Letting Go: How to Achieve Non-Attachment

Girl standing in field with arms in the air  - non attachment
Photo by Daniel Hering on Unsplash

It’s a fact that we acquire things through life, minimalist or not. We receive gifts, things wear out and need replacing, hobbies and jobs may require certain equipment, and kids and pets have their own needs. 

There’s nothing wrong with having stuff, or enjoying stuff, the problem is when we get attached to it. 

When you feel like you can’t live without the baby memorabilia or the Italian trinkets from fifteen years ago, your stuff can weigh you down and anchor you to the past. As well as eating up all your space, these possessions can stop you from moving on with your life and from living or chasing your dreams. 

The stuff we relentlessly seek out, acquire and organise is responsible for a lot of stress and suffering. If that sounds extreme, hear me out. 

When you’re attached to objects or even parts of your own identity, consider how completely devastating and debilitating it can be to lose them. I’m not just talking about wars and natural disasters, but job loss, illness, disability, and death. And many of these things can sneak up on you or hit you so fast and hard you’re left wondering what happened. 

If your self worth is tied to your career, who are you if you become sick and can no longer fulfill that role? If you’re caught up in having a status or a title, who are you if you lose it? If you lose everything you own, who are you without it all? 

Nothing lasts forever, not even ourselves. Who you are now isn’t who you were five years ago and isn’t who you will be years from now.  The physical stuff that we tie to these different phases and versions of ourselves are no exception. 

Stuff gets broken, lost, stolen, destroyed, or simply decays with time. Some people find that their stuff turns deadly in a natural disaster. Others find themselves limited to buying certain sized homes for all their stuff, or constantly find themselves running out of space and the time to organise it all.

All of the above creates stress, loss, and grief. But what if I told you that there’s a way to detach from your physical possessions, even while still enjoying them? And would it surprise you if I told you that attachment is not the same as ownership? 

To own something means you bought it or were given it by another person. But attachment is being emotionally and mentally tied to the things that you own. They are the invisible bonds that we cannot see and which can make it difficult to let things go. Then there’s the endowment effect where we place extra meaning and value on objects simply because we own them, or used to own them. 

Of course, I have things I love. I love my macbook, I love my adult colouring supplies, and I love my game consoles. But these things are replaceable. They enrich my life but they aren’t who I am. 

There are some things I struggle to let go of and some which I’ve accepted I won’t be letting go of by choice, for example, my Sega Mastersystem II, and my rainbow elephant, Benji. I’d definitely shed a tear over those things, but I’m fully aware that it’s just stuff. None of it will mean anything to the people who come after me, and that’s okay. 

Friends have acted exasperated when I’ve let go of something I’ve only owned for a few months or less. But that’s because I don’t form attachments to purchases anymore. If something doesn’t work for me or I use something less than I imagined, I’m happy to give it away or sell it on. If my interests change, I’m also happy to pass the object on and make room for what I like in the present. 

I see things as temporary because as humans we’re always changing. In fact, everything we use or buy is temporary when you think about it. Our homes will eventually be owned by somebody else or knocked down. Our treasures will become clutter. Our decor will become history. 

None of it matters when we’re not here, and very little of it really matters while we are.

Below are 15 mindset changes that will help you to let go of the attachments that hold you back. 

15 Mindsets for Letting Go

Understand that we once survived on far less and that many people in the world still do. Our obsession with more is a big problem in the West. 

See marketing for what it is. Often, products are designed by very clever people in marketing to prey on your insecurities so that you will consume more. Companies don’t just sell products, but lifestyles. ‘Buy our cologne and become irresistible’, ‘buy this outfit and soon you’ll be traveling the world and living the dream’, ‘buy our new phone or risk being seen as outdated and unproductive’’. 

And since humans haven’t evolved in thousands of years, we still have the same basic desires. To fit in for survival and protection. To be accepted into the tribe. To attract a mate. To become leaders. The people designing ads and products know this and use our ancient brains to make a profit. 

See your objects for what they really are, just stuff designed to make you feel a certain way or a desperate attempt to achieve happiness and status (a pursuit that never ends no matter what you acquire). 

Track how happy your most recent purchase made you and for how long. You’ll start to see a pattern of never-ending dissatisfaction and suffering caused by feelings of constant desire and of ‘falling behind’. 

Rate how happy an object really makes you on a scale of 1-10. If the object is new, try rating it again just days or weeks later. Now try putting the object away and living without it 

Track how long an event or experience makes you feel happy compared to the last purchase you made. Experiences have been shown to have a long-lasting impact on satisfaction, unlike acquiring yet another outfit or moving to an even bigger house. Experiences make memories and foster connections with others, but objects create clutter, debt, and dissatisfaction. 

Understand that you will always return to your baseline level of happiness no matter what happens to you or what you purchase. This is known as the hedonic treadmill.  The hedonic treadmill is why even if you win the lottery, you will soon return to normal levels of what everyday happiness feels like to you. With repeated exposure to pleasure, you will also gradually become desensitised and need more of the thing or a bigger, better thing to experience the same kind of high (a high you will fall back down from). 

Start letting go of some possessions. Notice how little you think about or miss them and how much lighter your life becomes.

Imagine being able to pack up and move in a heartbeat, to own little to feel worry and pain over. To be free.  Now imagine having all that stuff returning to you and that newfound freedom taken away. Once you realise the things you could be doing if you didn’t have all the stuff, it can be eye-opening and dramatically change your life. 

No matter what others may say, it’s okay to enjoy something for a period of time and then let it go. Making a purchase does not mean you must commit to or hold onto something for longer than it serves. It’s also helpful to realise that things rarely hold their original value, and most of the value we imagine is due to the endowment effect. For truly valuable objects, by all means sell them at their worth, just don’t get hung up on it. 

Your space and peace of mind is worth far more. 

Objects are there to serve us just like our ancient tools did thousands of years ago. We are not here to serve or become slaves to our possessions. We aren’t evolved to manage hundreds and thousands of possessions.

The more you desire, the more you have to work to afford those desires. And it never stops. You’ll never reach the satisfaction you chase. Could you work less if you desired less? If you got out of debt? Could you work towards your dream job if you had more time? 

Let go of what you think you are or should be and just let yourself be as you are. We’re all here to discover and live out our unique purposes. If you don’t like who you are, then consider this wise quote from Carl Rogers; ‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am…then I can change’. 

Let go of the past and the unknown future and just be. The present is all there ever is and ever will be. Even tomorrow will eventually become your today. By staying stuck in the past you can’t move forwards, but by forever chasing tomorrow you forget to live for today. 

Know that you can’t predict how you will feel months, weeks, or years from now. These kinds of predictions are called affective forecasting and can cause you to trust your feelings less or to make purchases based on how you think you will feel in the future. 

As you can see, attachment is a very human thing, but it’s also a big cause of needless worry and stress. By letting go, even if it’s a gradual process, you can live a simpler, lighter life, and even achieve your dreams.

What can you let go of today?

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