5 min read

Guest blog from Lauren Rosenfeld

Spring. The daylight that lingers beyond dinnertime. The sweetness of warm air lightly brushing the skin. The fresh breezes laced with the smell of new blossoms and the trills of birdsong. In the first days of this new season, we’ll step outside the front door and feel an unmistakable lift in the heart, as if the heart had somehow grown wings. In spring, a feeling of hope weaves through the air along with the birds and the blossoms. Yes, your heart tells you, anything is possible.

Yet when we step back inside our homes, a very different feeling enfolds us. Inside, the air is stale and in our hearts we may still feel we are drudging the dregs of winter. Yes, though the cold weather may be passing, the artifacts of the cold months remain...the winter boots piled haphazardly by the door...the heavy winter coats and scarves and mismatched gloves that lay about, here and there, in precisely the last place we tossed them. And it’s possible there may be a box or two of Christmas ornaments that never quite made their way back to the attic.

If the atmosphere in your home is not singing in harmony with the season of new growth that is blossoming just outside your door, then it’s time for a little spring cleaning. It’s time to do more than just some casual tidying–it’s time to do some serious letting go.

If you want to understand the wisdom of letting go, take a look at the trees coming to life just outside your front door. Trees know that in order for new growth to blossom, they must first let loose all that has lost its vitality. If a tree does not let loose its fall leaves, it will not have room for fresh buds and blossoms. If remnants of previous seasons are not released, new growth is impossible. We’re the same way: if we cling to objects that no longer serve our vitality, we will not experience the growth of new possibility that we long for.

So how do we get started? How do we (like the trees) start shedding the stuff that’s holding us back from new life and new possibility? How do we make our homes harmonize with the wisdom of the world outside?

Here’s my simple, soul-decluttering, spring cleaning tip: let go of all of those what ifs and if onlys.

Yes. What if and if only. Four little, seemingly inconsequential words that are clutter-creating monsters.

Right now, you might be asking What’s so wrong with "what if" and "if only"? They’re only words that express curiosity, right? And there’s nothing wrong with curiosity, right?Actually, they’re much more than just words, and they’re much more than passing expressions of curiosity and wonder.What if and if only are indicators of clinging behaviors that are preventing you from truly experiencing the freshness of spring from the inside out.

The Subtle Dangers of What If

Let’s go back to that pile of winter boots sitting by the door (with a dried up puddle of muddy water beneath them--am I right?). Imagine that in your determination to spring clean, you reach down to pick them up (in order put them back in the attic for next year). You look outside at the new buds pushing their way into the world and suddenly you are seized with anxiety: What if it snows again? The voice of anxiety is sharp. It’s like the voice your mom used to use when were about to pick up a snake that could be poisonous. And like the piercing tone your mother used, it’s pretty darned convincing. You quickly draw your hand back from the boots. You’re filled with indecision. Am I about to do something I’ll regret? you wonder. You just can’t make yourself pick them up. Turning around, your eye catches your winter coat hanging from the back of a dining room chair. Anxiety speaks up again: What if there’s another cold snap? Now you can’t make yourself touch the boots or the coat. You are paralyzed with indecision. Caught between the reality of spring and the possible return of winter, you decide just to leave it all where it is. You choose to step around it. And in doing so, you choose to live with anxiety. For the tenth time today.

What if? has won.       

And Then There’s the Deception of If Only

Let’s look at those untouched boxes of holiday cards you meant to send but never quite got around to this year. Or last. In your rational mind you know that cards with pictures of reindeer and sprigs of holly have no place in your house past December. Okay, you decide It’s time to recycle or donate these. And then all of a sudden, if only wants to have its say. If only you’d taken the time to address those cards, the people in your life would know how much you truly care about them. (That’s regret and guilt talking). You sigh. If I get rid of them now, all the love I intended to convey to those people will be lost. You decide to leave them where they are. After all, you reason, December is just nine more months away. And this way, they’ll be there to remind me what a bad person I really am.

And so you have chosen to live with guilt and regret. And if you don’t know this already, I will tell you: they are terrible roommates.

The Real Problem with What If? and  If Only

As you can see, choosing to listen to what if and if only is essentially choosing to live with anxiety, worry, regret, and guilt.  And they do more than just create discomfort. They prevent us from living in the present moment: anxiety and worry push us off into the future; guilt and regret pull us back into the past. But if we want our lives to truly blossom with the things we hope for--things like love, creativity, joy, kindness, happiness--we must recognize that these things only blossom in the present moment. If we are living with remnants of guilt, regret, worry, and anxiety, we are either dwelling in the past or scampering distractedly into the future. It’s like spring (and all the vibrant possibility it holds) is trying to find its way into your home, but it can’t get in because the clutter is blocking its way.

You will not find a tree in the fall who holds on to its leaves and wonders: What if I don’t grow new leaves in the spring? What if I need this leaf later? Nor will you find a tree that says, If only someone had noticed this leaf. If only I had done a better job of growing it. A tree that thought that way could not grow, would not blossom, and could not bear fruit.

Spring cleaning is a way for us to harmonize with nature. To bring the wisdom and the freshness of this new season indoor. To open to the unexpected and delightful gifts it brings.

So as you move about your house this spring, and you hear the voices of guilt, regret, worry, and anxiety encouraging you to cling, do as nature does: let go of the past. Allow the future to be what it will be.  Know that new life, new growth, and fresh breezes will come when we open the space for it to arrive.

Spring cleaning, folks. It’s the life-changing magic of letting go.

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