my daughter. And, it will be more than good enough.

#2. DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY

This has got to be one of my biggest challenges. I am a fixer. So when things are not going well, I blame myself and set out to fix them. Folks, I am here to tell you that we cannot solve all the world’s problems in one day. And many things are not ours for the solving. And that includes the many moods of the people surrounding you.

Although this season is supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” many people find their losses less bearable and sadness harder to tolerate. And, you may be on the receiving end of someone’s bad mood or unkind words. Don’t take it personally, and yes, I am telling myself this as well.

By not taking it personally, you are free to hold on to your own happiness and to share your joyful spirit with others, which might just lighten their load a little.

And just in case, you need a little visual inspiration, I highly recommend watching, “Elf.” This has become a family favorite for good reason. “Smiling is our favorite!”

#1. BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

This is where things become complicated. To be impeccable with your word requires that you be honest AND kind, honest, but NOT disparaging, honest, but NOT hurtful. A tall order, but sets clear boundaries for choosing new language.

To be impeccable with your word also means to keep your promises. When you say no to one more thing, you are saying yes to what is most important to you. You honor your choices and commitments, and the people involved know where you stand. We cannot be everywhere at once nor can we do everything asked of us. So we must dig deep and become honest with ourselves about what is most important.

When we do this, the answers become clearer, we are grateful for good enough and cherish the present moments just as they are. After all, we are here to do and give our best. 

My very best wishes for happiness as you celebrate the holidays with your families and friends. Will see you in the new year!

Love,

Jen

Transitioning an empty nest...Yes, There IS Life after 50

Many of my clients have reached that age when their children are moving away from home or have been out of the house for a few years and they are wondering what to do with all of the stuff that has been left behind as their young adults fly the nest.

I know from personal experience that this is an uncomfortable space both physically and emotionally. As you purge and recreate spaces to suit your life, you will take steps to declutter: repurpose, donate, and recycle. Only, some of this stuff was your kids' stuff, the stuff that made up your family life, and even the seemingly trivial of things take on a larger than life value. How can I part with all of this? Who am I without it? Does parting with it negate its former value? Does letting go make me a bad parent?  What will I forget if their stuff is no longer within my sight or touch? If you are like me, these are some of the questions lurking and haunting your brain.

The thought of losing your purpose as you part with the stuff of your life is very common. It can be enough for many people to cling too tightly to too much for too long. Whether your children have taken what they want and have their own stash of sentiments boxed for treasures' sake, or are just beginning the shedding process, there comes a day when the empty spaces stare back at us. Instead of feeling a sense of possibility and excitement, we may feel overwhelming sadness and a sense of loss. I have heard this breaking point referred to as "The Wall of Panic." Ironic, because this is the point where there is actually enough space to really make changes that will move you forward into the next chapter of the book of your life.

I encourage you to trust that you  are going to fill the voids, if not with things, with memories, experiences, and discoveries. There IS life after 50. But it takes great courage and faith to believe that when the dust clears, and there are empty spaces staring back at you, that you are making way for something really good. Not better, just different. Less stress, more joy! Not erasing what was important, but making room for our lives and our hearts to expand.

Here are a few ideas from friends and clients for honoring memories while limiting the space required to house them. Feel free to share your favorite ideas with me. 

  1. Digital scrapbooks/memory books. One of my favorite examples of this is on    erinfarrellphotography.com

  2. Scanned photographs, slides, and negatives done at home or better yet, by a professional. I trust Nelson's Photography in Little Italy to do a great job!

  3. Pieces of favorite garments crafted into a quilt. This can be made using anything from baby clothes, favorite rock concert t-shirts, to your father's favorite silk tie. If you don't sew, hire your favorite quilter to make it personal for you.

  4. Review old cards and letters, keep a few favorites in a pretty box on display and recycle the rest.

Make it fun when you purge with your adult children. Crank up the music, have tasty snacks, and your favorite drinks close at hand. Letting them decide alongside you,  may be all that is needed to let go and to bless someone else with the bulk of it.
 

Decluttering...what stays and what goes, where you will stop, nobody, but you, knows!

Everywhere I look, there is a post, a magazine article, or a blog talking about the thing that has so many people baffled. What to do with your stuff. How do you decide what to keep? What exactly does it mean to declutter and what is the fuss all about?  And what about the sentimental treasures? There is no one-size-fits-all recipe, but there are guidelines that hold true for almost everyone. They are just vague enough for you to make your own spin on it and to feel successful. And I will happily share them with you now. Keep what you need and get rid of the rest. 

If you need it, use it, or if it truly makes you happy and you have the space for it, then it stays.  It's that simple!

For me, decluttering and holding on to things for way too long has been a lifelong dance, a bit like fluctuating weight gain and loss. And hey, more on that later, because I see a connection between letting go of "stuff" and letting go of unhealthy eating patterns that by extension allow us to remain overweight. Decluttering isn't something you do once and then forget about. It is a part of a lifestyle that allows you to relish the ebb and flow of the stuff of life. Letting go of what no longer makes you happy or serves a purpose in your present life may bless someone else. And, that makes parting a bit sweeter and opens up a place for something new.

I moved homes several times as a child and as an adult. But one of the most memorable moves was during fifth grade. I am remembering something that happened 47 years ago, so forgive me for embellishing to make my point. What I remember is that one day I was content and happy in my life and in my home of almost 5 years, and then the next I was told we were moving  and that I had a few days to sort and pack my room. The idea of organizing my things was completely overwhelming and in a rash moment, I threw away all but a few treasured art pieces and mementos of my youth. I was starting over and I mourned the loss of my neighborhood gang and my schoolyard friends before we had even left the driveway. No amount of paper could make up for what I was leaving behind. I am grateful that I kept letters from my Nana, paper dolls that my mother had played with as a girl, and a few other treasures including a red teddy bear with an eye missing. It made sense at the time to purge and declutter. I was starting over.

But, the lack of physical stuff bothered me on some level; it must have. It would explain my irrational need to keep every scrap of paper from my own children's school days. Sentimental, yes! But, what I have kept of theirs fills many scrapbooks, most of which they will probably rarely, if ever, review. I suspect any psychologist would recognize this attempt to refill a space or need.

As I write this, I feel a sense of closure for the first time about parting with my childhood stuff. And isn't it interesting that after all of this time, my sister reconnected with some of the people from our neighborhood gang which has begun a Facebook reunion. After all these years, the memories of such happy childhood moments are there, with or without the scraps of paper and the boxes of stuff. I am not suggesting that you purge everything. Not at all. Just be ruthless in choosing just enough to make your heart sing, but so not so much that its care and keeping becomes a full-time job. People and events are the stuff of lasting memories. And, yes, I am so happy that Zoe kept this photo, even if I DO look ridiculous with that scarf upon my head!

*photo by Barbara Watkins, taken first day of school, September 1968, used with permission from Zoe Watkins Stigler and Barbara Watkins. Thanks for sharing!