I bought a beautiful dress—then I found out I was pregnant. The dress was a bit tight to begin with, but I convinced myself I could squeeze into it with a little work. Of course it didn’t fit post-baby, but still, I kept the dress in my closet, unwilling to cut my losses with an item I’d never worn, for nearly four years. I would look at it longingly, the price tag still attached, and brush past it when cleaning out my closet. Why couldn’t I just get rid of it?
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon—I’ll eat a sandwich I don’t really like because I paid for it, or reluctantly keep up with friends who shouldn’t still be a part of my life. Even when I recognize that something isn’t serving my life anymore, it is often hard to let go. [Editor’s Note: Acceptance is hard. That’s why we have 10 sessions dedicated to it.]
The problem extends far beyond closet clutter and the occasional toxic relationship and shows me a side of myself that I don’t like to examine. When I make a bad decision, I’d rather double down than admit I was wrong. I find it hard to cut my losses because it’s an admittance of failure. It is much easier to tiptoe around a mistake than to actually clean it up.
Courtney Carver, creator of Project 333 and a simple living advocate says we often hold onto things because of a default mode. If we spend time, money, or attention on something we often feel attached; still, keeping items we neither use nor need won’t increase our happiness.
“Holding onto something because you paid for it once will only ensure that you keep paying,” says Carver. “You’ll keep paying with money, time, and attention to take care of it. You pay with your heart by holding onto the past, by punishing yourself for old habits. You pay with guilt, anger, and indecision. Paying once is enough.”
Will the pain and fear of letting go subside after we dump the stuff we’ve spent so long hoarding? The simple answer is yes. Emotional attachment doesn’t necessarily extend beyond the feelings of letting go, and by taking steps toward moving on there may be a feeling of freedom on the other side. According to Carver, what may start as a little extra space on a bookshelf can spark larger spaces for inner change as well.
“We think letting go will be hard emotionally, but holding on is harder,” Carver says. “We have to hold on every day by paying time, money, and attention to our stuff. We hold on so tightly we may compromise relationships, adventures, and peace of mind.”
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This ongoing payment plan is what makes it so wise to cut our losses as quickly as possible. The longer we hold onto what we no longer need, the more it can impact us long-term. I should have gotten rid of the dress as soon as I became pregnant, releasing myself from the agony of facing my mistake day after day for years. Letting go, even when it entails other feelings, can give us the freedom to move through the world with less fear that we will have to hold on. It releases us to enjoy life, and place less importance on the occasional shopping error.
“We have to hold on every day,” says Carver. “but we only have to let go once.”