You have to keep losing. That’s not a philosophy you hear very often. Yet Gail Blanke’s been advocating it for years. Lose the junk in the basement. Lose the clothes you no longer wear. Lose that motorcycle you ride once a year. Blanke’s bright idea is that your life becomes energized if you pick fifty things you own and toss them out. The process of simply picking them is a lesson in itself: you have to face the fact that some dreams and projects have died and won’t be revived, as well as focusing on what’s actually possible. She takes this admonition to toss out the clutter a step further and gives it new meaning in an email tip I just found in my inbox:
There are those “things” that have meaning far beyond the value that people are willing to give up everything for. And there are those ideas, causes, companies, people, and, of course, countries—to which we are willing, as our Founding Fathers wrote, to ‘pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’ It’s thrilling to contemplate that passion for something outside of, and bigger than, ourselves.
Sometimes losing yourself—in a cause, in an idea, in a session of meditation—can be the best possible choice. I decided to ask Blanke a few questions myself about her approach:
Q: Why should a person become committed to something larger than his or her individual concerns and desires?
A: If you can find it, or invent it, and be true to it, you can work some miracles, or at least some magic, in your life. Or someone else’s.
Q: How does a person make this kind of shift?
A: It may not be easy to do, at first, but it’s simple. You quit saying “this is what I do” and you start saying “this is what I’m passionate about.” People have jobs and families and commitments—and these can be a passion in and of themselves—but most of us have a dream or a faith that needs our time and attention beyond these daily obligations. If you realize you’re passionate about this other level of your life, you’ll find the time to devote yourself to it.
Q: This isn’t something you do alone, right?
A: No. It always means partnering with others. That’s partly why this works. It requires you to get help from others and offer help in exchange. The Throw Out Fifty Things movement is about people helping people let go of the debris from the past to create the next great chapter in their lives.
Q: People are often reluctant to ask for help. How do you get over that?
A: By realizing that it’s immensely liberating and satisfying to find yourself giving help to someone who asks for it. Try to remember the last time someone asked you for directions on how to get somewhere. It felt good didn’t it? You’re in a position of knowing something that matters and offering it to someone who really needs it. It feels good to help someone who asks. If they don’t want to help, they’ll let you know. But usually people are happy to help, because it makes them feel fulfilled. You’re helping yourself and the one who joins you in the effort.
When was the last time you tossed something out of your life and felt that little rush of freedom that comes with it? Wasn’t it energizing to lighten your load?