Two weeks. For many, it may not seem like a long time. But when you’re in the middle of the dreaded “two-week wait” before you take a pregnancy test, it can feel like an eternity.
It was December 2014. After months of baseline testing, my husband and I had been diagnosed with unexplained infertility and had gone through our first round of fertility treatments. It was during our two-week wait when I received an e-mail that changed my life: an interview with Leo Babauta introducing me to the concept of minimalism. In a time when I felt completely out of control, Babauta’s message was a beacon of hope. I could control something- I could remove what no longer served me and make room for what mattered most.
Like many others, I started my minimalism journey with decluttering and pared down my physical belongings. I also became more intentional with my schedule so I could protect my most precious resources of time, energy, and focus. I felt myself getting lighter and making the physical and emotional space necessary to welcome a new baby. Over the next few years, I became a mom of not one but two boys and continued my journey to simplify and live more intentionally.
To Freeze or Not to Freeze?
In the summer of 2018, I received our annual reminder for the renewal of our embryo cryostorage. My husband and I had been lucky enough to have six remaining embryos after two rounds of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and knew that we didn’t want to expand our family any more. The question was, what did we want to do with the embryos?
Almost four years into my decluttering journey, I was in a good rhythm of getting stuff out of my house. From clothes and books to baby clothes that our youngest was growing out of at an alarmingly fast rate, I was able to let go without the doubt that plagues many: Will I regret getting rid of this? What if I need it someday? I was motivated to keep going on my journey by focusing on how the items that were collecting dust in my closet or drawers would bless someone else and that removing the excess from my life would allow me to live in alignment with my deepest why.
But embryos? That was a different story. I knew intellectually that embryos were, at the most basic level, genetic material. But all “stuff” is not created equal. The embryos were arguably my most valuable possession. However, the implications for each of the decisions we were faced with – continue to freeze them at around $500 a year, destroy them, or donate them – were fraught with complications.
Knowing that we didn’t want to expand our family, continuing to freeze the embryos seemed like an expensive way to procrastinate. Yet I knew several couples who, because of differences in their values and beliefs, could not make a decision between destroying the embryos or donating them. So they continued to freeze them year after year. Luckily, my husband and I agreed on moving forward with the donation process.
Three Lessons in Letting Go
I had never donated anything that required a psychological consultation beforehand, but it quickly became clear why it was so important. As the doctor explained, the decision to donate our embryos would have a lasting impact on our family’s future. At the very least, we would need to decide whether to tell our boys that they would potentially have up to six biological siblings. After that, our boys would have the option to search for their siblings through donor sibling registries.
Despite the complications donating our embryos could bring our family, our decision didn’t waver. Our embryos were definitely the most complicated donation I’ve ever made, but also the one that has brought me the most joy. Here’s why:
1. Blessing others takes on a whole new meaning when you have walked in their shoes.
Letting go of something we own isn’t easy, due to the one-two punch of the sunk cost fallacy and the endowment effect. The sunk cost fallacy states that we hold onto something we no longer get value from because of how much we paid for it. The endowment effect causes us to hold onto something we no longer get value from simply because we already own it. If the item we struggle to part with also connects us to the past or reflects our fantasy self, it’s no wonder we struggle to get rid of our belongings.
There has to be something that can break the hold that our stuff has on us. We need a deeper “why” than just making room in our closet. For me, it is blessing others who can use and love what I no longer need. This is why I choose to give through my local Buy Nothing group rather than large donation centers- I can literally see how my unwanted things are blessing my neighbors.
We knew our embryos would bless local couples who were struggling to conceive, and this touched a deeper why within me. I understood firsthand the all-consuming desire to become a mother. I knew the heartbreak of miscarriage and the physical and emotional toll of fertility treatments. I knew the financial cost and the sacrifices they were making to make their dreams come true. Donating our embryos was a small way that we could help these couples overcome the challenges and pain we faced. It has been one of my most rewarding experiences and compels me to continue to let go of what I no longer need.
2. When we let go, we release the hold of our past selves and the fantasy of our future selves so we can truly live in the present.
Many times, when we let go of what we no longer need or what is no longer serving us, we are letting go of the hold the past has on us. My high school yearbook was a constant reminder of a period of my life where I didn’t feel like I was enough. So I let it go. A closet full of dresses I never wore made me feel wistful about my pre-baby body and career. So I donated the dresses and ditched the guilt along with them.
Sometimes we let go of our fantasy future selves that do things that our present selves can never find the time to do. It may be the remnants of an unfinished project, hobby, or sports activity that we haven’t touched in years but we plan to do “someday.” Or perhaps it’s books collecting dust on the shelf but we don’t want to let go of because we think we “should” be reading them.
Perhaps we think that by holding something close, we can control the future and make things easier for our fantasy future self. We keep boxes of belongings from our deceased loved ones because we want our future self to find comfort when an unexpected wave of grief comes over us. Or we hold onto a toy that our kids no longer play with because Aunt Thelma might visit in the future and we don’t want to deal with an uncomfortable conversation if she asks where it is.
Instead of freezing our embryos for another year and delaying the decision when we knew we didn’t want to expand our family, we let go of the fantasy that we would be protecting our children by removing this potential complication from their lives. We released the emotional burden of holding onto something we no longer need, so we could focus on our present lives.
3. If you approach letting go from a place of abundance and gratitude, you will rarely (if ever) regret it.
Before you attempt to let go of anything- from clothes you don’t wear to your grandmother’s china to your frozen embryos- you must shift your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Many of us have been culturally conditioned to adopt a scarcity mindset: there’s a finite amount of money, success, and resources to go around, so we must compete to get what we want. A scarcity mindset causes us to cling tightly to what we already have and desire more and more.
Conversely, an abundance mindset is one where we believe there is enough to go around and that someone’s success or resources does not limit our ability to have the same. When we focus on our abundance, we are grateful for what we already have and more willing to let go of what we don’t need.
Many people worry that they will regret letting go of something, so they hold onto it “ just in case.” When you understand that you are enough and you have enough, you aren’t held back by regret because you know that abundance flows to those who have hands that are open to receive it.
Wonder and Joy
Sometimes I wonder if there’s someone else out there with my blue eyes or my husband’s nose. I wonder when and how we will tell our oldest that he was conceived in a Petri dish. I wonder if my boys will be curious about their potential siblings and how far they will go in their quest to learn more. But I don’t regret donating our embryos for a second. Because the freedom and joy I have found in letting go far outweigh the false sense of comfort and safety I feel from holding on. I encourage you to open your hands and your heart, let go, and receive the abundance waiting for you.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.