Abundance is one of the many blessings of modern life. We have access to many options, and, in most cases, we can afford the option of our choice.
The same abundance, however, can turn into a curse if we unconsciously use it as a weapon to silence fears and insecurities.
The negative side effect of abundance
If we’re not fully aware of our deepest reasons and intentions, it’s fairly easy to fall prey to marketing hype and social pressure.
We succumb to fear. We buy and consume believing we’ll feel happier if we do what everyone else is doing. Or we chase every new and shiny object thinking that it’s the one that will work for us.
Uncovering the deep fears behind superficial desires
To uncover fear, we need to remove the layers of false motivations by examining each item we own: How do we feel about it today? And why do we still need it?
A while back I mentioned that I was going to take time off to deal with office clutter that had been reduced in the past but not fully addressed.
As I started looking into the papers, files, and courses, I realized that I kept a lot of these things out of fear.
Fear is quite deceptive. It can hide behind other motives—ambition, learning and growing, planning for the future, or reflection and gaining wisdom.
As I looked at my stuff, deep fears started coming up. These fears are intimately familiar and can be the reason behind many of our behaviors.
If there is an area in your life that’s cluttered or feels overwhelming, I invite you to look at the following fears and see if they apply to your situation.
1. Fear of letting go (or forgetting)
I kept some stuff because I was afraid that I would forget what happened. I wanted to remind myself of the best experiences of my life, and some of the worst and most painful events.
The thing is: I never really looked into these documents and reflected upon them. I merely moved them from one location to another. Or, at best, moved them to a newer filing system.
I held on to stuff because I felt it defined part of my past—and me by extension. But I never took the time to look back and extract the meaning that I needed so I could move on.
This is a recipe for stagnation and remaining stuck in the past.
We can’t move forward if we hold on to the past beyond its intended purpose.
2. Fear of missing out
I kept course materials I bought years ago. Every now and then I’d start a course, then I’d get busy with something else and forget about it—till it starts nagging at me again.
Having many courses didn’t motivate me to learn. Far from it, I felt overwhelmed and unmotivated to do anything.
Buying the course felt like I was doing something. I didn’t miss out on a great learning opportunity. The same was true for the many books that remained unread for years.
I didn’t want to get rid of any course, or book, hoping that I’d get to it. But I didn’t.
Now I realize that missing out is better than adding more stuff (and stress) to my life. So I’ll embrace the fear of missing out, but won’t act on it.
3. Fear of future needs
This is one of the biggest drivers behind accumulation of any type. We pay good money for something, so we’d better use it—sooner or later.
No one wants to pay money for the same thing a few months down the road. Except the months turn to years and the stuff continues to take space and pile dust.
After a few years, we realize it’s not even worth giving away. So we might as well keep it, just in case we need it later.
To reduce the “later” category ask yourself: What’s the likelihood that I’ll use this item in the next three months?
We only can do so much. So most of the stuff will have to go—if we’re honest with ourselves.
4. Fear of not living up to our potential
Every item (or experience) we buy comes with a promise to bring out the best in us, to make us happier, smarter, more learned … and more alive.
And while that might be true, we can only do a few things well in a way that will build our skills, or transform our lives.
To deal with the many, we need to accept that we have a limited amount of time and energy and we must choose the most important items and let go of the rest.
I’m trying to limit my choice to five. It’s arbitrary, but I feel it’s manageable.
5. Fear of reality (escaping, numbing, and distracting ourselves with stuff or commitments)
When we don’t like our reality we tend to look to the outside for magical solutions.
We acquire and consume to fill the void and feel better. And we may get momentary relief. But the reality we’re avoiding will catch up with us—with or without stuff.
And the more we escape and avoid, the harder it gets to face the music. Impulse buying becomes a habit, and stuffing our lives with possessions and demands becomes the norm.
At one point the accumulation becomes overwhelming, which adds another layer of pain that needs numbing. This is where we can get stuck for years without a way out.
To step out of the consumption loop, we need to actively stop buying, or adding anything. Over time, we’ll become accustomed to saying no (to ourselves and others) and move towards simplicity.
The courage to recognize fear and move forward in a different direction
Fear is like fire, undetected it will feed itself and keep growing till it consumes every aspect of our lives. But unlike fire, we can’t fully extinguish fear.
We can, however, accept our fears without allowing them to control how we live.
The first step in moving forward is to admit that we’re afraid.
In my case, I admit that I allowed subconscious fears to factor into my decision making. I kept many things without a clear purpose—out of fear.
If you create clutter of any type, I hope you can pause now and ask yourself a few questions. And if you don’t have any clutter, I invite you to use the following questions before you make a decision to buy, or commit to, something new.
- If I say no to this, what would I lose?
- Am I afraid that I will miss out?
- If I commit to this item right now and don’t use it, will I be willing to let it go (give it away or throw it out) in three months?
Fear may be our tormentor, but it can also be a wise teacher showing us what not to do. When we acknowledge fear, we can move past it. We can consciously seek clarity, let go of the past, and make new choices.