“Most of my advances were by mistake. You uncover what is when you get rid of what isn’t.” -Buckminster Fuller
Lately the idea of getting rid of old, unwanted and unnecessary stuff has been on my mind. Perhaps it is the urge toward spring cleaning that comes from witnessing the budding trees and bulbs pushing up through the cold ground that reminds us of nature’s perpetual cycle of rebirth. It could be my great fortune of having hired a superlative office manager who is teaching me a few things about the spirit world as she dispenses with years of old notes and files, making room for the new. I have been inspired to reconsider the attachments I have made to the stuff that bears witness to my history. Old information, old contacts, even in hard copy are not relevant, and the fact that I haven’t looked at them in years is proof.
It is not only in my office that my life tends to get cluttered. I have had this habit of holding onto things that represent a period of time or emotional connection in my life with my four children. The sheer volume of things collected has forced me to continuously work at letting go, but still it has not been easy. This past winter I sent 18 boxes of clothing on to a homeless shelter to replenish their stores after a fire cleaned them out. Easily seven years of collecting, maybe longer if you take into account all the hand-me-downs.
Another place where I tend to hoard is with the written word. I have yet to get rid of many of my books, but recently have been learning to let go of old magazines and newspaper columns. Although I rarely go back and read the same book twice, the idea that the information will still be available somehow comforts me. Rationally I can tell you that there would be little reason to read my old parenting toddler books or even the old novels that I still hold onto. True, I was glad to be able to pull an old Alan Watts off the shelf recently for my 18-year-old son, but largely my book collection mostly collects dust.
Perhaps the most telling space of my ineffective letting-go strategy has been in my closet, which instead of a walk-in, is actually a walk through, on the way to bathroom. Nowhere has my compromised ability to let go been more apparent than here. Every day, several times a day even, I witness the stuff crowding my space, tethering me to the past without really seeing it. We get accustomed to our own clutter. Sweaters that are as old as my marriage, dresses and pants from a size that I probably will never be again, shoes that never felt right new and haven’t been worn in a decade, remedies from a child’s illness 5 years ago are still crowding my shelves.
Is it the empty space that these things would leave that intimidate me from not letting go or is that each time I walk through I wonder where to begin. I think Joseph Campbell may have been cleaning out his closets or clearing papers off his desk when he wrote, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” Today, I dedicated the first day of spring to cleaning out my closet. I sent four huge leaf size bags of old stuff on its way. Looking through my old stuff with fresh eyes that are ready for a new life helped me to see all that I have collected for what it is. The tenderness and connection that I have long attributed to those things never belonged to them… it was in me all along.
Next stop, my office desk…