« | Archives | »

Midlife Sorting and Shedding

January '09

“Out with the old, in with the new” is a common mantra for this time of year. And it’s perfect advice at midlife when you find yourself stuck between a past that no longer works and a future you cannot envision.

Last night as I was leafing through some gorgeous, colored photos in this month’s House Beautiful, I came across two pages of black and white text that outlined a clear approach for the “out with the old” part of this equation. Called “Closet Clearance,” it was written about Julie Morgenstern who is evidently “the guru of putting lives in order.”

Julie makes a lovely distinction between organizing and shedding by saying, “you organize to become more efficient, you shed to get unstuck.” She also notes “it’s possible to get organized without getting rid of anything. It’s impossible to shed without letting things go.”

At midlife, or during any transition, before you can bring in the new, you need to let go of what no longer serves you – whether it be your habits, your beliefs, or simply your stuff. Remember nature abhors a vacuum, so clearing literal or metaphoric space allows fresh, rejuvenating habits, beliefs and belongings to enter.

A great place to embark on this process is with your stuff, because it’s so tangible. The very concreteness of objects can really help you begin sifting and letting go. Start with the items that are easy to pitch. How about those old ball-point pens you’ve never used – the ones with names of people and places marching down the side? Or what about that skirt you purchased three years ago that you’ve only worn once? Someone else might love to have it.

As you move forward with your tossing, you’ll begin to feel lighter, but you may also feel hesitant at times. In part, because the decision of what to shed and what to keep says something about the “new you” – the “you”, you are becoming. And you don’t know who that is yet.

Plus inertia is a real force, it takes a certain will to overcome it and set things in motion. So hang in there with the sticking points and gradually your closet and drawers will be emptied with space opening up inside. And they will reflect the space opening up inside you, as well.

I think it’s no coincidence that in myths and fairy tales, when heroes or heroines embark on courageous voyages, they are often asked to complete a sifting and sorting task. In Greek myth, Aphrodite gives Psyche the impossible task of separating a storeroom’s wheat, barley, millet and lentils into separate bags before nightfall. And in a Russian folk tale, Baba Yaga tells the youngest daughter searching for her prince, “I will help you, but you must complete a task first, or I will eat you.” The task, as you might guess, involves winnowing the grains of wheat from a barrel.

I notice that sometimes when a midlife women calls me for a free consultation, I hear comments like, “for some reason, I have being going through my stuff and clearing things out.” I see this as a sign that her midlife journey, with its great possibilities for transformation, has already begun. That “more inside” her is about to come forward and truth be known, I find that incredibly exciting.

So if you’re yearning for a new direction in your life, but feel stuck and confused about how to proceed, why not begin with sorting and shedding?

Happy 2009,



  1. Marna Krajeski said on January 27, 2009:

    Great newsletter, Bonnie!
    I started out 2009 by donating 11 bags of clothing, etc, to Big Sisters. I felt so light afterwards!


  2. Elaine MacLean said on January 29, 2009:

    Ohhhh how true this is. My husband and I are at the shedding stage. We throw away or give away 10 things a month and each time we do it I feel freer. (I’m not sure he does). Your e mail was a reminder that today is a good day to dispose of a few more things. The Zen masters say that every object within your range of site carries a power to distract. Boy, are we distracted!

Leave a comment