Most of my life, I was plagued with guilt. I think I was just taught that. Mom didn’t mean to do it out of malice; it was all she knew. She passed those lessons on to me. It seems that I felt guilty about everything: guilty for having my own wants and needs; guilty for not wanting to be like others in my family; guilty about not loving the same things my family did, guilty for not wanting my family’s stuff.
Some of my learned examples of guilt :
- “Don’t Rock the Boat” . My Grandmother had a very strong personality. My Mom would never think of disagreeing with her. When she came to live with us for a short while, my Grandmother always had her way, even if it inconvenienced my parents and upended our lives. There were a few times I would speak up when I felt something was wrong. Mom would quickly tell me to shush and not “rock the boat.” I learned that there were levels of implied importance, and to question them was wrong in my Mom’s eyes. I was at the bottom of that list. Mind you, I don’t think she was trying to be mean to me. She was more afraid for me and what consequences I might face for my actions.
- Caring for the family legacy (i.e. “possessions”) was of such a high importance, that preserving any remnants of people’s belongings was more important than being happy and fulfilled. The memory of family was intrinsically linked to their personal stuff and to get rid of their stuff meant you were disloyal.
- There is the guilt used by someone to bend you to their will. Maybe they know a secret you have, one that you are ashamed of. Or maybe they have convinced you that they know what’s best for you and that life would be horrible if you don’t go with them down their prescribed path. Usually you become so afraid you don’t even question the rationale. It’s emotional blackmail. Any way you look at it, this form of guilt makes you a prisoner in your own life.
- Lastly, I’d add postponed decisions. So much of my guilt was bound up in things I never did anything about. Postponed decisions add clutter to your life. They clutter your mind with worry. They clutter your home with stuff.
I’m sure I could find more examples, but I don’t want to focus on those forms of bad guilt. I want to share the magic of change, of stepping away from guilt and feeling badly. I have left all of that grief behind, permanently!
My definition of guilt has always been that it’s that agonizing remorse you feel when you’ve done something wrong to hurt someone else. So when I began to declutter, I was amazed at how much of the stuff I had made me feel bad. There were so many emotions involved with each of my belongings. My stuff was very much alive and deeply attached to my mind.
I found out that this “guilt” was all manufactured. It wasn’t real guilt. As I sorted through my life, I realized that nothing I was letting go of had any true power to hurt anyone.
Something else was going on.
- When I decluttered Kon Mari style, I took control of my space and analyzed my choices. My decisions for what I kept, were based on what I felt was right for me, not what somebody else felt was right for me. I learned that I was capable of making not just good decisions, but great choices. I learned that I needed to listen to myself, because my way was just as good as anyone else’s. This wasn’t easy at the start. I had so much doubt and worry. I didn’t know how to trust myself. I had to keep pushing at it. I was afraid something dire would happen. I didn’t know what, I was just so sure something would. Eventually, my perspective began to change. I think it was because I was injecting positive vibes into my life. A new thing for me.
- As my confidence grew, so did my personal value system. My values didn’t include placing such a high regard on material “ stuff.” I had inherited so much stuff from long gone family and I had kept all of it. I had such deep anguish over letting go of any of it. I was worried about letting my family down. I was worried about abandoning my family. I was worried I was going to forget them. It’s funny, because some of those things were belongings of someone I never liked very much. Not very joyous! My values, though, said the opposite: that I would remember my family, that I would be happy, and that my family’s legacy was me. My happiness was important. My life was worth standing up for. And if I felt that ts was time for things to find a new home, so be it.
- The more our home reflected just my husband and my tastes, the more peaceful and joyous it became. We were much closer and it was easy to see whether something or someone entering our lives was a good fit or not. We set boundaries together. Made choices together. When the sun is shining brightly into your life, there is no reason to feel like you need to hide. There are no real secrets, so there is nothing to be blackmailed with. Other people have no hold over you.
- Postponed decision making took me a little longer to master. I’m still working on it, to be truthful, but I’m getting there. Procrastinating was a habit. I’ve had to use habit breaking tools to help me. Having a decluttered home and mind, helps. Each time I delay in making a choice about something, I can see now how it will impact me. If I still can’t decide, I talk to my hubby to review the pros and cons. When I was trying to decide about committing myself to a month of gardening classes, I held back making the choice for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t certain I should up-end our life and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask Greg to have to put up with that. When I had 10 days left to sign up for a course that usually fills up fast, I decided I needed to talk to Greg. In about 10 minutes we had a plan in place so I could take the course. It was a great solution, and I discovered new joys by participating in the classes. If I hadn’t gone, I would be bemoaning a missed opportunity. Looking back, I’ve never been happy delaying making a choice. And as long as I’ve given it some clear thought, my decisions have been fine. When I’ve rushed a choice, or ignored dealing with it all together, I haven’t been happy.
Looking back, I think it was a good 2 months before it dawned on me that I had lost that heavy oppressed feeling guilt. When you are used to living a certain way, you tend to have blinders on. You don’t always see what’s really going on around you. You don’t see the changes. You see what used to be there, and assume it still is that way.
But joy won’t let you stay miserable for long. Once you see what real magic is going on around you, and how it keeps repeating over and over. You begin to believe.