No Pain, No Gain

I’ve been lifting weights recently. It’s reminded me of the saying: No pain, no gain. Have you ever lifted heavy weights during a workout, barbell in hand, beginning to curl and burn through the resistance? Perhaps you’ve heard the echo of this exercise motto as well. It’s relevance to the process of downsizing and organizing strikes me.

While many claim that time is what stands between them and conducting organizing projects, going through our stuff is simply no fun. More than that, the experience can be downright painful. When we want to turn away from pain, we get creative about finding excuses to do just that. Since it’s emotional pain we’re avoiding, which is often latent, it’s more tricky. Sometimes, we don’t think it’s even what we’re avoiding. When we feel ourselves turning away from tasks that relate to our stuff, we have to dig deeper to uncover what we’re even resisting. 

I was meeting with a client who had trouble opening and processing her mail. Her situation had all of the common trappings of mail management challenges. There was a lot we could do to better set her up for success, on the outside. But underneath it all was pain. It was a pain that sat on top of anxiety about financial stress. Fear that there were past due notices and unexpected bills. This was multi-decades of pain. The resistance to opening an envelope was layered. 

Discomfort is often a sign that you’re finally getting somewhere. This is conveyed by the old adage: the only way past is through. How do we expect to make progress and grow without pain or discomfort? We can’t. The importance of inner work increases in magnitude the more we hope the problems and pain will just disappear.

When we open a closet that is manageable, where all the stuff just fits, and the most important items are at least retrievable, we tend to ignore the boxes of memories hidden behind or other unresolved issues via our possessions. It’s not an immediate issue. It’s not affecting your day-to-day so the stuff can just stay there. Yet, we know that this stuff must eventually be addressed, sometimes by those that we leave behind. The layered nature of stuff and emotional attachment worsens when we find ourselves in unexpected situations that require us to deal with the entrenched pain. 

What is the impetus for change? We need to create that impetus with a resolve to lean into the potentially painful moments that our stuff creates. Urgency and surprise will only make the situation more stressful. Take control and step into change now.

No pain, no gain. Sometimes letting go of something deemed precious downright hurts. Sometimes keeping painful memories portrayed as possessions hurts too. Even if it hurts, let go, because there is something to be gained: It’s freedom, a release from emotional weightiness, and no more fear that these painful moments will pop up at unexpected times. Don’t let your stuff have authority over your life, even if it sits quietly behind closed doors. We need space to explore, and denial squeezes space. The pain and discomfort has a purpose. Bring your energy and strength to make yourself even stronger.