Be Willing to Leave Your Baggage Behind

My dad was a master of the profound pithy saying. One of his favourites was, “When the building is burning, leave your baggage behind.”

Dad usually offered that sage nugget of wisdom during work crises. It was a reminder that the war was more important than the small battle; that survival of various kinds be prioritized above all else.

What I’ve been doing this past week doesn’t begin to approach the extremes of war or survival. Nevertheless, it has been a challenge, an awakening of sorts.

The Beginning of Hume ProEd Inc.

After publishing six books and three adolescent literacy programs with a large, mainstream publishing house, I was offended and angry when they didn’t want a seventh book. Their reasoning was good. The digital world was threatening to take down educational publishing. My publisher was trying to figure out how to survive. Another professional learning book was low on his list of priorities, but he wasn’t saying ‘No’ forever. He just wanted me to wait for a couple of years.

However, I couldn’t imagine life without my well-worn pattern of write, publish, facilitate workshops and give speeches, then write some more. I saw my publisher’s decision as an assault to my passion and my livelihood.

In an ill-conceived “I’ll show you” move, I started my own small publishing company creating professional learning kits called ProPaks.

My idea was to save schools and school districts from having to spend thousands of dollars hiring people like me by giving them everything they needed to lead high quality professional learning experiences on their own.

ProPaks were resource heavy: image-based PowerPoints with speaking notes, a twenty-four page guide, posters, cards, game pieces, worksheets. They were beautifully, professionally designed and published in full colour. Oh, and to add to the madness, I offered to personalize each ProPak to the needs of the receiving school or district.

The Ending of Hume ProEd Inc.

Another, less helpful, bit of advice from dad was, “Do it right or don’t bother doing it at all.” I did Hume ProEd right, if quality was the metric. But I didn’t do it sane. I offered ten different ProPaks from the get go. When a single order came in for each, I committed to writing all ten at once.

Hume ProEd definitely exacerbated the burnout that was, unbeknownst to me, rendering me incapable of making a single decision in my own best interest. Feelings and misplaced values, it turns out, make for pretty heavy baggage. As I sunk ever deeper into an exhausted, robot-like existence, I nevertheless remained determined to not disappoint any customers, to be a superhero to all.

Finally, after two years of gruelling effort, in the midst of the most debilitating exhaustion I’ve ever experienced, I called it quits. I donated my significant professional library to a faculty of education. All of the printed materials of Hume ProEd got shoved into closets, ready to deal with ‘someday’. I would have happily donated ProPaks too, but learned early on that I really should have started my business with a focus group or two. It turns out that educators are more comfortable paying the big bucks for speakers like me, rather than doing it themselves even when I write the workshops for them.

‘Someday’ Arrives

I love new beginnings, fresh starts, clean slates. After decades in schools, I think of September as the real New Year. My birthday in late August seals the deal.

This new year, I’ve decided that it is time to declutter my already clutter-free home. I feel a strong need to have less, do less, and be more.

Every object in every cupboard is being assessed. If it doesn’t have good memories, isn’t beautiful, if I don’t love it, out it goes. I’m putting items on Kijiji, donating to friends and charities, making a (hopefully small) trip to the dump and, in the case of Hume ProEd, visiting the recycling plant.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

L. Frank Baum

Leave Your Baggage Behind

As I fill blue bag after blue bag with posters, guides and activity cards, I find myself reliving every positive and negative of Hume ProEd’s two years. I am proud of the quality of the work, glad that I stayed with it long enough to break even financially and even show a small profit.

As is my wont, however, I start off paying little attention to these positives. I engage, instead, in my favourite blood sport of harsh self-criticism. How could I have wasted all of this money/time/effort/trees? I really wanted to write a big guide for facilitators. Why didn’t I start with that? Why did I get caught up in my old stuff of being all things to all people?

