Did your university have a drop-add period? Mine did. It was the eponymous window of time each semester in which you could drop a class you didn't want and/or add a class you did.
And in four years of college, I never once dropped a class, even ones that I could tell were a bad fit from the start.
It's been a running theme in my life to hold on to things, even when they no longer serve me (or never did to begin with). Somewhere along the line, I had unknowingly ascribed to the theory of "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't,” and I’d taken that to heart. But as I've learned lately, the first step to simplifying your home, your schedule, and your life, is to get rid of stuff.
In other words: drop the class, Em.
It’s not a popular theory. When it comes to simplifying, we like our quick fixes. We want five easy steps to organize our pantry, shiny new plastic storage boxes for our closets, or whatever latest and greatest cleaning fad from Japan or Sweden or Outer Mongolia is currently sweeping the nation.
The reality is much more pedestrian than that. The easiest (but hardest!) way to simplify your life is to get rid of what you don’t use – specifically, items or responsibilities that doesn’t serve you anymore. If you’re looking to simplify by buying more things (self-help books, containers, etc), then you’re doing it wrong.
It still feels weird to say this, but tomorrow is my last day of work. I started my job, as an associate editor for three local business publications, about a month after we moved back from France in 2015. I was still licking my wounds from the mentally abusive job I’d had before we left, and I was struggling to find my place and my passion. This job, part-time from the start, gave me a sense of identity, a purpose, but also some breathing room to settle back into life in the U.S. and discover what I truly wanted to do.
Fast-forward three years and one baby, and suddenly that “blessing” of a job wasn’t such a blessing anymore. I was stressed out, snapping at my son and the dog, begging my husband to leave work just five minutes early every day because I was so frazzled I couldn’t take being on my own. I was resentful of my colleagues, and I regularly turned in sub-par work. And so, after much painful deliberation, I gave my two weeks’ notice.
The change was almost immediate. Suddenly I began taking more deep breaths, slowing down. I became more patient with my son, more relaxed as a mother. Not every de-cluttering mission is this successful this quickly, but for me, saying no to a job that no longer fit was critical.
If you’re thinking of organizing your home or your life (or both!), the first and most important step is to get rid of the junk. It's surprisingly hard work. You'll be amazed at the emotional attachments or reasons for keeping something. It's so much easier to just stuff everything back in the closet and keep on keeping on. But that's no way to simplify your life.
For anyone who is struggling to toss old belongings or well-established commitments, I'll give you two key questions to ask yourself. They sound overly simple, but the best things usually are. Be honest, brutally so, with yourself.
1. Does it serve me right now? // Here’s the thing about old jobs, old jeans, old boyfriends, old everything: at one point, they were new. And most likely, they served you very well in the beginning. But if something doesn’t work for this stage in your life, don’t be nostalgic about letting go.
I recently cleaned out my closet, and I got rid of all but one of my pencil skirts and dress blouses from when I worked at a wealth management firm. They still fit and were in good condition, but I didn’t need them anymore. Same with my job. It wasn't inherently bad, it just wasn't working with my current life stage.
2. Can it be easily replaced if circumstances change? // This is difficult, particularly where schedules are concerned. It was certainly the hardest for me when I was deciding to quit my job. What if I wanted it back? What if, for some reason, we needed my income again? What if I put my son in preschool a few days a week and decided I wanted to work again?
Ultimately, I decided that holding on a (not very well-paid) job that was stressing out both my family and myself was not worth the off chance that I might change my mind down the road. I’ve remained on good terms with my publisher and editor, and the door to freelance work is open to me if I want to take it. Knowing that, stepping down from my editor role was much easier.
Your decision may not be that clear-cut, but it's likely that whatever you're struggling to toss may still be available to you, in some form, in the future. Physical items, aside from family heirlooms, are easily obtained. Most extracurricular activities, and volunteer opportunities are able to be resumed when the time is right. And while the exact job or relationship you had may not be available, finding a new one might be the best move you could possibly make.
In a society that encourages you to have more and do more, thoughtfully and consciously deciding to let go of what no longer serves you may be the most radical act you could commit - and the one most likely to bring you the simplicity you crave.
Have you chosen to get rid of something that no longer serves you? Tell me about it in the comments! I'd love to hear from you!
If I asked you what the above image was, what would your answer be? A toy giraffe? Maybe if you're a parent, you know it by its proper name: Sophie La Giraffe. Either way, you wouldn't be wrong. But this little slobber-covered rubber toy is so much more.
One of the best ways I've found to grow a life that's simple yet still abundant is to appreciate what you already have. Celebrate your victories. Mark your progress. What you use as a marker might surprise you.