Caring for Things
In January, I came across something called “The Minimalism Game,” a month-long challenge to get rid of one item on the first day of the month, two items on the second day, three on the third, etc. By the end of the month, you’ve purged nearly 500 things.
Now, I’ve been planning my escape from Tennessee for years, and I was determined that 2023 was the year I was going to get out. That was my primary motivation for paring down my belongings: the less you own, the less you have to pack up and move. I had also been making piles of stuff that I wanted to donate or stuff that needed repairs or whatever, and I was tired of being surrounded by unfinished tasks.
So I made the commitment to myself that I wanted to play the Minimalism Game, and I set up a list in my favorite note-taking app to keep track of what I purged. It took me six months (not 31 days, oops) to complete the first round, but my house started feeling noticeably lighter before I even reached the halfway point. I also completed a second round in September while I was packing up my house, and now everything I own can be shuffled onto a truck in twenty minutes.
Caring for People
A few days after my move to Cincinnati, I told my therapist how my health-related lack of energy in the past few years has really helped me to prioritize what matters and what doesn’t, especially with regard to physical belongings. She replied that I also seemed to be having an easier time letting go of relationships in my life and gently asked if there might be some correlation there. (This is where I mimed the idea of my mind being blown because I get very dramatic when I’m excited.)
Because yes, I have been hitting my limits so much faster with unhealthy family relationships and toxic friendships. I am like a bumbling baby giraffe when it comes to setting boundaries, but I am learning (and reading) and practicing. I say "no" more than I say "yes”—so that I can fulfill my few commitments with joy instead of resentment. And I overcommit anyway and get plenty of practice issuing genuine apologies when I can't be the friend I want to be.
It had just never occurred to me that letting go of things and letting go of people might be related.
Caring for Myself
Everything made sense once my therapist pointed out that I have an innate tendency to take responsibility for the things and people around me. This makes me a wonderful caretaker because I can effortlessly identify the needs of others and find ways to meet those needs. (It makes me a great accompanist, too—something I’ve been told my whole life but never understood until now.) And it’s also the fastest way for me to give away my energy and ignore what’s best for me.
So my homework assignment from therapy: pay attention to what I’m trying to take responsibility for that isn’t actually mine to worry about. And omg, it’s everything? Half of my energy crisis has to be because I am trying to be everyone’s project manager, therapist, cruise director, life coach, and best friend. And you know who secretly needs all of those things right now? IT’S ME. HI. I’m the goofball—it’s me.
Just being aware of this is already so helpful. I get to use my gifts when asked—like when my dad wanted help re-organizing his pantry, and I intuitively knew how to set it up for him—and walk away from problems that aren’t mine to solve. Because I’m not used to setting this boundary with myself, it’s still a bit exhausting, but I know it’s going to leave me (and my relationships!) so much healthier in the long run. And I’m really, really excited about that.
Fewer things, fewer relationships, fewer commitments. More time to care for everything and everyone I choose to keep in my life.