I have a confession to make: I am a hoarder. Of school supplies, that is.
It started in the early days of my teaching career, when I scoured back-to-school ads for ridiculous deals, like composition notebooks for 10 cents. I’d click my heels with teacher glee as I loaded up my cart with notebooks, pencils, highlighters, and glue sticks, all bought for a fraction of the usual cost.
And while I used most of these supplies during the year, I always had a safe supply left over for the next year. This was my stockpile, my security.
Fast forward to now: I’ve been out of the full-time classroom for two years, and my safety net of school supplies still exists, neatly boxed away in my attic. Every time I see it, it nags at me. I know I need to let it go. It’s not very professional-organizer-like to have a hoard of pencils and glue in your attic, after all. It’s kind of like knowing that your personal trainer keeps a hoard of Twinkies and Ho-Hos in a secret lock box. Or that your grandma uses Twitter.
But it is hard to let go of things that make us feel safe. I remember the days when I needed these things, when having extra packs of loose-leaf paper and boxes of pencils in my classroom meant my students would be able to write first drafts. This made me feel like I was prepared for my job, like I was successful. And it’s hard to let go of that feeling.
I see this type of thinking in almost all my clients, and it’s hard to admit that I see it in myself. But this points to an important fact: to a certain degree, hoarding is human behavior. Our survival instinct tells us to stockpile supplies, and that instinct is still there, even when those supplies are no longer necessary. It’s important for me to feel this, to realize that it is natural for people to have a hard time letting go, and to understand that possessing objects can and does often make us feel safe. But most importantly, I need to feel what it’s like to push past those feelings and recognize when it is time to let go. That time comes for all of us. For me, it was last week.
I had planned a happy hour with some former teaching colleagues, the exact people who could use my hoard. It was time. I went to the attic and boxed up two crates of pencils, highlighters, Sharpies, index cards, and the like. I’ll admit, as I boxed them up, I felt anxiety. Fearful questions–similar to the ones clients ask me–popped into my head:
But what if I go back to teaching? I might need some of this stuff!
I spent time and money on these things! It feels like a waste to just give it away!
I could just hold on to this stuff a little longer… my own kids could use them.
To get past this anxiety, I treated myself like a client, using logic and questions:
If you go back to teaching, you can buy more. It won’t cost you that much. You know school supplies always go on sale at the beginning of the school year.
Yes, these things are perfectly good, but they’re no good to anyone in your attic. In fact, some of these things–highlighters and markers–will go bad if they aren’t used. Remember what it was like to have students show up to class without pencils and paper? Teachers face that every day. You are helping them by giving these things away.
Come on, now… are your own kids really in need of 200 pencils and 500 index cards?! For real! They’re in kindergarten!!! (Note: I would not talk to a client that way, but I can get pretty “tough love” on myself.)
And so on and so forth, until I talked myself down from my ledge of fear (which, by the way, is the base emotion that this anxiety stems from) and put the two crates in my van.
My colleagues were happy to have them and I haven’t missed any of that stuff. Not one bit. Yes, it’s only been one week, but I doubt I’ll find the need for five packs of yellow highlighters in the near future.
What did I learn from this experience? The all-important lesson of putting myself in someone else’s place. Quite often, it is easy for me to see that clients don’t need certain items and it’s hard to understand why they can’t let go. But, if I look at the items I hold onto, and the rationale behind that, I can see that my clients are rational, and they have reasoning for holding on to objects. It’s important for me to honor and remember that.
Is my teaching hoard totally gone? Nope. I still have excess teaching items–mostly books from my classroom library–stored away. I will get to them, probably this summer. And I think that’s another important lesson: we can’t always let go of it all at once. Minimizing is a process. A step here, a step there, when we’re ready. Slowly we learn to let go, and as we do, we realize that nothing truly terrible has happened. Thus, we can go back and let go of even more. In this way, slowly and steadily, we free ourselves of unnecessary items.
Why should we do this? Because when we do, something wonderful happens: we create space in our lives for things that reflect the way we are are now. My attic now has a little more breathing room for items related to my business, my kids, and my current hobbies. And, as an added bonus, somewhere in Dayton, some kid has a pencil to use in class today. Write on, kid, write on.
Rose Lounsbury is the Dayton, Ohio area’s up-and-coming professional organizer. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, please call her at 937-626-9030.