Then, as I pitch armloads of paper into recycling bags, I realize that “old stuff” is accurate. I needed Hume ProEd, just as I needed all of the crazy, intense decades before. My experiences have shaped me. They’ve taught me that I’m okay even when I take off, especially when I take off, the superhero cape. I didn’t know that truth before I started pitching paper.

Eckhart Tolle has a quote I’ve always liked–“Get the inside right and the outside will take care of itself.” I think that’s true, but for me the reverse is also true. When my mind feels cluttered, one of the best things I can do is purge and clean. Then, when my environment is orderly, my mind and my emotions are eased. Today, I’m fully and gratefully leaving the baggage of Hume ProEd behind.

I can vouch for “leave your baggage behind” as a great act of self-care. If that is something you need to do, please take the necessary steps. You’re worth it.


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  1. The hardest lessons learned usually involve some scrapes and bruises along the way – even if those bruises are to the ego.

    I can relate to the feeling of September as being the real beginning of the new year – in spite of the fact I’ve been out of school for over 35 years. Like you, I find it a time for decluttering in prep for the next chapter.

    Hope your next chapter has a softer landing 🙂

    1. Yup, definitely ego bruises Joanne which, I’m realizing as I age, just aren’t that important! I’m finding that one of the pleasures of getting older – enjoying a more balanced, more sane approach to life. That makes it inevitable, I think, that the next chapter will indeed be a softer landing.

      It makes me smile to imagine so many of us decluttering and prepping for the next chapter in September. As if it’s a deep, dark secret shared by thousands. Just as some argue that we shouldn’t be adhering to daylight savings time in Ontario, perhaps we need to make stand for September as a new year or fall cleaning instead of spring cleaning.

      Thanks for your comment, Joanne. Much appreciated.

  2. wow… I had not heard that quote: “Get the inside right and the outside will take care of itself.” My inside right now is a ping pong mess! Sigh.

    But I love the de-cluttering message you write. I was pretty harsh of getting rid of stuff when I retired, but the move has made me realize that I was not complete – there are still 4-5 boxes of material. (that I haven’t looked into in 3 years…says something, hmm. ) Another blogger recently also encouraged a full purge of the old life to enable the new life to have space to grow. (kinda a garden metaphor from her).

    Who am I to doubt serendipity – I put on the after-move to- do-list a couple of ‘purge activities’. I’ll need to watch for the negativity elements on that (for me that’s the reminders lost identity, daily relationships) and focus on the positive. Thanks for that reminder!

    Now if I could just get hubby to not be a pack rat – yesterday he realized he could not find one of his car titles, and there are 5-6 boxes of papers it “might be in” – in different rooms in this house and the new house. At least I got him off the sidetrack to find it and back to a packing mode. And a realization I need to help him create a better system – which he’ll push back on, but I am the more organized and he said he needs more organization. How to do this without marital fighting? A plan for October I’m thinking (after the move!), when I can stay focused on the fact he is not into de-cluttering, just organizing … and not try and push him into the “do you love it, does it bring you joy” or even “have you used it or looked at it in the last 10 years” thinking!

    1. Hi Pat,
      I suspect the other blogger who just wrote about this is maybe a member of our informal, unofficial “September is the start of a new year” club. We’re always happy to have new members – even if you have to delay until October after you’ve moved. What a great opportunity for October, Pat, especially if you’re able to help your husband organize. You’ll have to let us know how that part goes. Good luck!

  3. While I have only taught for four years, there are a few things I can relate to in this well-written, heart-felt post. The desire to facilitate everyone, make a difference and provide entertaining, yet informative exercises and materials, while only wanting to provide the best quality all seem characteristics of a good and caring educator/teacher. So much time, effort, thought and energy is put towards perfectionism in order to achieve our goals. And, even then, we will find ways to criticize ourselves. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try (and I have now switched from being a teacher to a business owner), we can’t make everybody happy. After many years of “giving it all”, something has to break. We are not super heroes.

