Make the Most of This New Year by ‘Letting Go’

By Gwenn Voelckers

Are you convinced you’ll never be good at relationships? Or, do you regret the way you behaved in your marriage? Still angry at your ex? Or yourself?

Holding on to past hurts, slights, negative thinking, or lost opportunities can compromise your sense of well-being and ability to live alone with contentment.

Whether it’s emotional baggage or tangible reminders that keep you from moving forward, I encourage you to let them go in favor of a fresh start.

“Letting go” is a beautiful thing. And not just for those who live alone. Letting go of old ways of thinking, of a poor self-image, or of destructive thoughts or behaviors can free you up to embrace life’s blessings and the possibility of feeling whole and complete on your own.

I discovered the power of letting go quite by accident. It was years ago, after I purchased my country cottage, which sits on six acres of wooded and open land.

One of my first home-improvement projects was to carve out a fire pit in my backyard. I’ve always loved a bonfire: the warm glow it casts on the faces of those gathered around it, the earthy scent of burning branches, the flames that invite inspection … and, importantly, introspection.

Little did I know that when I built my fire pit that it would also become the ceremonial dumping ground for my “old baggage” — those useless memories, beliefs and feelings that were holding me back and keeping my life small.

I remember one evening in particular. I’d been holding on to my old Day-Timers — large, leather-bound calendar/planners that were used in the ‘90’s before everything went digital. In those Day-Timers, I made calendar entries that captured “the good, the bad, and the ugly” over the course of what turned out to be a dismal and highly disappointing decade.

Why I hung onto these Day-Timers I’ll never know. Maybe out of misplaced sentimentality. But this I do know: Whenever I looked at the neat stack of volumes stashed away in my closet, I would wince inside.

But then I decided, no more.

On an early spring evening, I held my first letting-go ceremony. I grabbed my Day-Timers, made my way to the fire pit and built a bonfire. There I sat with my memories (and glass of wine) while I slowly, deliberately leafed through each bound year of my life, before tossing it on the hot embers.

It was a moving experience. Sad at times. But, mostly, I began to feel lighter, freer. And I felt something I didn’t expect: a sense of peace and self-satisfaction for having taken control and done something good for myself.

That evening set the stage for many letting-go ceremonies to come. I look forward to them and the release of the pent-up, negative energy they promise.

Might you consider holding your own letting-go ceremony? Here are some tips:

First: Identity what is holding you back or keeping you stuck. Be honest. Ask yourself what negative beliefs or thoughts are getting in the way of your ability to feel hopeful and enthusiastic about yourself and your life.

What do you need to release to move forward? Resentment toward something or someone? Regret over a past mistake? Guilt? A negative self-image? A bad habit? Or deep sadness?

Second: Identify something tangible (as I did with my Day-Timers) that conjures up painful or disappointing memories. This negative “something”— a photograph, gift, letter or other reminder — can be powerful. Even if it’s out of sight, you know it’s there and just having it in your possession may keep you tethered to a painful past.

If nothing tangible comes to mind, try describing your negative belief or thought in a “Letter to Self.” Put it down on paper and get it out of your system.

Third: Hold your own letting-go ceremony, in whatever style or fashion that suits you. I like the bonfire approach, but you may prefer another method. Tying your Letter to Self to a stone and throwing it into a lake may be more fitting and symbolic. Or perhaps you’ll prefer to bury your anger in your backyard.

You decide. On your own or in the company of friends or family, let go of what’s holding you back and keeping you stuck. Doing so may help liberate the hope, passion and power residing deep inside you. It can be a meaningful step toward independence.

Needless to say, letting go ceremonies aren’t a cure-all. Believe me, my long-held feelings about my difficult decade didn’t magically dissipate with the burning of my Day-Timers. But I did feel better and more empowered afterwards.

I could go on and on, but you’ll need to excuse me. It’s a new year. I have a bonfire to build and some baggage to burn.

Gwenn Voelckers leads “Live Alone and Thrive” empowerment workshops for women in Mendon, Monroe County, and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, Empowering Essays To Help Divorced And Widowed Women Feel Whole And Complete On Their Own.” For information about workshops, to purchase a book or invite Voelckers to speak, call 585-624-7887, email, or visit