KonMari and Emptying the Backpack

FIVE years ago I wrote a blog post, Emptying the Backpack, about the liberation of letting go of STUFF, and projects, and ideas of the self.

FIVE years I kept putting items out on my "free stuff shelf" and completing hundreds of tasks and projects .

So, why do I still feel overburdened, encumbered, and trapped?

I think there are TWO reasons, and THREE solutions, and I think they will work for you, too.

TWO Reasons for Failure

Focusing on what to give away makes you feel bad

You've already gotten rid of what and whom you don't care about. That was not hard. Now you are looking at a shelf, a box, the closet, your circumstances, and picking things that you care the least about (but still have feelings for), haven't used the longest (but still might some day), don't fit (but might once you lose five pounds), and odds and ends that you might need to repair, replace, or wear to the next funeral. Also, the people in your life, you care about them (even that friend that drags you to parties that bore you to death).

This leads to a continuous sense of loss and deprivation, and fear of loss and deprivation on top of that.

It makes you feel bad.

Feeling guilty about letting go

How could you possibly give away that ugly silverware in the back of your drawer that you never use, because it's been in the family for three generations? And that creepy doll that your godfather gave you for your ninth birthday? What about the keepsake from a college sweetheart that you could never wear, but you had some wonderful times together?

It all goes back into the box, and you drag it along for another round.

Along with projects you should really do, responsibilities and commitments from times gone. Your children's pets, your board membership in an organization you used to be passionate about, growing your own vegetables, maybe even your job with great benefits and increasing boredom.

You feel bad about keeping them all, and you feel worse about letting them go.

And, you have long-standing responsibilities, after all. Old friends that need you. If you let them down, who will care? Who could possibly love your pets the way you do? Water your plants just right? And that small charity and the starving artists on Patreon that rely on your support?

You hate the load, and you cannot stop carrying someone else's along with yours.

You are trapped on a carousel of guilt.

THREE Steps towards Success

Imagine the outcome

It's not just about why you want to give away your stuff and abandon your old projects. Maybe you are moving, maybe you want a simpler life, maybe you want to feel free of attachments and obligations so you can pick up and travel like you used to, before kids and a house and a gathering of pets. Maybe you want to feel unencumbered, able to follow the possibilities.

Imagine where you want to end up, how you will feel in that place, what you will do and how, in vivid colors, and add some music, too.

Maybe you have a lifestyle in mind. Imagine it with what you need, want, and enjoy. Imagine feeling unencumbered by things and responsibilities, and the past doesn't drag on you like a ball and chain.

Let go of the past by remembering it

We encode our past in things. And then we hang on to them to remind us of the stories, and the lessons, and the pain, too. It is OK to let go of that pain, it doesn't make you a better person. If you haven't learned the lesson, you probably won't or don't need to. You will remember the stories worth remembering, and your enthusiasm for cool projects you didn't quite get around to tackle. Your passed on relatives don't care whether you keep the dusty, broken grandfather clock that fills half of your dining nook. If the item is only a burden, appreciate it for what it is, relive the memories, and imagine the joy it will give to someone who truly wants it.

This is hard.

Focus on what to keep by category and joy it gives you

KonMari insists that you collect all the things from a category in one place, and then only keep the items that "spark joy". This is a mindset towards what you want, what you imagine, and most of all, what makes you feel positive. That hooded jacket, you feel cuddled every time you slip into it. The cooking pot you use every day, it may not fill you with wide enthusiasm, but life without it would be a little less.

Stacking items in one place matters. It moves the things out of their established context and let's you see the amassed volume of your past. This is not a race. Take your time. It's OK to spend some days on a stack, take an emotional break, but don't make it too long.

There are many things in your life that cause anguish, and you can't control them. The things you can choose, choose the good stuff.

Reshape Responsibilities

For a person with no morality, there are no responsibilities. I am not that person. I believe that there are responsibilities I have taken on, and they are mine to live to completion. Such as taking care of my parents and my kids. The living things I have taken ownership of, such as my dog and other pets.

I am not going to lie, having lots of money would greatly help. So, maybe making lots of money is a worthwhile project to consider pursuing, balanced against the sacrifices this requires. Great sacrifices for most.

The other path is creativity. How can I reshape those responsibilities into giving more joy, take less time, produce less stress, and be sustainable without dragging me through the mud every single day.

Through automation, focus, and efficiency. Through getting and giving help from and to those same people that I joyfully decided to keep in my life. This is hard.

And finally, I am noticing that by relinquishing all that does not spark joy, I am starting to have heart-space for unshirkable responsibilities. Maybe this will become a non-problem.

If you get stuck, try meditation.

As in, sit quietly with an item, a thought, or idea.

Create the mental and emotional quiet space to feel it out.

Does it spark joy?

Credits (No Affiliation): The ideas in this post have been inspired by Liu Ming, KonMari , Laura Silva Quesada and many others.

Bonus Notes on Categories

The big ones:

Clothes, Books, Papers, Miscellaneous

It is helpful to break Miscellaneous down.

Here are some categories that might work for you:

  • Art supplies
  • Sheet music, lesson CDs, and song books
  • Camping and hiking gear
  • CDs
  • Tools
  • Gardening stuff
  • Medicines, Supplements, and medical supplies
  • Pet supplies (and pets?)
  • Games - physical, on your computer, on your phone
  • Apps on your phones
  • People in your life (remembered, imagined, and real)
  • Bathroom items
  • Cleaning supplies