    As to leaving tangible baggage behind, you know you have my full “yes”. The less belongings (that you really care about and actually use), the less complications, the easier and more rewarding the life. 🙂

  4. The divesting of belongings is something I’m learning from you, Liesbet. I have always considered myself great (no humility there!) at purging, but the more I read of your blog and the choices you make that allow you to fully embody and live your life, the more I see value in reducing, reducing, reducing.

    The way you live your life and the sharing of it that you offer through your blog has had a really positive impact on me, Liesbet. I know you’re going through your own state of overwhelm/exhaustion, too much to do and too little time to do it in. I thought you might like to know that what you do makes a difference in the world… at least my small corner of it!

    1. That is so very nice of you to say, Karen! It makes me happy to leave a bit of an impression or impact on other people’s lives. If I succeed to live a life less ordinary, where memories are more important than stuff, many should be able to. As I have mentioned many times in my past: the way you live your life comes down to choices. Choices only you can make. You are doing the right things! 🙂

  5. Karen, the way you write about this subject (leaving the baggage behind and decluttering/purging) inspires me to do the same. I too love that quote from Eckhart Tolle! I totally agree with you that the reverse is also true. A clean uncluttered space can bring a sense of peace for me as well.

    I am glad you are able to leave your Hume Pro Ed baggage behind now… this just echoes the growth and insight you have fought for and gained since your burnout. I am so happy to hear that you went with the post you needed to write as I believe when that happens there is someone (or several someones) out there that need to read your words on this subject, I am one of the someones BTW, lol. So, thank you for heeding your inner guide.

    When it comes to purging I think of the show that used to be on the television at one time years ago, Clean Sweep. Here is a brief summary that I copied and pasted from this link that I got from a Google search. This description is better than what my memory can produce. 😉

    The clutter is out and organized, new rooms are in on TLC’s Clean Sweep. Two homeowners are given two days to sort their clutter that has taken over their homes and pitch what they don’t need, while two rooms in their home are redesigned by professionals. The two homeowners, who could be anyone from a husband and wife to two friends, sort through their stuff by placing it in piles labeled Keep, Sell and Toss. They’re assisted in letting go by either organizer Shelli Alexander (Season 1), or Peter Walsh. The items placed in Sell are then sold in a yard-sale on the second day, with anything not sold going to charity. The rooms are redesigned by either Angelo Surmelis, Molly Luetkemeyer, Kelli Ellis (Season 2), James Saavedra (Season 2), or Valerie Bickford (Season 1), with Eric Stromer the Carpenter on-hand to design beautiful new furniture or modify existing furniture. When the rooms are done, the transformations are usually so amazing that they are hard to believe.
    The link I got it from is here
    Thank you for the reminder, Karen, that there is a tremendous amount of value in decluttering/purging when we need to both physically and mentally.

    1. Thanks, Susan, for your thoughts, especially your sentiment that heeding one’s inner blogger is a sign of others needing the same information. I like that a lot. It makes me want to allow intuition to take over even more often. And the fact that the post was easy and enjoyable for me to write and took hours less than the heavily researched ones – well, there’s that too!

      I never saw the tv series Clean Sweep. It definitely sounds like a series I would enjoy as opposed to today’s offerings about hoarders. Those images just make me shudder…and itch to arrive on the person’s doorstep, huge dumpster in tow.

      1. Awesome!! So this post was a win/win – easy to write and what others need to see. I have watched hoarding shows too and it disgusts me the extent to which people are able to let their stuff get that far out of control.

        I was just watching a YouTube video of one of the hosts of Clean Sweep helping a woman with her bedroom. One of the tips he shared is that every five years you need to go over every item in your home to make sure it aligns with what you said ( If it doesn’t have good memories, isn’t beautiful, if I don’t love it, out it goes). I have also heard advice about once you have a clean clutter-free space in order to keep it that way you should decide on a per item basis what comes into the house from then on whether it gets to stay or needs to go.

