Much like many teenagers starting out, when I went left home, I could fit all my possessions crammed into a tiny Toyota. I remember the freedom of being able to stuff all of my belongings into the car, and take off on the road, feeling free.
I had set a goal of being admitted to an ivy league, and a dream came true when I was admitted to Cornell. Being a first generation American, this experience meant a great deal to me. Up until that point in my life, I had never achieved anything that paled in comparison.
Those years were over quickly. I got married to a wonderful man and had three children. New experiences began to fill my life yet, the college clutter stayed with me. I kept records of those past events, trying to hold to those experiences: past accomplishments, journals, letters, and old term papers. Why? I never really stopped to think of “why” I kept these items, but just lugged them along each move without much thought.
There are few realizations I have come to after going through my college things. Reading this article the other day, “The Psychology Behind All That Clutter You Can’t Get Rid Of”, writer Jane Porter discusses how one expert views the excessive clutter in people’s lives. June Saruwatari, inspirational coach and author of Behind The Clutter, approaches physical clutter as a symbol of deeper emotional baggage. In the article, Porter cites examples of Saruwatari’s thinking:
“We hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame. “You hold onto things based on hope,” she says. You hope to lose weight, catch up on reading, finish that abandoned project. But when you don’t, it’s hard not to feel like a jerk about it. “How much stuff do you really need to represent that thing?” says Saruwatari. “How many items do you need to hold onto before it starts controlling your life?” – Excerpted from Fast Company Article, “The Psychology Behind All that Clutter You Can’t Get Rid Of, by Jane Porter, cited from June Saruwatari’s book, Behind the Clutter. (Links above in the article body).
I am still working to reduce, but this article was an eye opener for me. Going through this process, I’ve had similar conclusions. Here are my simple observations:
- Security. I came to realize these things were more than just memories, they were a security blanket that made me feel safe. My college A+ papers reminded me that I was smart, my certificates of achievements reminded me I was capable, my letters of acceptance to college, reminded me I was acceptable. I began to question why I was keeping these things. It’s not like my daughters would really be interested in reading a paper about the benefits of altruistic behavior in squirrels.
- Fear of failure. Why was I holding on? The reason was simple, I was holding on to those achievements because I was afraid of failing, afraid of trying new things. The clutter reminded me of the person I had been, but on the down side, those things kept me there. I couldn’t be someone new or reinvent myself.
- Purpose. Those things no longer held a purpose in my life. They were longer were needed. My diploma pretty much trumped all of them.
- Regrets. I started to think about this issue more deeply and came to a resolution. I held on to the clutter, because the experience wasn’t exactly everything I had hoped, there was still so much I wanted to do. I picked a pre-medical major, but didn’t become a doctor. I didn’t discover my love of writing soon enough to take advanced courses. The list of regrets was long, but like Elsa from Frozen, I had to let it go, for lack of a better analogy (I have a 2 year old and her favorite person is Elsa, I can’t help using the comparison there 😛 ). I had to live today. I had to move on now. Regret did nothing good.
- Looking forward instead of back. Moving forward was the answer. Holding on to those things just stalled me. I realized I had to let them go to start new endeavors. I am currently trying to explore my interests in different areas of my life. I am continuing with my writing. I am determined to run a 5K in memory of my mother. None of these interests emerged until after I took up the idea of minimalism.
- Opening new doors. Ridding myself of the past has opened up new doors. Anything seems possible.
- Time. The clutter stole away valuable time to do new things. I want to bike ride on a trail, not spend my Saturday cleaning. I want to write. I want to go back to school.
- Out with the old, in with new mentality. I love New Years because we universally adopt an idea of minimalism. We all want to start fresh, and pledge, “out with the old, in with the new.” I remember as a kid my grandmother had special traditons for New Years. She would make me wear clean clothing, perferably something yellow which symbolized hope and happiness. Right before midnight, we would eat 12 grapes, one for each of the last 12 minutes of New Year’s Eve. Each grape represented a wish for the year. You had to eat them quickly. You couldn’t think too much, or the time would pass. Life is the same. We all have wishes we want to chase. If we think too much about them, the time will pass. The clutter makes us think too much.
- A mantra. I developed my own mantra when sorting through these heavier items. I encourage you to find your own, as this will be more helpful to you in your own journey, since minimalism is different for each individual. My mantra became, helpful or hindrance? As I looked at items I asked myself, “Is this item going to help me in my new life, or hinder me from getting there?” In other words, was holding on to it going to keep me focused on the past? What items did I need now to focus on my future goals, like travel, writing, and going back to school.
- Minimalism is present everywhere, we just don’t always see it. My college experience as I said earlier, could be summed into one thing, my diploma, or could it? In reality, the more I think about this, my college experience was about the people I met, the things I learned, and the way it changed me as a person. A diploma doesn’t contain those things. It only shares my credentials with the world and marks the completion. Those years in my life mean so much more. This journey reminds me that no matter what I keep or get rid of, the way it changed me always stays. The experiences are part of me. I think that is what the quote I posted in the beginning of this article means. Deepak Chopra explains that we can’t hold on to things connected to our ego, not even experiences, no physical part of our world can contain our learning. No physical object can contain our appreciation for beauty, or the way something changed us. The things that we truly keep are internalized; they become part of who we are. Those things can not be categorized or sorted; they will always remain.
I challenge you today to let go of some of the things you think you need to keep. We all need basic necessities like food, water, shelter, clothing and some material comforts. Yet the deep questions in our soul are not answered by things. The beautiful movement towards less makes me see that there is a gentle wisdom in having what you need, and leaving the rest aside. What remains inside us is what truly matters.