Recently I threw away 5 garbage bags of stuff and I have another 5 ready to go to the donation bin later. And I’m not talking about dinky, little garbage bags either. I mean full-on, kitchen-trashcan garbage bags. The kind that I have to carry with two hands.
As I struggled to carry everything to the dumpster in my apartment complex, I asked myself how and when I had acquired all these things.
I’ve moved four times in the past two years (one of which was across the country), so I thought I would have pared down on the stuff I was toting around. But here I was, going through baggage that I didn’t even know I had: clothes that haven’t fit me since my sophomore year of college, makeup samples that don’t match my skin tone, and several books in a language that I don’t even speak. Things that I have carried from place to place without even realizing it.
I’ve been reading The Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo for the last several weeks, and I decided that there was no better time for me to finally tidy than right now. So I canceled all my plans for two days and got down to business.
In the book, she talks about going through every item you own and asking yourself a simple question…
“Does this spark joy?”
If it doesn’t, you’re supposed to thank it for the time you spent together and either donate it or throw it away.
I’m quite sure I looked like a crazy person as I sat in the middle of my bedroom, picked up my belongings item by item, and talked to them. Asking them the question and thanking them for their time; I was glad no one was around to witness this process.
Crazy or not, it worked. I have successfully given/thrown away over half of my belongings.
But this process was more than just a spring cleaning for my physical world. In between talking to my possessions, I was able to take stock of my internal world as well. I wondered if, like my belongings, I was storing thoughts and emotions that no longer fit the life I was living.
I am, and that emotional baggage proves difficult to get rid of. I’ve found myself going back to my same old habits over and over again. I can’t seem to shake them.
These patterns have become comfortable, but even more than that, I’ve found that I’m comforted by these patterns. It’s more than just me being lulled into unawareness by the excess and negativity I’m carrying around. It’s an actual fear of what might happen if I let go.
If we’re honest, getting rid of things is terrifying. There were so many moments this weekend where I would put something in the donation bag only to take it out again because “what if I need this” or “what if I can’t find anything like this again” or “what will I wear if not this?”
I do the same things with my negative habits and thoughts and emotions. They may not make me happy, but at least I’m not alone in my misery.
As I’ve attempted to change many of my habits and thought patterns over the last year, I’ve run into the same road blocks.
“I don’t know how to navigate relationships/friendships, so I’m just not going to invest in any.”
“I don’t have the talent for that, so I’m not going to try.”
“I was hurt in my past, so I don’t trust people.”
These are all things that I keep in my back pocket, ready to pull out at the first sign of danger. These are the things that I hold onto, even though they don’t fit the person I want to become, because I’m afraid of the empty space they will leave if I cast them off.
In her book, Marie Kondo tells us to focus not on the things we’re getting rid of, but on the things we’re keeping – the things that spark joy. That’s what I did with my physical possessions this weekend and found that I was left not with a gaping black hole, but with a clean, airy space.
I gained space for my thoughts and emotions and creativity to breathe.
So maybe that’s what I should do with my internal clutter. I should look through my heart and mind for the things that spark joy in my life.
And the things that don’t? They should be thanked for the lessons they taught me and put in big garbage bags in the dumpster where they belong.