The Difficult Art of Letting Go

The Difficult Art of Letting Go (via Slow Your Home)

So much of living a simpler life is about learning to let go.

We let go of clutter, junk and things we no longer need.

We let go of commitments, over-scheduling and endless activities.

We let go of expectations, perfection and comparisons.

For two simple words, the idea of ‘letting go’ can be a complicated one, tied up with emotional hangovers, memories, sentimentality and the notion that we should be living life in a certain way.

Can I tell you: it doesn’t need to be complex. The idea of letting go simply needs to be embraced.

Leo Babauta is a prolific writer and blogger. He has published books, written thousands of blog posts and inspired countless people with his words. A couple of years ago, he decided to uncopyright his work. All of it.

He let go and gave people permission to use his words however they wish. He let go of the stress and the worry of what people will do with those words. He simply decided that his time, effort and energy was better spent elsewhere. Like living his life. Spending time with his kids. Creating more art to inspire more people.

Years ago, before I began exploring the idea of simplifying life (or rather, before I had a massive breakdown and was forced to recognise that living life turned up to 11 was unhelpful and unsustainable) I ran an independent jewellery label.

It was successful-ish. I had stock in boutiques around the world. I was being mentored by a leading designer. We were talking about opening a shopfront. I had plane tickets booked for a buying trip to Thailand. I was planning big things.

When we discovered that our second baby was on the way, suddenly my ambitions felt less like dreams and more like enormous weights tied around my neck. I struggled through the motions for a while longer, pretending that I wanted to be successful more than I wanted to be sane. But it was a lie.

I let go of the business about 3 months before Toby was born. And as I began to discover the beauty of simplifying, I gave away all my stock. Tens of thousands of dollars worth: gone. Friends, family, neighbours, friends of neighbours, family of friends – my only stipulation was they weren’t to take it unless they wanted it. I didn’t want to burden anyone else with stuff they weren’t going to use.

And rather than lament the money lost or the dreams unfulfilled, I felt free. I had released myself from those weights – and that was worth a hell of a lot more than boxes of jewellery I no longer cared about.

If you’re just beginning the journey of simplifying, as I know so many of you are, there are a few things to keep in mind as you learn to let go:

  • letting go is not just about the physical item, dream or idea – it goes beyond that
  • once you declutter/give it away/sell it – really let it go
  • own the decision to let go, and refuse to carry any guilt about it
  • enjoy the feeling of being released from the weight, the worry and the stress of the thing

It has taken years for me to understand why letting go felt so good. But it’s in the art of letting go that the answer lies. So choose something that’s holding you back, and simply let it go.

(Insert pithy reference to Frozen here.)

14 Responses to The Difficult Art of Letting Go

  1. Thanks for your inspiring words. Really alot to think about, & I’ll need to re-read it a few times to really let it sink in. 10 years ago I walked away from a bad relationship…and a house full of furniture, without any regret, as I felt the furnishings were kind of tainted with bad memories & I did not want any of it in my future. If I had to do that all over again, I would probably be a little smarter & try to sell it. But it was an emotional time & totally freeing just walking away with the few necessities that my daughter & I needed to start a new life. Today, in my new life, I try not to get overwhelmed by “too many things” & I find clutter stressful to have around or even look at!

  2. I LOVE this post! Back when the MySpace craze was first getting started, I sorta stumbled into a fabulously successful business of creating little graphic “comments” that people could send to each other. When I started doing it (sorta on a lark) there were only a handful of similar sites out there, so my site really took off, and I was able to quit my “real job” and become a full time “MySpace Princess.”

    But within a year or so people started to figure out that you could make money this way, so everybody and their brother started a site with MySpace comments. Only most people didn’t make their own like I did, they just stole them from other sites out there, including mine.

    It really infuriated me. And it got to the point that I was spending more time fretting over the fact that my work was being stolen than I was actually creating new work! Finally, the whole MySpace craze ended, and so did the vast majority of those scraper sites. But the whole experience just left me feeling ugly. How could I have gotten so upset about people stealing my stupid smiley faces?

    So I started a new website. This one was a photography site because I really wanted to get into it. But this time I decided to donate all of my work to the public domain – which is basically the equivalent of making it copyright free. And you know what? It’s WONDERFUL! The site isn’t a wild success, but it makes a respectable amount of money from ad revenue, and I never, EVER have to worry about people stealing my work. Instead, I get to thoroughly enjoy it for the pure sake of artistic creation, and I also feel like I’m contributing something to the greater good. It’s a good thing all around.

    So here’s to letting go!

  3. Great post. The suggestion to let go of the letting go was most helpful to me. Thanks!

  4. Amen!and well said. I am having a bit of a hard time letting go of my CDs. I thought I would just let go (Fightclub) most of them or at least keep only a small box full. So far no dice. I really believe that I would have been better off not even opening the boxes and getting rid of them that way. Now with an upcoming/impending move I really need to shed even more things just to make the move easier. Still have some time to just let go.

    • Maybe you could give them to people who you think would enjoy them instead of just taking them to a thrift store or something like that. Like you could have a party and invite all your friends over and have a big table with all the CD’s you’re willing to part with and just let people take what they want. It might feel more like gift giving as opposed to throwing away something you once loved.

  5. I am relatively new to the concept of simplifying, but I’ve embraced it whole-heartedly as I’ve now made multiple sweeps of my home to de-clutter. It is hard to let go. I’ve had some guilt and regret. Thanks for the reminder that letting go brings freedom, which is GOOD. In fact, I’m so impacted by the idea of simplifying that I am starting a blog on a similar topic. I will keep reading!

  6. thank you!

    i need all the inspiration, i can get.

    because i am one of those start-and-stop-simplifying people.

    mmmmmm, there are others, aren’t there?

    i can’t be the only one!

    i hope.



  7. Definitely reading from the same hymn book as you Brooke. I remember making a conscious decision to forget about worrying about things like people copying me or ‘stealing my ideas’ (I think I too was inspired by when Leo uncopyrighted everything). It’s so freeing to just get on with doing your own thing I have found. People will do what they do … and long term, what they do and don’t do just doesn’t matter. For me it took too much negative energy to care about that stuff and the second I stop caring … it was wonderful.

  8. Brooke,

    Great post, as always, and a great reminder of us not to hold on too tight to the things of this world. The real benefit of letting go of the physical things in our lives is that it opens the door for us to unload the emotional, mental, and relational baggage that we carry as well.

    best regards,

  9. I love letting go in theory but I struggle with letting go of both physical things and tangible emotional stuff. I’m almost through taking our lives and my paper collection to paperless (hello scanner and flash drive, good bye 2 file boxes of papers that are important but fine to have digitally). My next challenges are a file box of cards and letters, jewelry, and some family drama/pressures/baggage …

    • It’s really tough, Eve, but it sounds like you’re well and truly on the way to letting go of a heap of unnecessary stuff. Well done! And just keep doing what you can, I’ve found that simplifying is a progressive thing – things I thought I’d never let go of are easy to take away as I learn more about what is and isn’t important.