You definitely learn what you’re attached to when you must let it go. The past couple of years have been an exercise in letting go of what has been most important to me – my marriage, my sons as they leave for college, my beloved canine companion, the best car EVER. Soon it will be time to move and downsize from the big family house that helped us raise our boys and several pets.
It’s interesting then to see what pulls at me as I go through the bowels of the house, clearing the sedimentary layers of my life.
Here was my process. One area at a time, three piles – trash, recycling, or Goodwill. The green part of me is proud the trash pile is relatively small compared to the others.
Discovered/Discarded/Donated – My 17 year old son discovered 65 T-shirts he can finally part with (note: we purged about 30 last year), a prehistoric sandwich, a shoebox for size 4 shoes. He can now close his drawers again.
Discovered/Kept – A small box of mementos from my childhood, including a gift of a tiny realistic-fur-mouse doll once chewed by a dog, an autograph book from my elementary school friends, and some jewelry given to me by my parents when I was a child.
Discovered/Recycled – Oh boy, I learned I was a box and gift bag hoarder. I kept nice boxes of all types, tin, cardboard, plastic, jewelry, shipping, shoe, gift, decorative, and storage boxes. Just-in-case. I recycled almost all of them but now that I’m reorganizing I wish I had – you got it – boxes. To my delight I found a large tin box in the attic that was spared my earlier recycling frenzy. I’m keeping that.
Discovered/Donated – Because decades ago the Communists literally took almost everything from my family, I have no family mementos except for some of the few things my parents had after leaving China and while living in Taiwan. So my Mom’s traditional chongsam-style dresses are precious to me. But she did give me literally dozens of them, overflowing a spare closet that will no longer be available. I kept the nicest and most interesting pieces but donated the rest to the Department of Fashion Design at my school. I was able to part with them, and felt better about it knowing they’d be used for education. It helped that a colleague I care about and trust stewarded that transfer for me.
Stuff I had no trouble parting with – Majority of the Christmas decorations, lots of glasses, dishes, clothes, sports equipment, furniture, old electronic and computer equipment, the ugly chandelier spouting big, white leaves that came with the house, 2 toaster ovens in the attic (don’t ask me).
Stuff I didn’t want to part with did so anyway – In addition to my oh-so-useful box collection, 16 years of cooking magazines, dozens of cookbooks, remnants of baby toys and clothes I kept over the years, my Ex’s heirloom China set (went back to him), much of the kid’s art work accumulated over the years, some original art (shared with my Ex).
Perhaps more revealing, the stuff I haven’t given up yet, but need to – In addition to the majority of the gift bags, gift ribbons, my stability balls (they’re huge), possibly my Mom’s dining room set, some family games that we rarely play, maybe a lot more of my clothes, a few really nice pieces of serving ware, including stuff from my Mom. Unavoidably, my beautiful, gourmet kitchen, my lovely bathtub, and sunny, inviting Florida room will be gone when we move. I would take them if I could.
Stuff I won’t part with, no way – Family photographs, my giant stuffed bear, my kitchen table, autographed novels, yearbooks, the remaining original artwork, what I’ve saved of the Chinese dresses.
Though I’m attached to a few things, to me it feels good to get rid of stuff – clutter in my house feels like clutter in my brain. What I cling to are mementos from my personal history. What I’m weirdly attached to has to do somewhat with my passions, but also my insecurities, my recovering control-freak/perfectionist self. Buddhists believe that attachment is the cause of suffering since the elements of our world are transient and unsatisfactory. Non-attachment is both the path toward, and the reward of enlightenment.
“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering” – Dalai Lama
I’m no expert on Buddhism, nor am I remotely close to enlightenment. But I can learn from the lessons of the Dalai Lama and not judge my desire to cling to my things. Both my desire to cling, and the grief I experience when I part with my stuff are also transient and unsatisfactory. They too will pass, just like my grief for the losses I’ve incurred over the past few years.
The content of our lives, and our lives themselves must cycle. The fire burns the forest but a healthier, stronger forest emerges. Likewise, loss has opened new doors and opportunities for me and my family*, and so will closing down this house and this chapter of our lives.