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How To Deal With the Pain of Letting Go

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

7 Steps for helping you deal with letting go of your possessions.

As many of you know I'm a therapist trained as a Professional Organizer. I have a private practice in which I see clients helping them with issues related to hoarding, chronic disorganization, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. Among the many places, I'm listed for marketing purposes is the website Psychology Today. By having a listing on this site you receive a monthly subscription to their magazine. In the August issue, there's an article titled: From Loss to Love by Steven C. Hayes PhD which really struck a chord with me.  

The article talks about ways to deal with the pain of loss. The author emphasizes that there is no right or wrong response to loss, that people grieve in various ways, and that the healing process is different for everyone. Though I don't deal with death and dying in my practice, themes of loss do abound. The loss someone experiences when giving up their belongings is real and can be very painful. 

Here are the steps in the article which can help you move forward to get on the journey of getting your life back:

1. Acknowledge Loss

Before healing can happen there needs to be recognition that there's an open wound. I encourage my clients to acknowledge the pain of losing a loved one and having to go through their belongings, the mourning that takes place when they're giving up a dream and the items that go with it or the memories attached to possessions of a happy time gone by. 

2. Embrace Feelings of Loss

Nobody likes to experience pain. Typically, we want to avoid it at all costs. Often times I find that many people avoid tackling their clutter because it brings up feelings of pain in the form of shame, guilt, overwhelm, loss, etc. If you keep postponing tackling your project, the pain will continue to pop up over and over. Rather than go through the resurfacing of these feelings repeatedly, it's best to just lean into the loss and try to tolerate those emotions. The author suggests making a list of your feelings to see if over time they diminish or your tolerance for them grows. 

3. Expand Your Scope of Vision

As you allow yourself to wade deeper into your emotional states, tune into what other feelings, possibly positive or unexpected, might come up. These could include freedom, relief, laughter, or pride. Many times once people get into the flow of releasing items from their homes there does come a sense of relief and contentment. It's as if the physical and mental weight of the objects has been lifted. 

4. Prepare to Be Overwhelmed 

There will be times that you feel like you've been run over by a truck. It's completely normal, especially in the early stages of grieving. You might have a roller coaster of emotions. Bad minutes, bad hours, and bad days are going to happen. Keep the big picture in mind and measure your progress over weeks and months instead. In my work with clients I often take pictures of their spaces, it helps to mark progress and can be a motivator for when they're feeling stuck to remember how far they've come. 

5. Watch Out for Unhelpful Thoughts 

I should be able to get rid of this stuff on my own. I should be over this by now. It's all my fault. These thoughts are part of the grieving process, but it's important to observe them with perspective. These are your reactions not actual facts of the situation. 

6. Connect with What Matters 

Despite what your mind is telling you, there is still meaning in your life. Your pain is proof that you're still alive. The nurse I take my son to tells me all the time that fever is good as it means he's fighting off illness and getting better. Similarly, your pain means you're healing. Recognize that your feelings of loss identify what is meaningful to you and use that information to shape your life going forward down a worthwhile and fulfilling path. 

7. Take Committed Action

After identifying what is truly close to your heart, take actionable steps toward it. This could mean resuming routines, reaching out to others, picking up work, volunteering, or tackling another organizing project.

The loss involved in de-cluttering a space is a very real emotion. I encourage you to acknowledge your feelings during painful times as you wade through your clutter and to recognize where you are on the healing journey. According to Dr. Steven Hayes, "The pain of loss is unavoidable, yet millions harm themselves trying to escape it. But loss has a sweet side, and when you open yourself to the pain, you open yourself to the joy."

I encourage you to share this article with a loved one who is struggling with the pain of loss.

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