Making Space for "I have to"

A few months ago, I lost my mind. OK, not literally. But I read a book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This is a must read. Especially if you’ve ever felt like the “stuff” in your house (like that book you read fifteen years ago but can’t let go of, or the dress you wore for the wedding that is now 4 sizes too small, or the extra toaster you keep around in case yours breaks) has stolen control and, with it, destroyed the quality of your life. What I mean by that is you are buried, literally or figuratively, under a pile of seemingly necessary items that you can’t seem to part with no matter how hard you try. Meanwhile, you can’t seem to shake the feeling that you are being suffocated, but when you look around to find the culprit, there is no one there. Have you ever felt claustrophobic in your own home? Maybe because every nook and cranny is filled with some kind of inanimate object that somehow convinces you, with its sad little nonexistent eyes, that it must stay. Said item is now driving the wheel of your emotions, and in its fully personified form has persuaded you that kicking it to the curb will scar it for life. 

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m speaking from experience. I’ve felt all of that! I’m not a hoarder. At least, I don’t think I am. But I have found myself enslaved by my “stuff.” 

Kondo’s book gives some practical, even revolutionary tips on how to part with items that take up space, and it begins doing so by asking one simple question: does this item evoke any sense of joy? If it does, it stays. If it doesn’t, it goes. Kondo urges her clients and readers to first discard everything that doesn’t spark joy. Then, and only then, she directs, can you begin to find a proper home (i.e., space) for the keepers. She insists that if you follow these instructions—discard first and then sort and put away—you will discover that everything has a place.

I didn’t buy what she was selling—at first. But I’m telling you, it’s true. And I think it’s true for more than just monetary items. I’m now convinced that we can’t fully embrace our “I have to” until we have made space for it first. What do I mean by that? Great question. I’m positive I cannot say it any better than Elle Luna did, in her brilliant book, The Crossroads of Should and Must. There is nothing that distracts or pollutes our “musts”—or to put it in our terminology, our “I have to’s”—more that our “shoulds” or our “I want to’s.”

So we have to do some housekeeping. We have to clean out our “I want to’s” and dust away those “shoulds” so there is space for our “musts” and “I have to’s.” The problem is sometimes we don’t even realize we are living in the land of “I want to’s” and “shoulds.” And perhaps, even more than that, the land seems plenty good to us. And you have probably heard this famous truth: the most dangerous enemy of great is good. We aren’t always aware that there is a voice in our head that isn’t ours, and certainly isn’t God’s, a voice that keeps us from the abundant life we were intended to live. 

Here’s how this plays out scientifically. We have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. Our conscious minds are controlled by the frontal lobe of our brains. It is this sector of our brain that is responsible for the processing of all information. It controls things like worry, reasoning, math facts, and the name of the person we just met. So you can blame your conscious mind when you whisper to someone, maybe your spouse or a friend next to you: “Was her name Sally or Sarah? Or was it Cynthia? Ugh. I can’t remember.” 

Here’s where it gets interesting. It is the conscious part of our brains that doesn’t develop until we hit puberty. Which immediately makes me wonder: what in the world did I use to think with in the first twelve or more years of my life? The answer? The subconscious mind. It is all about feelings and perceptions. It is where all outside information is stored and processed.

Author Jen Sincero writes: “Our subconscious mind, on the other hand, is the non-analytical part of our brain that’s fully developed the moment we arrive here on earth. . . . The subconscious mind believes everything because it has no filter, it doesn’t know the difference between what’s true and what’s not true. If our parents tell us that nobody in our family knows how to make money, we believe them. If they show us that marriage means punching each other in the face, we believe them. We believe them when they tell us that some fat guy in a red suit is going to climb down the chimney and brings us presents—why wouldn’t we believe any of the other garbage they feed us?” 

Right about now, you’re thinking: Well, that’s good and fine. There are two parts of our minds: the conscious and the subconscious. What’s wrong with that?

And the answer is: nothing. Except the fact that most of the time we believe our conscious minds are in control, that this side is the one dominating the conversation. Meanwhile, our subconscious is lounging around in the sofa of our brains eating a bag of chips and laughing maniacally because it’s the one actually holding the reigns of our thought life and therefore our actions. 

Our conscious minds say: “Yes. Go for it. Open your own business! Ask that girl out! Quit your job and travel for a year!” And your subconscious mind very quietly goes about the business of pulling all sorts of memories to the forefront, most of which you were sure you had erased. Like that one involving the chubby and insecure kid in third grade who picked on you and made you feel you were good for nothing. And before you know it, your subconscious mind has deterred you from your “I have to” and left you curled up in the old, worn-in, and all-too-comfortable recliner that is your “I want to.” Am I talking to anyone else here except myself? 

So there you have it. Our “should” versus our “must.” Our “I want to” versus our “I have to.” And our conscious versus our subconscious. All these battles going on in our hearts and brains can leave us feeling, well, a bit confused and overwhelmed. Now we know why we feel so scattered, unsure, and discontent half of the time. Or maybe, in reality, more than half of the time. 

The questions we will be examining this week are: Now what? How do we make space? How do we push the reset button? How do we let go and let God? How do we release the “I want to” to make a way for the “I have to?” 











Christy Fay