I am so intrigued by regret. Wikipedia defines regret as “a negative conscious and emotional reaction to personal past acts and behaviors”. That doesn’t sound so bad. Why then do so many of us take action or choose inaction to avoid the feeling of regret?

I think what intrigues me about regret is how often I see it in my work as a professional organizer. I have clients who make purchases because they don’t want to miss a great deal. That is avoiding regret. I have other clients who hang onto things even when they have no space because they might need it someday. That too is avoiding regret.

I wonder… if we spent less time and energy avoiding regret and allowed ourselves to feel the feeling… would it be as bad as we imagine? We can learn from regret and become wiser and stronger. Maybe it is when we allow regret to turn into shame that we set ourselves to let the avoidance of regret make decisions for us. Shame is when the feeling bad about a decision or an indecision turns into a statement about our worth. I shouldn’t have passed up the great deal at the thrift store so I regret that. Because I made that bad choice, I am stupid. I donated the extra set of dishes I had and now a friend could really use them. I regret not being able to help my friend. That’s not so bad. But if I decide that my actions mean I am a bad friend, that feels terrible. I am going to learn my lesson and keep everything so I won’t feel terrible again. Problem solved. What happens then when my house is so full that I can’t find the extra dishes for my friend? I guess I fool myself into thinking that I am not a bad friend just because I can’t find something.

What if, instead of learning to save everything, I learn that there is more than one way to be a good friend? What if I feel sad that I gave away dishes my friend could have used, and then turn my attention to being an emotional support to my friend? What if I experience the feeling of regret and realize that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined? If that was the case, I would feel freer to make decisions that reflect my values and goals. Isn’t that what we all want?