Why bring this up? Well, changes in our lives do not just affect the person that you are personally, but it fundamentally changes your relationship with those around you. When your interests change, you are drawn to people who share those interests – and at the same time, those people you called your friends might slowly drift away because you have less in common with them. They might even pull away from you because they cannot understand what you are going through and why your behaviour has changed. This is particularly true when you are making drastic changes that affect your timetable or the choice of activities you prefer. I experienced that exact thing when I started on my new journey, and I ended up with a lot of dead weight in my relationships with others.
I know, describing those who – at some point – I called my friends as ‘dead weight’ may not sound very nice, but unfortunately it is a fact of life that relationships and friendships change over time as we develop into different people through our unique experiences that may not include our friends and loved ones. There is a natural process of slow separation from these friends as our interest change, and most of us are fairly good at letting go, without even realising it. However, the ghosts of these people keep showing up, nevertheless!
Here’s a little exercise: take out your address book, be it a paper one or an electronic one on your computer or phone, pick any letter and take a good look at the names listed under that letter. I bet that most of you will have at least one (and more likely a lot) of names in there you have not been in contact with for a long time –you may not even remember who some of these people actually are!
In the past, when paper address books were the only thing we used (and those were often the last pages of the annual agenda), addresses where regularly weeded out and only the ‘important’ ones were written into the new agenda at the beginning of the new year. These days, with electronic media, we never have to go through that cathartic and cleansing process any more, and just like any other kind of clutter, we get used to carrying the ‘dead weight’ because there does not seem to be a need for a good clean-up longer. In some cases, our internal ‘pack rat’ might rear its ugly head as well: “look at all those friends I have” you might think, although you have not been in contact with many of them in years.
So why is this clutter? While it may not actually be inefficient to keep those addresses (and I am contesting this because it takes much longer to look for any given name if there are lots you do not actually need), just like some physical items in your home, those addresses invoke memories that are not necessarily good to keep. Each of these names may feel like a memory of good times, but would you not remember those good times anyway? What if that person has parted on bad terms? What if they passed away? Is it really necessary to keep their details? I believe that those defunct memories take away from your experience of the current moment because they anchor you in the past rather than allowing for new experiences in the present.
Coming back to changes in our personal situation, our perception of the world around us, and our relationship with other people: if people have drifted away and we find less and less common ground with them… why keep these people on speed dial? Yes, you may want to keep those contact details for a while, but if you find yourself scanning through your address book and wonder when you were last in touch, it might be time to let go for good.
Here’s another exercise: think of one of the people you identified in the first exercise as being sort of ‘removed from your current life experience’. Now imagine calling them. Does it make you wonder if you want to do that? Have you started wondering what you would talk about and if there is something you actually could talk about?
Take a step back now and think under which circumstances you would call them at all. If the answer is anything along the lines of ‘just in case’, I’ve got you by the nose: THAT is the clutter talking! Be honest with yourself. You have not used that number and it is unlikely you will, ever again. It’s just a ghost of a memory and you don’t really need that, do you?
That is only the first reason to wonder about these things, and my friend is a good example of the second – and even more common – consideration. When we are young, everything is new and we are adding to our life experience. Imagine yourself, just out of school, exploring options, as one does at that age, studying, working or going on a huge trip around the world. You encounter new people and those friends from school quickly turn into a vague memory. Of course they do: your life circumstances have changed drastically and all of you are developing in different directions and making different choices, each of which separates you from part of that group.
Still, we hang on to some of those people as we keep accumulating new friends along our path in life. There comes a time, though, when we look back and find that many of the names on our list have faded gradually, or we have lost touch completely. This tends to happen at a certain age, as well. I believe everyone reaches that junction at some point in their life, classic ones being marriage (or divorce), moving to a distant place, an accident, etc.
My friend has just about passed his mid-thirties, is going through a massive change in life, and is now faced with his first culling of names on the list. It’s no wonder he is questioning how he relates to some of his old friends, and he feels less connected because there are fewer names on his list. Well, I suppose that is part of the deal. And yet again: does quantity make up for quality? I think not. I’d rather have a number of FRIENDS I can call upon anytime than a large group of loosely connected people I have to struggle to connect with.
If you find that some people on your list have faded into oblivion, it makes sense to make the cut and remove them. If you fear you are being held back by your old friends who resent you making changes and who want you to stay the old you that clearly doesn’t serve you any longer, it is unavoidable take some harsh decisions. Just like removing other types of clutter from your life, not having those reminders of things long past will improve your quality of life considerably.
Ask the ClutterMeister
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.