7 Things We Hold On To (Long After It’s Time To Let Go)

7 THINGS WE HOLD ON TO (LONG AFTER IT’S TIME TO LET GO)

Angel Chernoff

“That which you hold, holds you.”
― Tom Robbins

Jeanne Marie had moved her wedding shoes from apartment to apartment, home to home—for more than fifteen moves over thirty-five years.

In her twenties, she’d shopped exhaustively for the right pair, trying on dozens of shoes before landing on the perfect strappy sandals, the pair that would follow her around for the next three and a half decades.

She’d always hoped to wear them again, maybe for an anniversary or a special date. But it had been years since those shoes fit, and on top of that, she and her husband had long since separated.

The day before trash day, she put the shoes in her trash bin—knowing in her gut that it was time to part with them. They weighed her down.

“I looked at the shoes laying there in the trash, taunting me, reminding me of my wedding day, and I pushed them in deeper. I instantly panicked, but I took deep breaths and walked away.”

The next morning, though, she found herself next to that trash bin. She dug through egg shells, coffee grounds, and dirty paper plates before spotting them toward the bottom.

The Weights We Shoulder

Do you ever feel the weight of your physical belongings resting on your chest? Or maybe for you, it’s your shoulders or lower back. When I feel like I own too much, I feel it on my chest—right over my heart. I can’t breathe as deeply or move as freely.

But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that with every item I get rid of, I lessen that weight.

Whether it’s a stack of papers I no longer need or the nine kitchen utensils I’ve never used, with each piece of clutter I send out of my home, I can inhale deeper. Move freer. Jump higher.

It almost feels like magic.

Our physical belongings have weight, indisputably. But they’re not the only things we hold on to long past their usefulness. What other weights are you carrying?

7 Things We Hold On To…

1. Relationships

Do you have a relationship in your life where every interaction leaves you feeling drained or diminished? It could be a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or a family member, but what marks this relationship as a weight on your chest is how you feel after each interaction. Pay attention to this.

2. Worry

How much mental and emotional energy have you wasted worrying about something that’s beyond your control? It’s amazing how our worries can come to feel like old friends. We allow our brains to follow the same pathways over and over, to the point where we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that worrying helps—that it’s even a way of showing love.

But wouldn’t it be ten times more powerful to ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to improve the situation? This gives us the option of acting, not just worrying. And if there’s really nothing we can do—if the situation is 100 percent outside of our sphere of influence—what good does it do to hold on to worry?

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” — Erma Bombeck

3. Social Media

Do you follow any social media influencers who tend to leave you feeling like what you have—or who you are—isn’t enough? Or it could be an entire platform; maybe you’ve noticed that you feel down on yourself every time you open a certain app.

4. Habits

What’s one habit you long to kick but aren’t sure if you can? Maybe it’s the amount of sugar you eat after dinner or the never-enough hours of sleep you get at night. Maybe it’s the tone of voice you use when you’re tired or the amount of time you spend looking at a screen in your hand instead of the faces around you.

5. Thoughts

Do you have any thoughts that regularly cross your mind but are only holding you back? Are any of the following familiar?

  • “No one appreciates me.”
  • “I do everything around here.”
  • “I’m not cut out for this.”

This is emotional clutter.

6. The Past

Our memories can bring us so much joy… but also so much pain. Especially if we’re refusing to let go of past wounds, whether inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves. Forgiveness is power.

7. Clutter

From paper to furniture, from digital files to expired pantry goods… Too many of us are holding on, for far too long.

A Visualization Exercise to Help You Let Go

To help you let go, can you imagine—with as much detail as you can possibly summon—that each item you get rid of reduces the weight on your chest? Imagine that every piece you donate—every toxic relationship you navigate away from, every limiting thought you decide to stop believing—takes you closer to a lighter, freer, purer version of yourself.

Finally Saying Goodbye

That morning, an hour before the garbage truck would rumble through her neighborhood, Jeanne stopped just short of grabbing her shoes out of the bin and darting inside with them in hand.

I could save the heels, she thought in that moment. But I know I can’t save us.

Parting with the shoes was painful, but in this case, holding on felt worse.

A few hours later, she watched, standing next to the sheer curtains of her front window, as the garbage truck carried those shoes away.

And just as she’d hoped, she felt lighter as those shoes—and the emotional weight they carried—finally left her sight.

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?

Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.

Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.

The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.

I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.

When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.

Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.

Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.

He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.

After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”

To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.

At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.

When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.

In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.

One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.

It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.

Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.

However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?

In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.

I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?

Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.

The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.

The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”

Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.

Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.

I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.

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