Letting Go

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly five years since a major renovation to our house was nearing completion.  As I look back, I’m thinking about what that project taught me – lessons about far more than tearing down and rebuilding physical structures.

That project taught me not to fear letting go of what no longer works in my life, whether it’s a job I’ve outgrown, a toxic relationship, or a living situation that no longer meets my needs.

Letting go means leaving behind what has become familiar and comfortable, even though it may have long since ceased being useful or lifegiving.  It means stepping into the new and unknown.  That can be overwhelming and frightening.

And the closer we get to moving away from a familiar situation, the greater the resistance, even when we know that we’re moving into something better.  We might wonder, isn’t there something – anything – that can be done to make this situation work?  Is it truly necessary to let go and start over?  If I ignore it, might it eventually resolve itself?

For years my husband and I tried to ignore the challenges of maintaining our old barn.  After all, it was moderately useful as a storage space, so long as we were careful where we walked and how we stacked heavy items.  And it had enough room to park a car in it.  There was even a large space that we could access from the house that served as a sort of den.

But it was falling apart.  The sag in the roof grew more pronounced each year.  The dirt floor kept filling with puddles making it hard to get from the car to the kitchen door at certain times of the year.  And it was clearly pulling away from the house – maybe even taking the house with it.  Previous owners of the house had made valiant efforts to shore up the barn, but still it seemed determined to collapse.

We knew we had to do something drastic, and we knew we couldn’t do it alone.  We talked with trusted architects and contractors, and the clear consensus was that the time had come to stop trying to prop up the old structure.  The only sensible thing was to tear it down (carefully!) and rebuild.


How long would the project take?  More than a year once the exterior work was finished.

How much would this cost?  A lot!  More than we initially thought?  Of course!

Would it be worth it?  Absolutely!

Now we have a space that is functional.  It’s as if it’s always been this way.  We can scarcely remember how things were before.  This has been a very good change.

And life, after all, is a series of changes.

Since this project was completed there have been several large changes in our lives.  There have been losses and gains in our extended family including death, divorce, marriage, and moves to new homes.  There have been job changes, and changes in employment status, and even gradual changes in phases of life.

Some were changes over which we had no control.  Other changes were made deliberately, like the barn renovation.

Here’s what I learned from that old barn when confronting the need to make a change – to let go of what’s not working to move toward something better and more life-giving.

  1. Don’t go it alone.  Ask for help when you need it, from friends, family members, and even professionals when necessary.  Like the barn project that wasn’t something my husband and I could do well on our own, most major changes in our lives are better made when we have others who support us.
  2. Changes, like building projects, take time. It’s impossible to leap from a difficult situation into one that is ideal.  Our barn was torn down board by board and rebuilt in the same way.  When we make changes incrementally, beginning with letting go, and then allowing enough time to rebuild, we save ourselves from becoming overwhelmed by what may well be an enormous undertaking.
  3. There will be setbacks. Weather, shortage of materials, conflicting contractors’ schedules are part of any building project.  Life is full of unpredictable events.  Competing demands on our attention can sometimes make it seem as if we aren’t making any progress toward our goals.  But setbacks are mostly temporary. When they occur it’s important to…
  4. Remain focused on the new life that’s under construction. I’m not sure how we would have survived the cramped quarters and gaping holes in our house if we hadn’t had the vision of what was coming next to guide us. This has been true for every change I’ve ever made in my life.
  5. No matter how bad the old situation, there will likely be a few things worth incorporating into the new one. For us it was floorboards and wall boards (with graffiti that lends character), along with some of the hardware that we incorporated into the new structure.  Even when we leave a bad situation there will be some good things to take with us: valuable lessons, hard-earned wisdom, healthy friendships.  It’s only right that we keep those things.

Most of all, I learned that change is stressful, so during major life changes I need to allow myself to take breaks, remember to breathe, and even have an emotional meltdown from time to time.  If I allow these moments of unplugging and resetting, not only do I handle the process better, but I am also in a better place to fully embrace the outcome.