Aging with Intention—When is it Time to Let Go?

Do you have a basket filled with things you know you need to release, but find it difficult to do so? I do. I am a keeper. I hold on to all sorts of things imagining that I may want or need them in the future. Truth is that we all need to let go not only of the tangible stuff, but the intangibles—the experiences and emotions we also carry.

What is in your basket? Imagine each item is written on a piece of paper and placed inside. After removing them one at a time, reflect on each. Then, decide whether it is time to let it go. Do any of the following examples fit?


Many of us have a deep-seated desire to age-in-place where we have lived, raised a family, and developed friendships. We fully expect where we live will be our decision. And yet, health and mobility issues often force us to choose a different path. Difficult yes, but planning for the “what if” scenarios allows us to make decisions in advance before there is a crisis. I applaud my friend Jennifer who is facing deteriorating health and mobility issues. Even before choosing a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), she and her husband began eliminating unwanted household items by gifting them to their family or donating them to community organizations. By beginning this process now, they can look forward to the future with anticipation and less stress.


Rebuilding a new life after the loss of a loved one is hard. Give yourself permission to live, love, laugh, and be happy again without feeling guilty, recommends pastor and clinical psychologist  Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk. Being happy does not mean we have forgotten the past.

Unresolved Issues

Many of us carry around never addressed issues. Maybe it’s our own guilt or anger at another. Years ago, a friend unintentionally revealed a secret a close friend had shared. Although she didn’t intend to be hurtful and apologized, their friendship was shattered, a lingering sadness  that continues to this day. In the face of ongoing self-criticism, licensed marriage and family therapist Lisa Olivera advises that you treat yourself as you would a friend, offering self-compassion and kindness.

Doug became an engineer because that was his father’s occupation. However, Doug did not like engineering. Though he had his degree, he returned to school, choosing a career that led to work he loved. Although successful, he never believed that his father was proud of him, carrying his resentment well into his 70s.

Letting go may require us to forgive ourselves or others. While there is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed, forgiveness calms stress levels leading to improved health, says Karen Swartz, MD, Director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Undoubtedly, there will always be things we carry around needing release. Maybe, like spring cleaning, we should examine the content of our baskets annually and let go of what is not helpful.

Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.

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