Last week my family and I helped move my aunt and cousin to a new home. We enlisted help from friends and spent the entire day schlepping desks and mirrors and boxes of kitchenware and clothes and photo albums and candles and God knows what else.
In the aftermath of moving over 8 designated “Halloween” boxes among others labeled “80s shirts” or “baby clothes” from one garage shelving rack to another garage shelving rack, I began thinking about material possessions and how they influence our lifestyles and our decision-making processes.
I’ve always been an organized person. I have a designated space for everything I own and I clear and rearrange my closet twice a year. But I never gave as much thought to the things I have as I did this past year when I was in France. I owned only enough items to fit into my two suitcases (one large, one smallish) and backpack. I was proud of myself for not packing or accumulating more over the 9-month period abroad, but even what I did have felt like too much (note to self: you don’t need to bring 12 different nail polish colors to France to coordinate with the seasons).
Not only was my luggage cumbersome to carry as I traveled, it was a mental burden as well. It took effort and constant consciousness to be aware of my bags, guard them from theft, and consider how to maneuver through the Parisian metro stations while dragging them and keeping my perspiration level at a minimum.
The stress and annoyance of it all only mounted once I returned home and began unpacking. When I was cleaning out my bathroom I found nearly 10 one-quarter full bottles of scented lotion like Cucumber Melon and Candy Apple—most with expiration dates in the mid-2000s—a neon pink leopard-print toiletry case dating back to my 10th birthday, dried up Bert’s Bees oils, and a dusty yellowed bottle of leave-in conditioner I’ve never once touched. After nine months away, I forgot I even owned all of these items.
Holding on to things I don’t use has always felt wasteful and overwhelming to me; it adds a nagging, heavy kind of anxiety to the physical load I already have.
Just last night I learned what exactly lays at the root of this anxiety by listening to tapes of spiritual lessons from the late British metaphysician Stuart Wilde (and the inspiration for this post). Stuart was discussing how imperative it is to de-clutter your mind and your life in order to receive peace, perspective, and opportunity for growth and change—all of which arrive in the form of positive energy flow.
In order to let things go, Stuart said, it helps to understand that everything we own is inherently neutral. I might feel attached to the white tea mug with a map of South Africa that I bought in Cape Town, or to the sea star earrings my boyfriend gave me for Christmas, but in actuality there is nothing inherently special about these items. They are no more and no less valuable than anything else—they are neutral. The only meaning these things possess is the one I’ve assigned to them. Materials, like everything else, are just vehicles for the energy in the universe. When we view material possessions this way, it only makes sense that we lose things, give them away, and receive anew—it’s all flowing, fluctuating energy throughout our lives.
But when we own too many things that we don’t infuse with our energy by using regularly, these things block energy from coming to us. They are stagnant obstacles in the way of calm and clarity. Stuart advised ridding ourselves of things we haven’t used or thought about in the last year and won’t use immediately in the next few weeks. In doing so, we create literal space in which good energy can flow and animate what we do have.
The literal space in our homes, cars, and backpacks then creates space in our minds where thoughts of enlightenment, restfulness, and creativity have room to stretch their legs and develop. It’s that same rush of weightlessness and openness we feel after delivering trash bags of old shoes to goodwill or emptying our junk drawers filled with soy sauce packets and paperclips.
I’m all about cherishing important mementos (I’ve kept every paper I’ve ever written for my English classes and I covet and reread the ones on which my teachers and professors wrote thoughtful, constructive comments), but not everything we have is meant to be kept forever. This is especially true if we’re only keeping things out of fear that we might feel sad or regretful if we didn’t have them.
As I move forward with this next phase of my life, I want to remain unburdened by what I own. I want my sense of worth and satisfaction to be independent of the stuff around me. I only want to hold on to the things that will best serve me for as long as they’re capable of doing so. Nothing else is necessary.
I'd love for you to share your thoughts with me. What do you think about this concept? What do you have and how does it serve your life?