Lessons in Letting Go

This week I have been reading Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder by Corinne Grant which I borrowed from the local library. Corinne is a well known Australian stand-up, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster who is best known from her regular appearances on Rove Live with Rove McManus. In the book, Corinne uses humour to convey just how unfunny it is to feel trapped by your belongings.

The book is divided into five sections. In Where it Started, Where it Became Unsteady, Where it Collapsed, Where it Was Rebuilt, and When it Was Done. They take us through her journey from a small country town, where she knew everyone, to her life in the city, and describe the difficulties of adjusting to city life. Corinne conveys the sensitivity of a young girl to life’s everyday challenges – meeting strangers and coping with the worlds injustices, which cause her to lie away at night with worry and regret.

When living in the city, Corinne keeps treasured momentos of her childhood, but things get out of hand when her parents move house and she has to empty her childhood bedroom. This results in a lot more childhood stuff being taken to the flat she is living in, because it is too difficult to let go of.

How as I going to throw any of this out? I was sifting through it, cherishing it, fondling it, and reminiscing about it. Everything, down to the woollen beanie with the pom pom ties that my sister wore when she was three, was bringing tears to my eyes.

Knowing she needed to let go of some of her possessions, Corinne struggles to make decisions about what to let go, and even when she had decided, she can’t carry them out. Bags intended for the charity store don’t make it past the front door. Staring into overcrowded cupboard  and trowelling through boxes does not seem to produce much progress.

Surprisingly, change comes from a shift in her feelings about her life  and belongings when she is away from them. On a trip to Bali, she works through a lot of the issues that have been holding her back. Issues to do with her relationship to herself and other people, rather that stuff in the wardrobe at home. On a trip to Jordan to learn about the plight of refugees, she gets a new perspective on the importance of material possessions.

When I returned to Australia, I attacked my stored-up house of horrors with new vigour. After meeting those refugees in Jordan, I just couldn’t look at my stuff in the same way. It was daft to be so obsessed with it all… I opened each box, pulled out its contents and dispassionately sorted everything into piles. .. I stood back and eyed it all objectively. I was not going to play favourites today. I was not going to start with the easiest bits and pieces and ignore the hard ones.

This was the beginning of a long process of sorting and shedding unnecessary belongings. When she gets stuck sorting out paperwork, she calls in a professional organiser to give her a boost. Eventually, her belongings are reduced to a manageable level, and she is able to buy and move into her own house, without dragging along a lot of unnecessary stuff.

For the first time in my life, getting ready to move was not only easy, it was fun. Once upon a time, if I’d had skeletons in my closet, I would have had to move three old doonas, a moth-eaten blanket and a tafetta ballgown from the mid-eighties just to get a glimpse of their bony faces. Now, not only the stuff was gone, but the skeletons as well.

I like this book because it gives us a generous insight into the process of learning to let go. It shows the agony of trying to sort things when your emotions are running interference, and demonstrates how real progress takes place when the readiness to  change outweighs the need to hold on to things. It is encouraging because it demonstrates that feelings and behaviour can change. We are not doomed to be static beings who will always be the same. If we are willing to invest time and attention in the things that are holding us back, lasting change and growth are possible.

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