As we gear up for our next move, my thoughts turn, not to my next career step (no idea 🙂 ) or working through the challenges of repatriation (I do have a plan for that!) but rather, to interior design. Or, to be more specific, the question of which of the things we have collected over many years, and several continents, will be coming with us as we start the next phase in our lives?
And, as I cast a newly appraising eye over our eclectic collection of stuff trying to decide what is worth paying to ship to the other side of the world, it got me thinking about how we make broader decisions about what elements we choose to keep in our lives as we move through transitions.
How do we decide what to keep, rearrange, deemphasise or divest as our preferences, personalities and circumstances change? And, is there anything we can learn from the decisions about how we organise our living rooms that could be usefully applied to the decisions about how we organise and live our lives?
Feature piece as focal point
In many rooms there will be a feature piece around which everything else is arranged. The feature is the focal point and the other items in the room are chosen and arranged to accent the feature and cast it in the best light.
In a living room, this piece is often the couch which is usually the largest, and often the most expensive, piece of furniture in the room. After considerable investment in both time and money, a careful selection is made and, once acquired, it is usually placed in a central position around which everything else is arranged. Coffee tables are placed in front of it, lamps oriented to cast just the right angle of glow and, the rugs and cushions which adorn it, are selected to complement its style and texture, helping to present it in the most flattering light.
Sometimes though, the couch is symbolic of something else. The first big purchase made with the first paycheque from the dream job – physical proof of achieving your independence or some, hard won, version of success. Or it’s kept for sentimental reasons. The old uni couch that hosted so many great parties which now reminds you of a simpler, freer, more interesting time and a happier, freer, more interesting you.
In the rest of our lives the couch can represent, metaphorically speaking, all of those things. A time and resource consuming feature element, around which every other aspect of our lives is arranged, a symbolic achievement or, an echo of a self you don’t want to let go.
For some, that feature might be external, an all-consuming job, family obligations or an age-sensitive ‘bucket list’. For others it might be an aspect of personality or persona that’s been cultivated and prized above all others. A stoicism that’s got you through a challenging time, a self-reliance that was needed when you were, more or less, on your own or, an extreme compassion that saw you continually doing for others, even as you neglected yourself.
When features fade, the focus shifts
After a few years though, the couch that meant so much or, brought you such visceral and aesthetic delight, may no longer do so. It might start to feel old or outdated as your tastes change, become increasingly less fit for purpose as you move house or add kids and pets into the mix. It may become an expensive burden, in need of permanent storage, so you can be free to move around. In some cases it could even become a source of conflict as you negotiate the joys of cohabitation with a new partner and try to mesh your different styles.
Perhaps you’ll attempt to revitalise your old couch with some new upholstery, by switching out the accent pieces or changing its orientation relative to the rest of the room. Perhaps you’ll compromise by moving it to another room to make space for a new, jointly chosen, couch or, store it in the basement, out of sight but available, just in case you need it in the future.
Perhaps, there is no one else involved but you change the wallpaper which clashes with the couch, so it just has to go. Or you simply start to introduce additional furniture for sitting on meaning that the couch, while still present, begins to take up less of the relative space in the room.
And so it can be with the parts of our lives. As you age and life takes on a fullness not often experienced in youth, the relative importance of one element over the others may start to change. The career that once meant so much now recast as ‘just a job’ which must complement, not overshadow, the rest of your life. Or, you may simply begin to evaluate your metaphorical furniture using different criteria – with comfort, size or durability ranking higher than always being on trend.
Investing and divesting
So what do we do when we realise that the feature piece around which we have anchored the rest of our lives, in which we have invested huge amounts of time and energy, just doesn’t do it for us anymore? How do we decide when to invest in some metaphorical cushion swopping to try and breathe new life into our metaphorical couch, put it into storage or simply sell it on?
In short, how do we decide whether to invest more time and energy in the life we have created, the aspects of ourselves we have cultivated and the priorities we have pursued up to this point vs. when it’s time to divest, renew or start again with a clean slate?
As with many things, instinct is probably a better guide than intellect when figuring this out. If my musings on this have struck a chord, spend some time reflecting on why.
Are you holding onto stuff – physical or emotional – for some reason that no longer serves you or helps you live the live you want to lead or be who you want to be right now?
In some cases the reluctance to part with our old stuff can be a reflection of something else going on. The reluctance to give up your own couch and purchase one jointly with a new partner may speak more to questions you have about the relationship or your willingness (or readiness) to let go of your independence and enter into a state of inter-dependence with someone else.
Or, as you look around your metaphorical living room is there something missing? Can you feel a stirring in the basement? An old piece of furniture that’s been in storage for years that wants to make a comeback, to take a central position once more? Perhaps the need for making sensible fabric decisions has passed and it’s time to bring back the fun?
As for me and my couch? Well that’s definitely coming with me. It’s quite new and I still love it despite its inherent impracticality in a house soon to be filled with cats. My bigger challenge is figuring out what to with the assortment of mugs we’ve collected over the years. Some are gifts from friends in foreign lands, some are mementos from our travels. None of them match and many of them are chipped and we hardly ever use them to drink out of. So the question remains do we pack them up and ship them over for sentimental reasons or leave them here to symbolically mark then end of this nomadic phase of our lives?
Perhaps I’ll go and lie down on the couch while I have a think about it 😉
Tricia Alach is a life coach and wellbeing professional who specialises in helping busy people create more balance, joy and fulfilment in life! To learn more about what she offers visit www.flowmindandbody.com or connect via facebook or @triciaalach