When I was a little girl I remember deciding that it was time for me to ‘grow up’ and let go of childish things. So I packed all of my stuffed animals and barbies into large pastic bags, shut my eyes and tied the tops before running back to my room in fear that I would re-open them. There was one bear in particular- I called him Big Bear, and he was ‘the bear,’ the one I slept with every night and drug to the couch with me when I was sick. I put him in the bag too, despite the pang I felt in my heart at the prospect. He deserved to bring another little kid as much joy as he had brought me, I reasoned. My bear was not done giving, but I was just too old to keep taking. This is a decision that I still regret, even as a 27 year old woman who has no need for stuffed friends to cuddle with at night and chase the monsters away (my dog is perfectly capable of both tasks).
There are moments in life when purging your possessions is the most liberating feeling you can create; a declaration of your own personal independence in our materialistic world. On the flip side, there are also moments where you go into the challenge kicking and screaming, clinging to your familiar surroundings like they will be able to postpone the inevitable. This last week started out as the latter and morphed into the former.
It had only been a couple of years since my fiancé and I downsized from a three bedroom house (albeit, one we shared with roommates), into what was essentially a master bedroom and one smaller room. It seemed that many of our superfluous items didn’t make it through that purge into the new home. So when I found out we were downsizing yet again (and rather quickly, I might add) I panicked a bit internally. How could we possibly make it work when we had nothing left to give up?
As it turns out, that was a baseless fear. As I was cleaning out the closets I realized that when we had moved the last time, I had been surprisingly good at neatly squirreling away large quantities of items into a small space without it even being noticeable. I was actually a bit of a magician in that regard- who knew. The downside: I still had plenty of possessions to part with. So the next dreaded question: how could I possibly decide what was worth keeping, and what wasn’t?
I’ll be the first to admit that I get overly attached to inanimate object, I always have. And I guess a part of me feels a strange level of responsibility to these items when it comes to finding them a good home. I was a bit leery of my own capabilities to purge these things from my life. I expected it would be a draining task- I did not anticipate how much I would learn about myself in the process. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising: if you ever want to learn what a person is all about, just look at the possessions they surround themselves with. These are the things that I learned while mired down in the contents of my closet.
I own many mementos from the people who have passed from my life. I cherish them for the sole reason that they once belonged to people I have loved and lost. I always refused to let go of the items because it felt like letting go of the person. And yet, that’s not really the case.
Let’s reverse the scenario, if I had passed, I wouldn’t be offended if my sister got rid of that old pair of sneakers I used to wear. They’re just shoes, they aren’t me. I can picture my grandma up there laughing at how much stock I put into an old dress I will never be able to wear- just because it had belonged to her. A person does not get passed down through their items. If you aren’t going to use it and it doesn’t have a specific strong memory for you- those you loved will not be upset if you give their possessions a fresh start with someone who will enjoy them. They wont do anyone any good just sitting in your closet.
This was hard for me, it took me a bit of time sifting, but eventually I managed to part with the things I wouldn’t use. I kept a few meaningful mementos that will make me smile every time I pull them out; a t-shirt I can wear to bed that still smells like her, a tiny quilt from when she taught me to sew, a watch he got that was engraved with the year I was born; these are all little things that I can enjoy every day without feeling suffocated by the ghosts of what once was. I have my memories, my picures. You have to remember that letting go of the items doesn’t mean you are letting go of them. It means you are allowing the things they loved to have a new life.
I tend to collect things for the woman I expect to be someday. For example: I owned 10 pairs of high heels- and yet, I currently wear flats to work about 95% of the time. I have always had this image of my future self in a pencil skirt, fitted blazer and cute heels: a strong, successful woman, polished and pulled together, exuding confidence for the first time in my life. In reality when I wear them I look like a baby giraffe learning to take her first steps, and then when you add in the fact that I am suddenly a foot taller than everyone else- my awkwardness becomes blindingly apparent.
I used to feel guilty when I thought about giving up these things that were imbued with the image of the person I thought I would become- it felt like I was giving up on her. I didn’t like the prospect of admitting that I would never become that woman I had always envisioned. But this time around, I looked at it through a different lens. I am not that woman- but in some ways, I am so much better. I don’t need cute clothes or shoes to show the world who I am. I want my possessions to tell the story of who I am, and those things don’t speak a truthful word.
Decluttering your life is about finding what is important to you and making sure that is your focus. It’s about nurturing the things that you love and releasing the distractions that surround you. What it really comes down to is deciding what makes you happy. You don’t have to be a minimalist- it doesn’t work for everyone, believe me, I have tried. But if you enjoy your books- keep the entire shelf full. Or if watching movies is how you wind down, then don’t force yourself to part with them in the name of organization. But if you have had that jewelry making kit in your closet for the past year and half- and still haven’t touched it, well, perhaps its time to give that kit to someone who might enjoy it now. It doesn’t mean you will never attempt that new hobby, but it might mean that right now you just have too many other things in your life.
If our possessions are a reflection of ourselves: what do I want mine to say? What is truly important to me? The answers to these questions are the things that should permeate my life. I don’t need all of the extras to color in the margins when I know who I am. I am a writer, a pet owner, a baker, a crafter, a professional, an avid reader, a lover of warm drinks in the mornings, adventures and the outdoors. I kept this in mind- and now when you look at the items I have left surrounding me, you can start to get a clearer picture of what it means to be Katie. Sometimes it does a bit of good to think of your space as real estate, as clinical as that may sound. I know where most of my time is spent, and I know what I want to spend a few more of my weekly hours on. For example: the top three things that take up my free time are: writing, reading, and walking the dog/hiking. When you take this in mind, it becomes fairly obvious that I should give my writing space a larger percentage of my personal real estate, instead of making more room for that shoe rack or the sewing machine that has not left it’s box in the two years I have owned it. So what are you willing to ‘spend’ your space on? Thank about the way you want to spend your time and learn to let go of the rest using this idea.
Letting go is difficult, after all, I bought all of these things for a reason, I feel obligated to have a reason to dismiss them. But I don’t need one. I need to remember that some of the things I own are just that- simply items. But to someone else they could become a favorite movie, their best date shoes, or the book that they will read 50 times and never grow tired of. The items that are just ‘things’ to me could become someone else’s treasured possession. I could be the one thing keeping them from enjoying it more than I ever could.
I used to reason that I was a creative soul, and that a little bit of clutter was good for me. But really, in the end I was simply holding onto things that were holding me back. When you hold onto your past, you don’t give yourself any room for the future. You become inflexible and stale. Simple tasks morph into something daunting. And to be honest- now that we’ve gone through and taken so many things away- I feel so much better. I know that more will be following, now that I am ready to let go. I am constantly evolving, it only makes sense that the things I surround myself will too.