Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted a great article on Fear, and how it drives us to become cluttered and prevents us from decluttering. I tend to agree with this line of thought. The thing is, we don’t usually recognize it as fear. More typically we think we are “being prepared”, “planning for the future”, or “keeping important memories.”
Read through Leo’s article and then come back here and I will discuss the topic from a different angle. Fear is Why We Have Too Much Stuff
Some of the points in this article resonated with me, but a few seemed to be stretched to fit, or maybe the type of fear felt a little off to me. This may be a personal feeling based on my own experiences, so you may feel something different. Let’s flip the order, and discuss the fear first, rather than the subject of the fear. Having it told from both sides may help you apply it to your situation.
Fear of lack of safety and certainty
This is the “be prepared” fear. Being prepared is a bit of a red herring. You can’t be prepared by owning everything you might ever need (you would need a warehouse of epic proportions to hold everything you might ever need). Instead of being prepared physically through owning a lot of stuff, you should be prepared mentally.
Mental preparation means that you can handle whatever life throws your way. You can think through your options and take the steps you need to resolve the issue at hand. As it relates to stuff, it means that when you need something, you can go to a local store to buy it, you can borrow it from a friend, or you can rent it from a local rental facility.
This is the fear that most often arrises due to economic issues. You fear that you won’t have enough one day. Keep in mind, the only things you really need are food, water, shelter, and clothing. Once you meet those basic needs, everything else is a luxury.
As you declutter, you will learn to deal with uncertainty. It happens automatically as a byproduct of decluttering. You will learn that even if you don’t have the exact thing you need, you can often substitute, buy, rent, or borrow to meet the need. Not only that, you will learn that the need for something you don’t have comes up much less than you think, even when you have less stuff.
Fear of not being good enough
Leo’s example includes holding onto a guitar because you want to learn to play it (someday). Do it now, or let go so you have room for the things that are important in this moment.
You are good enough as you are. The only one that sets the standard for “good enough” is you. If you want to improve something then you’ll do it. If you keep putting something off, then it’s not the right time or it’s not the right thing for you to be working on in that moment. Sell or donate the things attached to that, and focus on the things that feel important to you in this moment.
Other people try to apply this “good enough” value to you, but they only do it as a way of measuring themselves. One thing I’ve found, is that when people tell you how you should improve, 99.9% of the time, it’s a reflection of the advice giver, and not a reflection on you. If you learn only one thing from this blog, I want it to be this: Unsolicited advice is always a reflection of the advice giver and never of you.
This idea will set you free from the opinions of others. You will never again feel judged, because the judger’s opinions are tainted with their fears.
Let me give you an example. Say someone tells you that you shouldn’t sell your house and downsize to an apartment. (Something I heard many times.) You know that downsizing is the right move for you and you were not seeking advice on the matter, yet they tell you anyway. The advice giver tells you this because they have deep hidden fears that their house might be too big, or that they may have made some bad decisions when buying their house, or that their house isn’t the great “investment” they thought it would be.
This applies to any advice. Pay attention next time someone gives you advice you didn’t ask for (and sometimes even when you did.) See if you can find their own personal fears in the advice. I’ll bet you that you’ll easily see their fears when you are looking for them.
Fear that the love you have now is not good enough
The way Leo described this one did not resonate with me. It may be true with some, that you fear the love you have now isn’t good enough. For me, I held on to sentimental things because I was afraid I would forget the memories. It was the fear of forgetting pieces of myself. Maybe the sentimental stuff, in my case, was related to the fear of not being good enough. Or maybe it does have to do with love related fear. It’s hard to really pin down the fear associated with decluttering sentimental items.
Maybe in a broader sense this is the Fear that the Me in the Now is Not Good Enough. This fear encompasses all the other fears. It’s the fear that you are past your prime, that you need to be better, that you need more love.
The way I recommend overcoming the fear that the love you have now isn’t good enough, is to switch from receiving love to giving love. Show your love for others in tiny ways throughout the day. Compliment someone. Buy lunch for a friend. Help someone in need. Give hugs. Give fist bumps and high fives. Giving love is more rewarding than receiving it. Become a giver of love and the receiving will happen automatically.
As this applies to decluttering sentimental items, this is my advice. Know that the memory is not attached to the thing. The memory may be triggered by a thing, but the memory exists whether or not you have the thing that triggers it. The memory is never lost.
As you practice letting go of things when decluttering, you will automatically learn to let go of the past. It’s another case of learning through practice.
How to Cope with Fears
Here is a brief recap of Leo’s advice on how to cope with fears.
- First notice that you have fear.
- Stay with the fear.
- Smile at the fear.
- Develop a friendliness with it.
I would add that when “noticing” the fear, you might not recognize it as fear. Your first inclination will be anything but fear. You might say that you are fearful of having fears. We are taught from a very early age that fear is bad, but we aren’t given the tools to look at the cause of those fears. Instead we look for ways to avoid the fears.
As you start decluttering and find an items you are hesitant to get rid of, ask yourself, “What scares me about getting rid of this item?” That is the first step of — notice that you have fear. Most often you will feel this as anxiety rather than fear. If you notice anxiety, that’s your cue to dig deeper to identify the fear.
Keep these thoughts on fear in your mind as you go through the week. Consider the things people say to you, and identify their fears. Then pay attention as you go through your day and identify your own hidden fears.