Thursday, February 25, 2010


Our house is cluttered with things. Items, doodads, pieces of paper, collected images and artwork, photos, movies, toys, souvenirs, music, gifts, heirlooms, and the incredible flotsam generated by a combined total of nearly 77 years.

To be fair to both my husband and daughter, I must admit most of it is mine.

In an effort to simplify our lives and clarify the tangible and physically-expressed aspects of our living, I have been making my way through some of this stuff—very, very slowly. I try to take each item and mindfully consider its place and purpose in our lives. Not only must each thing be considered on an individual level, but also how it impacts our collective experience as a family.

So, for example, if I decide to hold onto my collection of Victorian postcards, or the trunk full of clothes that no longer fits but I wish fervently someday will, or the hundreds of brochures collected for places I hoped to visit... what impact does that have upon the space we collectively inhabit as a family? Is my decision to keep those things based on my attachment to them worth the space (psychological, physical, emotional) they take up?

Occasionally, I go through spurts of empowered purging wherein I take entire swaths of squirreled memorabilia and unceremoniously dump them into the trash. Whole boxes of letters, cards, bookmarks, stationery, etc. – heaving them into the universe with only a twinge of hesitation.

Of the many things I've managed to relinquish in this fashion, only one or two items stick out as "regrets." I sometimes think about them, wish I could see/touch/read/etc. them again. But it is fleeting... and when I think about that emotional pause balanced against the weight of those items and how much better it feels to be free of them - a wee pinch of regret is well worth a greater sense of simplicity.

It was not until I began this process in earnest (a more aware, focused, and intentional approach to paring down - not the kamikaze spontaneity of the past) that I realized I defined myself, in part, through my possessions. My sense of self - and more especially the self I fashioned for the benefit and admiration of others (e.g., ego-driven, little "i" self) - was defined by the music I listened to, the books I read, the artwork I hung on my walls, the items I chose to display on my shelves, the bedroom linens I picked out, the furniture I decorated with...

And as I began to let go of these items, I was faced with the reality of having linked my identity to material, tangible, things. Probably the least important of elements through which one might express him/herself - and yet there I was, struck by the absence of my things and a slightly anxious void as I noticed the impact their departure had upon my sense of who I was.

The connection between what I own and who I am has lessened considerably since that realization. Yet, I am now daunted by the sheer mass of the remaining chaos that might easily fall under the headline things I do not really need.

I battle inertia in the wake of boxes unexplored for at least 10 years. STUFF I have carted around with me from place to place, relationship to relationship... past marriage, childbirth, and graduate school. My albatross of things drapes the corners of our house, fetidly rotting in each room as I hesitate to dive in and truly consider each item.

There is so much more effort in Seeing. Considering. Acknowledging. And eventually Letting Go. So much easier to take a tidal wave of fleeting effort and simply wash everything overboard into the waiting dumpsters beneath our apartment.

But I don't want to take the easy way out this time. I want to remain mindful and awake in my process of letting go and to all the little epiphanies that come floating up like dust as I shuffle through each attachment. It's a good reminder I am the possessor, and not the possessed.

May you consume, consider, and possess mindfully. May each item you keep have purpose and provide joy.

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