I love watching the late George Carlin‘s sketch about our Stuff where he describes how all of our stuff expands to fit into larger and larger areas. No matter how much we upsize, we never seem to have the room we need. Unless we have a garage sale or decide to downsize, many of us seem to collect until the day we die (and then others have to get rid of our “stuff”.)
I perused through Gail McMeekin’s The Power of Positive Choices: Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life yesterday where she describes the S in P O S I T I V E C H O I C E S as the power of Subtraction. It occurred to me that she is bang on with her assertion that the removal of unproductive factors from our life can be a positive thing.
That led me to ponder that human beings are not just “material” collectors, but also emotional collectors. We collect people, experiences, and memories during our life – many of which we should have discarded long ago! If we stopped to take an inventory of the intangible stuff we collect and store in our mental garages (our head), we would probably find a cache of garbage or things we no longer need. Moreover, we might find things that actually work against us and no longer serve our best interests.
Maybe it is time for a mental garage sale – or even a run to the dump… I realize that I need to learn the new math: subtraction can add years to your life!
I started by taking inventory of my mental garage and here is what I found:
1. A pile of Toxic Relationships.
For the past six years (I call December 2005 my awakening), I knew that I was hoarding this “pile”. While it is not as big as it once was, it still resembled a stack of old clothes that no longer fit and served as reminders of times gone by. These toxic relationships were not always toxic, in fact they involve people who once served a purpose in my life (I understand some of them); some resembled friends or colleagues, while others were family. Nonetheless, the relationships were not mutually beneficial and no longer fit what I could tolerate in my new self-loving life. Typically toxic relationships involve verbal abuse, manipulation, coercion, guilt or other unhealthy factor, or it is parasitic (one being lives off the energy or health of another.) Regardless, a toxic relationship is at a minimum unhealthy, or even deadly (over time) to at least one of the parties. Unless the terms can be altered to become a healthy relationship, it is not worth maintaining. In the same way that closet space can be better used for well-fitting new clothes, the space left by removing toxic relationships leaves room for new healthy ones.
2. A wall of old horror movies.
It was not long after finding the toxic relationships that I noticed this emotional space-stealer! The once valuable cache contained hours of painful experience “replays” (from every possible camera angle) dating from childhood to the present. While these served a temporary purpose while a lesson was being learned, today they are nothing more than cruel reminders of past negative events. The contents ran the gamut of pre-K pants-wetting, taunts of childhood bullies, pain of unrequited love, outbursts of hormonal girls, sports and academic disappointment, scoldings of disapproving parents, and physical and verbal assaults. Some of the actors were no longer even familiar, but reliving the pain was real. Through the years a particular set may have served a purpose when I hoped to avoid similar screenplays, but realistically their value is mostly horrific. Moreover, by occupying valuable mental “wall space”, there is less real estate available for the happy movies.
Figuratively “tossing out” the wall of movies was empowering and refreshing. While I realize that each experience taught me something, I do not need to relive them. It is more important to note how the collection contributed into making me the strong, independent, self-reliant woman I am today.
3. Bookcases of obsolete encyclopedia:
Don Miguel Ruiz talks about how we are “domesticated” with lies during childhood -intended to nurture us into submission as safety-minded, cooperative, giving (and over-giving), “civilized” adults. Many of the agreements we unwittingly entered as children no longer serve us, and need to be severed along with the “encyclopedias” from the past. Agreements such as “children should be seen and not heard” and “strangers are dangerous” can become debilitating in adulthood unless we rid them from our psyche. I found several encyclopedia series on my bookshelf – all long outdated – with focuses on religion, geography (now obsolete), and rule books promoting decades old opinions and sexist attitudes. I had no idea I stored so many “textbooks” because they all blended into the mental garage. As I unload them to the trash, I am amazed at the beauty of the wood grain and thrilled to see how much room is left for new beliefs and fresh ideas.
4. Outdated survival provisions.
Even though I live in a state where we annually stockpile provisions (water, batteries, and canned goods), I was surprised to find a cache of outdated provisions in my psyche. I found torn “sandbags” intended to keep watershed tears at bay should there be another flash flood (a divorce or death); expired “cans” of justification to feed anyone if they exploit my vulnerability (“you’re too sensitive” or “you shouldn’t feel that way”); an expired “fire extinguisher” to combat verbal abuse (gosh I wish I knew this was when I needed it!); and tins of emotional “mace” to ward off intruders who don’t respect my boundaries. All of these were at one time fresh and necessary to provide security, but their utility has since passed and they all need to be ditched and possibly replenished. Wow, I am amazed at the space these took up!
5. Luggage filled with emotional “stuff”.
When I “travel” outside my comfort zone, I have a few prized bags that serve me well. When I glance around inside my head, I notice so many nearly new pieces of luggage that I might have used once or twice, filled with items that are doubles of what I already have. It is like having a mismatched set of sports bags, suitcases, and backpacks – all beautiful in their own right, but they are “extras” and take up space. As an idea collector, this luggage housed concepts from self-help books, motivational speakers, “gourmet” lifestyle magazines, all good in their own right, but together they create clutter and take up space. A cluttered mental garage is as dangerous as a real life counterpart – and could be fire starter to a misguided spark. I commit all these orphaned ideas to the garage sale.
Now that I realize how much space emotional subtraction can add – I am on a quest to declutter and clean out my mental garage.
Next on my agenda will be to do the same (again) in my physical environment. This brings to mind the idea of The 100 Thing Challenge, but that’s the topic of a future post.
Does any of this make sense to you?
Have a great week!