One of the key principles of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is living by your values – knowing what really matters to you in life. I find that helping clients to connect with their values can make the process of letting go of ‘stuff’ much easier. I’d like to share a real life example (with client’s permission)
My client has lived in her small unit for 20 years and had accumulated a lot of stuff. So much, that it became a risk to her health and safety. She relies on a walking frame and had been having trouble navigating around her home. She’d had a few falls. Her stuff had to be significantly reduced to make home safe for her.
She had acquired a lot of clothes, bags, laptops and tablets, electricals, blankets, linen, soft toys and knickknacks. She also had impressive collections of books on art, psychology, spiritual inquiry, mindfulness and cooking. However, her largest category by far was art materials and stationery. I guess you could name it ‘compulsive acquiring’ – the act of buying art stuff and stationery, mostly on sale, felt like rewards and gifts to herself. Collectively, there were hundreds of note books, specialty art pads, canvasses, colouring books, sketch and field pads and dozens of mostly unused folders and file holders. Then came the art materials – dozens of specialty watercolour, acrylic and oil paint sets, inks, pencils, pastels, charcoals ….
Where to start?
We discussed her values and what activities and aspects of life were most important to her daily wellbeing. This guided her to let go of many things that were no longer of use to her and did not add value to her life as it is now.
Value 1 – Safety and Physical Wellbeing
She realised she had a choice to make between keeping all of her belongings or her physical well-being. She chose her well-being. So there’s the first value – her safety and well-being is really important to her and she was willing to get the professional help she needed.
Value 2 – Generosity – giving to the wellbeing of others
The process of letting things go was made a lot easier by donating to two causes she is very passionate about. For example, it was suggested that she donate art and craft items she didn’t really need to a charity supporting disadvantaged children in Adelaide. She really loved the idea of supporting children so she willingly and generously donated many things and felt a great sense of joy doing so.
Value 3 –Self-development – curiosity and learning
Whilst the size of her book collection paled in comparison to art supplies, there were a lot of books for such a small living area. I was impressed by the nature and quality of the books she has relating to wellbeing/ psychology, and to the world of art. These books tapped into her desire to learn about art and about self-enhancement. It seemed a shame to cull them as they add value to her life. She had also collected a lot of food and recipe books. Since her physical limitations prevent her from cooking these days, they no longer add value. She chose to give most of these books away to make enough space for her art and wellbeing books.
Value 4 – Creativity
Art is a daily activity for this client and absolutely vital to her psychological and emotional wellbeing. She had a lot of top quality stuff. What we found is that she had many duplicates and far more art stuff than she could possibly use. Because there was so much, she didn’t know what she had anymore. So we sorted until she could see how just much she had in any one category. From there she was able to keep what she needed and donate the excess. Now it is organised and she knows what she has and where to find it. And she now actually has much more work-space for creating art.
Value 5 – Connection
When I asked my client to read this blog – she asked me to add something about the joy of having visitors now that she was no longer embarrassed about her environment. The importance of connection with people has been a significant motivation for her amazing progress through what was no doubt a daunting process.