A colleague once told me that she cleans out her closet whenever she is ready for her next stage of evolution and development. I was amazed and intrigued that she connected downsizing with her own growth. She thought that letting go of clothes she didn’t wear created space where there was overcrowding. And this physical space she was making in her closet had a psychological and spiritual impact of creating space in other areas of her life. This intentional, regular habit of hers helped her continue to expand her consciousness and vitality. She believed that we need space to invite the next chapter into our lives. Cleaning out her closet was her way of activating that dynamic.

The relationship between energy and releasing

Yet, how many of us have closets, basements or offices that are crammed with books, files, paper, clothes, old furniture or unused “stuff”? I used to work at a Benedictine college in Minnesota. The sisters there practiced enoughness. They approached material things from the framework of what is enough, not what more I need. Their approach had a strong impact on me, and for over 20 years, I have been practicing enoughness. I regularly give things away that I don’t use or need.

This time of year, I take time to give things away that are taking up space in my closet. I do this because I know that the clothes and things I am not using can be put to use in a new home with someone else. It also makes me feel lighter to have fewer possessions. There is a direct impact on the energy and openness I feel in my life when I get material things out of my house and donate them. But I am not alone in this. Nature does the same thing.

Nature is always moving and adapting to the disruptions and changes in the larger system. We can learn a lot about how nature reclaims energy and resources by practicing letting go. In the adaptive cycle, nature initiates and sustains, and then releases when what it is maintaining no longer fits form to function. There is a direct relationship between releasing and the reclaiming of resources. When nature lets go, it frees up energy, resources and nutrients that had been holding things in place and uses them to reorganize and explore the next adaptation of life. This is a constant cycle that allows nature to reorganize itself and the larger system to support future life.

The harmful effects of clinging to conventional habits and ideas

As human beings, we don’t just hold on to things. We also hold on to old ways of thinking and acting. At some point, these conventional ideas no longer fit the organizational world we are living in. Nature would release these practices as soon as they no longer serve the larger purpose of creating conditions conducive to life. Humans tend to hold on to conventional thinking even when it is hurting them or the people in their organizations.

For example, when we focus on one part of the system to the exclusion of the larger whole, we weaken the larger system. That is what we are doing to the environment. We have prioritized short-term financial profits without seeing how this is hurting the current and future quality of life in our communities and regions. Nature would teach us to let go of these ideas and habits and reorganize the way we think so that we design, lead and manage our organizations to regenerate themselves. This regeneration would create a larger system with increased vitality, resilience and benefits to the whole, not just some people or some parts of the system.