        Hahaha, I would caution you about arriving on people’s doorsteps with a huge dumpster in tow because A. those things are expensive! and most of all B. you would be doing the old stuff of being all things to all people thing again. 😉

  6. That last comment – too true. And not only that, but the recipients of my care would hate me because I don’t have the sensitivity to hand-hold them through the process. Hoarding is a mental illness requiring specialized assistance. When I see lots of junk, I want it gone! Just ask the last couple of people (neither of them hoarders, thank goodness) I tried to ‘help’.

  7. Hi, Karen – I stand in complete awe and admiration for your unmasked candor, both with yourself and your readers. I agree that it is true self-awareness, reflection, and honesty that helps us to discover new truths that we hadn’t realized before. Thank you so much for sharing this so openly.
    BTW – Hasn’t September always been the start of the new year?

    1. Thank you, Donna. Your words mean so much to me. Your blog is a model for me. I’m writing more personally now because I see you, and others you’ve recommended, doing that. Thank you for supporting that change with your kind words.
      And yes, I totally agree, and wish I could bold or italicize text in comments because September is and always has been the start of the new year. There are so many of us in this club. As I suggested to Joanne, maybe we need to start a passive revolution and get that calendar changed!

  8. There must be something in the air! For some reason, I started September off with a renewed commitment to purge the old and unused and finish several projects I had been putting off. It feels good. And, certainly not on the scale of your letting go of your Hume ProEd “baggage,” I finally threw out all the leftover inventory of a “business” I thought it would be a good idea to start many years ago (silly me). I think I had kept it around all this time because to let it go was to acknowledge what a dumb idea it was.

    Maybe those of us in the newly formed September is the Start of the New Year Club (we really need a secret handshake) could reconvene at the end of the month and compare notes. 🙂

    1. You’re so right, Janis. As long as Hume ProEd materials sat in the closets, I could still imagine that I would someday do something with them. But you’re also right – it feels good to do the things that I’ve been putting off, and getting rid of Hume ProEd is the biggest ‘feel good’ of them all.

      A secret handshake, maybe a team song or cheer, and ooh, ooh, our own flag. I’m in! And yes, let’s compare notes at the end of the month.

  9. Hi Karen
    I think this is the most important sentence in your blog today.

    “They’ve taught me that I’m okay even when I take off, especially when I take off, the superhero cape. I didn’t know that truth before I started pitching paper.” It also means you are not looking outside for approval for outstanding work.

    I keep learning more and more about you as I read more of your work. Thanks for being so willing to share it.

        1. Nope! Lots of those left. I’ll give you a bunch next time I see you 🙂
          Heaven forbid either of us ever throw out post it notes! After all, we bonded over office supplies, with post it notes being a big part of that!

  10. Good advice. I’m not a hoarder but neither am I very good at de cluttering. I still have the final box of stuff I brought home from work on my last day. Occasionally, I take something out and find it a use or a home but I think there can be nothing left worth keeping by now – it’s been five years! I think there’s just a psychological barrier to finally emptying it. Soon, soon ……

    1. It sounds as if you are making incremental progress on that last box, but progress nevertheless. I hope you’ll let us know when that psychological barrier has been jumped!

  11. Karen your post was wonderful; I so admire your ability to literally stand outside yourself and be honestly critical and yet compassionate of Karen Hume. I’ve started to make my life clutter free so many, many times – and always failed. Your post gives me hope that perhaps one day (soon!) I’ll also manage to leave the baggage behind.

    1. Thanks, Anna. I appreciate your comment. Don’t beat yourself up for your struggles in trying to make your entire life clutter free. If you’re interested in a suggestion, maybe just try one small area then take a weeks-long break. Just a thought.

  12. Karen, I am in awe of all that you have accomplished in your career, your creative vision in starting your own company, and your pursuit of excellence. I believe that it must have taken tremendous insight and self-compassion to recognize that the workload of your business had gone “over the top” and no longer was right for you. So very hard to step away — and yet you have done it and moved on.


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