“Letting go isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life.” ~Unknown
Last December I found myself sitting on my floor, having just left my job and a ten-year relationship. As a result, I was about to leave my home too. In front of me was a mountain of possessions that I somehow had to take with me to wherever I was going next.
Clothes, bedding, books, notebooks, electronic bits and pieces, boxes of ornaments, and sentimental “things,” handbags within handbags, flocks of high heels, tsunamis of paperwork…
And then there was little me.
I felt overwhelmed by my possessions. It seemed unnatural to have accumulated more than I could carry alone, or at least fit into my car.
Outside, it was the run up to the holidays in the middle of a recession. Half the country was unable to afford their heating bills, let alone presents. So to distract myself I brought a handful of things to a children’s charity shop down the road: teddies, pictures, a wicker basket that would be perfect for a child to keep toys in.
And that unleashed the floodgates.
I felt good—for me, because my burden of possessions had shrunk, and for the children, who might receive these things at Christmas.
While the basket was hard to give away—it had been mine since I was a baby—giving it away made me see that I was better able to mentally cope with getting rid of things, than physically cope with trying to take it all with me.
And so an epic spring clean began in the middle of my winter. Three weeks of rifling through boxes and shipping stuff out to charity shops, friends, family, the trash, and eBay.
Some things were easy to give away. Others were not. Certain things I had no use for—yet something made me hesitate to let them go. I came to know these hesitations as emotional speed bumps.
For each item I dithered over like this, I asked, why am I keeping it? What feeling does it give me while I have it—and what feelings arise when I go to give it away?
In response, each item told me something about myself. A jewelry box from a friend—pretty, but I discovered that I associated sadness to it, related to my friend’s own history.
I decided to rehome it because I do not need symbols of sadness in my life.
As I did so, the depths of my sorrow for this friend arose, so I sat with the feeling and a box of hankies, and the sorrow soon left me along with my attachment to the jewelry box.
And then, the sweater I never liked, but had kept because my ex liked me in it. I realized I was hanging on to him by hanging on to the jumper, so I let that go too. Another release.
This happened again and again. The item. The questioning. The decision to let go. A release of feeling. A sense of liberation.
Many of the decades-old tensions in my body seemed to have a corresponding object I was hanging onto on the outside.
These are some of the other questions I asked myself about each belonging:
- When I see it, does it lift my spirits?
- Does it have a practical use, today?
- Am I keeping it for me, or out of a sense of duty to someone else? Is it a burden?
- Where I have multiple keepsakes from one person, can I keep just one?
- Would I have remembered it if I hadn’t found it in this box/wardrobe?
- Does it suit my life? Does it work for me or do I work for it?
- Will someone else get more enjoyment and use from it?
- Will I, or my life, be any the less without it?
- If I get over the emotional speed bump of giving it away will I actually be relieved? Will my life feel freer without it?
- What is my gut feeling, keep it or lose it?
For clothes, I also asked:
- Do I feel attractive in it?
- Is it comfortable and easy to care for?
- Is it warm? For me, important, because I am sensitive to cold. You might have other personal criteria.
- Can I be as physically active as I need in it?
- Does it go with other clothes in my wardrobe?
- Is it fun? Happy? (And other words that describe you, i.e.: “Is it me?”)
- Does it give me a poverty mindset or a wealth mindset?
- Do I have a duplicate(s) that will serve the same occasions? Do I need both/all?
A few pairs of high heels went with that last question.
Put tricky things in limbo.
If you’re stuck on an item, put it in a box for six months, then review it again. Maybe it’s sufficient to make a note that you had it, or take a photo of it, and then give it away. If it is of monetary value, sell it or put it in trust with a friend.
Put rainy day things to use.
At the time of the clear out I was looking to buy a new winter coat. I suddenly remembered I had a purple vintage coat that once belonged to my mother. I had kept it carefully under wraps in various wardrobes for twenty years.
I asked, what am I protecting it for? When am I actually planning to wear it? The search for a new coat ended that day, and the compliments started flowing about what an unusual coat I had. Likewise, I put into daily use the silver cutlery that I had previously kept boxed for a decade.
Place things in trust.
I gave an antique writing desk to my brother, telling him I might return for it in future, might not. In the meantime he gets a beautiful piece of furniture and I know it is cared for. My ex fostered my collection of books that, as a writer, I am not ready to give away.
One thing that I held onto with abandon was a set of blankets—far more than I need. When I went to give these away I realized that their warmth and softness represents love to me, and at this time in my life I want to keep as much love as I can around me.
And so, after all this, I am left with a select few practical, uplifting things that have purpose and beauty for me. Inside, I feel a clearness like the atmosphere after a spring shower. And not only have I benefited, but other people, too.
The other day, my new neighbor visited my flat and the first thing she asked was, “Where’s your television?” and then “I suppose you have so little stuff because you have just moved in?”
I smiled knowingly. I have whittled my belongings down to one carload—well, two allowing for all the blankets—yet still feel I own too much. I wonder how to live with even less, wedded to my inverted take on E=mc2:
Fewer belongings = more freedom. Less mass equals more energy.
I find freedom in owning as little as possible. But freedom to me also means being able to swim in winter’s sea, walk in rain, keep warm, make a living, and look good. So I kept the wetsuit, makeup, good coat, rain coat, warm coat, walking boots, thermals, and a select few high heels.
These traveling companions don’t hold me back or overwhelm me, but lift my spirits and lighten my journey through life.
How can you lighten your load, from the inside out?