Last week I de-cluttered my home. This was prompted by the realization that the inevitable had happened: I grew into an apartment that has far too much space for one person. Years ago, when I was married and anticipating kids, I bought a huge (by NYC standards) two-bedroom apartment. But since my marriage ended and things have changed, I’m looking to scale down and move into a smaller home. Hence, the launch of Operation House Purge.
It was very successful. My guest bedroom was packed with everything I wanted to get rid of. The Salvation Army picked up all of it and within a half-hour, I was freed of all the excess stuff I’d accumulated.
I thought a lot about the metaphors associated with de-cluttering: in my writing classes, I refer to excess verbiage as clutter.
When people purge, they expel the contents of something in order to purify it.
And when people clean house, they resolve old conflicts. This is what I thought about the most and how in clearing out my physical space from the past perhaps I was freeing up emotional space for the present.
Certainly, we can all take a look around our homes and pinpoint items that remind us of a time in the past. Why hold onto these things? They can trigger the memories, certainly, and they don’t need to be there as a constant reminder. I began wondering if all the excess stuff in my life was keeping me stuck in the past. Within a week after the stuff was trucked away, I felt without a doubt that this is true.
I’ve written before about how baggage is less about responsibilities and more about attachments to the past. I advised CatholicMatch members to think twice before getting involved with someone who has a lot of baggage.
But what if we ourselves are tied down to our baggage? What then?
Well, to start, removing all physical reminders of the past is a great practice. I made donation piles of clothes, photos, objects and appliances that reminded me of the past.
The clothing was a particularly powerful moment for me. I folded up piles of garments that no longer fit, didn’t flatter me or didn’t make me feel good about myself. And as I did, I truly felt I was saying goodbye to the woman I was: afraid of bright colors and patterns; wearing only drab, baggy clothes; wanting to disappear. I was done with being that woman, and purging those items from my closet was incredibly useful in making that real.
I got rid of reminders of my married life. Most of them were hidden away so as to avoid explaining them to visitors; why not toss them? There were the stacks of photos from my wedding. Some, taken by a well-known photographer and dear friend, I held onto because it’s art. But the snapshots and random scenes and pictures of people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years: all in the shredder. I also tossed old wedding gifts that were just collecting dust. I have no idea whose idea it was to give us an electric grill or a rice steamer; my ex-husband is an amazing cook, everything from scratch.
Next, I piled up souvenirs from trips I didn’t take and gifts from people that didn’t understand me. Into the pile went stuff I never use: decorative pillows, curtains, decorative boxes, bedspreads and lamps. Not having owned a TV in years, I got rid of the TV/VCR rolling cart along with the VCR and VHS tapes. When I found the VHS tapes, I also uncovered cassette tapes. I’m sure someone somewhere still has a cassette player, right?
I won’t lie: Not all of it was easy to part with.
The hardest things were even more useless than decorative pillows but held more value. I had reams of notes, essays and readings from graduate school. I felt like they were physical reminders of everything I worked so hard to have.But they really were taking up far too much space.
My wonderful boyfriend stepped in with the voice of reason: If I really wanted to hold onto them, I could spend a day scanning them into my computer. If the very idea of it made me balk, which it did, it meant I was ready to let them go. Besides, as he pointed out, if I really did ever want to re-read Shohat’s theory of Polycentric Aesthetics, there is always Google Scholar.
Into the recycling pile they went.
The upshot of the whole process was that I really saw how attached to the past I was. This was not only reflected in my spare room full of useless objects but in my current relationship. In my constant effort to avoid making past mistakes, I remained stuck in the past. Without the physical reminders, I feel freed of the emotional attachments to the past.
Of course, there are other things we can do to rid ourselves of baggage: bodywork, such as massage or laying-on of hands, is an excellent way. And it goes without saying that prayer works miracles. The God Box is also good practice. But really, the most powerful reminders of our past are contained in the objects hanging around our homes. Why not rid your home of those reminders? In doing so, you just might be making room for a future full of new experiences.