Decluttering Your Calendar

Oftentimes, people bring the task of sorting stuff to Bite the Candy. It’s not surprising – sorting stuff is something we all procrastinate about doing from time to time. Even if we’re pretty vigilant about what we acquire and clean up our messes as we go, there are still piles that inevitably accumulate.

And what came up in last month’s session is just how stubborn and surprisingly emotional some of those piles can be to sort through.

One of the best insights I’ve ever come across about why we hang on to our stuff is that we associate particular objects with our identity.

For instance: in the process of cleaning out the garage, you might realize you should really let go of those water skis – you haven’t used them in years – but you can’t bring yourself to do it. You were really good at the sport and had a lot of fun doing it. It’s not just fond memories of people and places you loved, it’s the recollection of skill and pride that keeps you holding onto those skis. In letting them go, you fear not only losing those memories, but also any chance of water skiing or being a water skier again. So they stay.

In my own case, I have a devil of a time sorting through any kind of accumulation of art supplies or unfinished art projects. In part, it’s a habit acquired long ago as an art student. In that context, I never purged what might be useful. I couldn’t afford to. But beyond that, letting go of materials feels like letting go of who I am. To pass on that gouache is to relinquish all that I became when using it. Never mind that I never learned to like the stuff and haven’t used it in years (for all I know it’s dried in the tubes). Yet I can’t let go of it because then I wouldn’t be an artist.

Same with the student flute that’s been kicking around since high school. I never really enjoyed playing it in the first place, but to let it go would somehow mean never playing music on any instrument ever again.

It’s illogical, I know. But that’s how our minds work.

Here’s another. During a quick purge of my closet a couple weeks ago, I tossed a couple pairs of jeans in the outgoing pile of clothes – but with a twinge. I was getting rid of them because I never liked how they fit to begin with, but they are also a size too small. And whenever I give up clothes that are too small I feel like I am giving up on ever being a healthy weight again – that I will somehow no longer be a healthy person.

Again, it’s illogical. Those pants don’t have anything to do with what I eat or how much I move from this point forward. But my mind nevertheless associates the two.

It’s the same when our schedules become too crowded with stuff.

Activities pile up and when we go through them to sort out what we no longer need, we come up against things we’d like to give up doing or change in some way – but they are so strongly associated with how we’ve come to see ourselves, we can’t release or shift them. At least, not without some struggle and introspection.

The client work found when your business had a different focus than it does now.
But I’m still one heck of a _____.

Administrative tasks that would be better handled by someone else.
But organized people can do it all themselves.

The care-taking no longer needed by older children.
But a good mom is always there for her kids.

The spaces that have become too high-maintenance.
But responsible homeowners have nice lawns.

A family tradition that doesn’t feel appropriate anymore.
But if I don’t bake the cookies, no one else will.

The friendship that has drifted.
But you stick by people no matter what.

A spiritual practice that has lost meaning.
But a faithful person always attends services.

The TV habit that isn’t relaxing anymore.
But I’m tired!

The yoga class that hurts your knees.
But I’m not a quitter.

Change this stuff up and suddenly you’re no longer an expert, self-sufficient, a good parent or neighbor, loyal, a believer, helpless, or disciplined. So, much the same separation of the thing from one’s identity is required to let go of activities as the physical stuff. Reframing it might look like this:

Now I’m one heck of a _____ > and a ____.

Organized people > know they can’t do it all.

A good parent > will always be needed by her children, just in different ways.

Responsible homeowners > cultivate native, low-maintenance plants.

If I don’t bake the cookies > I can pass the torch and allow someone else to contribute.

You stick by > the truth no matter what.

A faithful person > seeks the light wherever it is.

I’m > committed to restorative forms of self-care.

I’m not > afraid to listen to my body.

Ceasing activities that no longer light you up or serve their intended purpose does not undo past accomplishments or prevent future ones. In fact, just as with removing clutter, clearing unwanted activities creates space for those desired experiences to come into your life.

So, the next time you find yourself doing something you don’t really want or need to do, ask yourself how you can let it go and still be the person you want to be.

• • • • •

If “Will I still be me if I stop doing X?” is the sort of experiment in rule-breaking that appeals to your inner-rebel, please join us for the fall session of The True Discipline of Time Management. Registration closes Tuesday, September 8.

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5 Responses to “Decluttering Your Calendar”


  1. 1 Briaa September 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Oh, I adore you Cairene. You just get it: productivity and time-management are anything but black and white, even if they sound all rational and straightforward. I love the reframed versions of those thoughts ~ thank you.

  2. 2 Goddess Leonie | Creative Goddess September 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    I just love, love, love this very much.
    Thank you so much Cairene!

  3. 3 JoVE September 5, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Excellent post. I agree wholeheartedly. I had about a dozen boxes of academic books in my basement for several years. I even moved them across an ocean even though when we moved to Canada, I was pretty clear that I didn’t want to be an academic again. But it was 5 years after that move that I decided to give them to a friend who is a recovering second hand book dealer (though his wife says he’s not recovering very well. You can imagine how many books they have). I still have a box or two of some of the feminist sociology stuff, though.

  4. 4 Hilary Eklund September 8, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I have just discovered your blog and site, through someone on Twitter. Good stuff, resonating with the overcrowded home and frazzled schedule of this self-employed antique dealer. I would like to know if you will be offering your Time Management course again down the road. I would really like to participate but just can’t afford it right now.
    Thanks, and I look forward to more of your writing and insights.
    Hilary


  1. 1 Pulling loose threads. « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on October 2, 2009 at 11:38 am

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