After four months of living so simply, it felt almost claustrophobic to have so many things surrounding me.
I felt so free, liberated, clear as I released, renounced and recycled my belongings.
Renunciation, or vairagya, is a practice long held as sacred among yogis. Letting go of attachments of all kinds helps create a clear and lucid mind.
Patanjali calls vairagya (also translated as “nonattachment”) one of the two wings of our practice:
1.12 abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah
Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness.
~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
According to Patanjali’s teachings in the Yoga Sutras (sutra 1.12-1.16), abhyasa (repeated practice) is the first wing of our practice.
Abhyasa involves cultivating a strong conviction, a persistent effort to consistently choose practices with actions, speech and thought that lead in the direction of liberation (moksha).
Vairagya is learning to actively and systematically encounter, explore and let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears and false identities that are clouding the true Self.
Together they form the two wings of our practice.
We need both wings to take flight. With only one wing, we merely fly around in circles.
Native Americans also acknowledge the significance of releasing attachments to possessions. Their tradition was known as the Give-Away Ceremony, or the Potlatch Ceremony—the practice of giving away useful and even beloved possessions to others. It was a practice of sacrificing something of importance in order to allow for personal growth in the future.
Every since that first trip to India, I’ve been hooked on how powerful it is to let go of things.
So much so that a couple of times a year, I have a practice of giving away nine things a day for 30 days. Oftentimes I continue past the month because it feels so good and/or I don’t yet feel complete.
So why do we accumulate so much stuff, both in our environment and internal landscape?
There are many different reasons, from comfort to emotional sentimentally to the practical thought, “I may need this some day.”
All these reasons pile up just like the belongings themselves, thus making it hard to clean out the garage or that closet you don’t even want to open.
I’d like to invite you to try your own 30-day exercise of vairagya, renouncing nine items each day.
Here are the guidelines:
- You MUST pull nine things out each day—even if it means you’re really HUNTING for things to give away.
- Any item, even a pencil, counts as one.
- The item can be thrown away, given to a friend, sold in a yard sale or donated to charity.
- Check off each day when you complete your nine things on our free downloadable chart.
A few tips:
- Do one drawer, cupboard or household category (such as books) a day.
- Put them in separate piles: “To give away” or “To sell” (throwaways just go in the trash).
- Get your friends involved so you can give each other ideas about where to look for things.
Over the years I’ve seen many recommendations about how to let go of the emotional attachment to things.
The Declutter Lady recommends going for the “easy wins” first. “Once you start the process of tossing things, it becomes not only easier, but more fun,” she says on her website.
Here are some things that she says fall into the easy win category:
- Expired food (yes, this counts!)
- Unfinished project materials
- Clothes that don’t fit any more
- Gifts you’ve received but never used
Some of these things will be easier than others. If you still feel stuck on an item’s worth in your life, some of my favorite questions to ask are:
- Does this [fill in the blank] enrich my life or detract from it?
- Is it just collecting dust?
- Could someone else be making better use of it?
- Does it add something special to my life?
- What does it represent that I could find an inner relationship with instead?
Download this chart to check off each day as you clean out your daily nine items during the month.
For months that have 31 days, you can either use that day to distribute your things to charities and friends, or as a bonus day to clean out another nine things.
You can also continue past the 30 days if you find this as powerful as I have.
What tips do you have for letting go of things and clearing out the clutter? Share them in the comments below.