Reality Check: Baggage Handling

When we’re young and excited about accumulating stuff, it’s hard to imagine that someday, we’ll view those once-precious objects that we struggled to acquire as just taking up space.
The more room we have for stuff, the more stuff we accumulate. Stuff expands to fill the space available, you know.
Many people are familiar with downsizing, whether they want to or not. It’s a choice-making process—what to keep, what goes. It can be difficult, especially if your values include never getting rid of anything while it still has a scrap of usefulness left.
You may have heard of Marie Kondo’s criteria for choosing what to keep. She asks, “Does this spark joy?” If the old baseball hat brings you a smile and happy fishing trip memories, maybe it’s worth keeping. But if an object feels like a burden, perhaps letting it go is the most helpful response.
Now how about that storage closet that we’re carrying around in our heads? As we go through life, baggage accumulates there, too. Some of the accumulation brings joy; other pieces weigh us down.
What do you have stored? You certainly have some knowledge and information. What else? Happy memories, joys, and triumphs? Sadness, wrongs, and hurts? Maybe there’s wisdom, the odd mistake, and a few puzzlements.
Do we have a choice about what we keep? We can’t toss out thoughts or memories as if we were cleaning out a closet. But we do have some choice about what stays fresh in our minds.
“Out of sight; out of mind” has its benefit as well as its downside. What do you want to keep fresh? Are there thoughts or memories that you would rather just fade away?
If you wish to keep a hurt or guilt or unhappiness, then this is your right. It is your life, after all. While the focus of these columns tends to be toward encouraging positivity, it’s not for me (or anyone else) to demand that you put any thoughts, feelings or memories behind you and “move on.”
However, if you’ve been storing and refreshing memories that only bring misery to your life, at some point, you may want to make a change. This may not be easy. In Mastering Happiness, Dr. Joel Wade says, “You get good at what you practice.” If you want to make a change, try a new practice.
One strategy worth trying is substitution. Decide on a substitute activity that you can immediately do when the unhelpful thought pops up.
What action? Different people find different actions effective. For some, music brings a great change of perspective. Choose an uplifting song; have it accessible. Sing it yourself, if need be.
Repeating an affirmation, quote, or inspirational phrase may help. Reading and rereading something that cheers you may do the job.
For others, physical activity is effective. Go out in nature, take a walk, call a friend, weed the garden, whatever.
The action doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs to deflect from the practice of refreshing the unwanted thought.
If you’ve been carrying unhelpful baggage for a long time, maybe you have already tried making a change. If you found that simply saying, “I choose not to dwell on this anymore” isn’t working, then might substitution work more effectively?

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