Several years ago, I began a journey of decluttering. This was before Marie Kondo took the world by storm, or at least before I knew she was on that path of tidy revolution. My own process sparked from something as simple as just not wanting to dust. I had bookshelves filled with childhood toys, books, VHS tapes, photo albums, you name it… the dust had accumulated so much over the collection of clutter that every time I went to clean, I found myself sneezing and feeling disgusted.
After being irritated one too many times, it occurred to me: there will be less to clean if I just have less stuff! So, I began purging and before I knew it, I had cleared off a couple of shelves that had been filled with things for years. The items were not bringing me any happiness anymore and I had no use for them; they had just been there. Naturally, I remember feeling proud of myself after cleaning up so well and I dusted the bare shelves with ease.
Later that night however, as I lay in bed, I began to cry. Not a gentle cry, but a full-on, Oprah-level, ugly cry. I was inexplicably sobbing and I couldn’t put a finger on it. Nothing traumatic had happened during the day. I wasn’t battling anxious thoughts or feeling lonely. I wasn’t feeling unwell. So, what was it? Once I had collected myself, I glanced at the bare shelves and came to the realization that the reason for my tears was staring right at me.
Without having known it, the clutter I had gathered over the years had been weighing on me. It had been creating a white noise machine of anxiety that I didn’t even realize was running in the background. Without the old items there, I felt suddenly free and that freedom felt…relaxing. My tears were stemming from relief. I had released a burden I didn’t consciously know even existed just by choosing to let go of stuff that was quietly, but certainly, creating chaos in my environment and in my headspace.
In the days and weeks that followed, I got rid of a lot more. I got rid of so much stuff that I was able to eliminate some furniture because there was nothing to store in those larger items anymore. I said goodbye to old schoolwork and textbooks, clothes that I had no desire to wear again, knick-knacks I had bought on a whim, etc., As I continued to clear things out, I noticed quite a few things within myself that I would imagine might apply to others… Firstly, the recognition that the attachment to stuff so many of us have is truly unhealthy. In my own experience, a lot of the things I had tucked away were things that I kept out of guilt (usually gifts), unhealthy nostalgia (from past moments that could never be re-created), or a need for status or identity marker (my epic movie collection).
Secondly, I noticed how choosing to toss items clarified to me which ones actually meant something. I didn’t donate every book, for instance, I kept my favourites and the ones I thought I might read again; those had actual value. Basically, I began to see what types of things represented me in a present sense and had value continuing to co-exist in my space.
Finally, I noticed that the memories and emotions that mattered to me were never inside of the things anyway…As I write this, I can honestly say that I don’t regret getting rid of anything – and by this point, I’ve easily gotten rid of over 1000 items – big and small. Although material objects can be a tactical and symbolic reminder of something important to someone – it isn’t actually the thing itself. The memory isn’t within the inanimate object and neither is your sense of self. My worth didn’t change when I tossed the old assignment with an A on it and I didn’t feel any more or less pretty when I got rid of my prom dress.
I recognize that minimalism has become a trend nowadays. There’s a lot of pressure to jump on board to achieve a certain aesthetic, and to be clear, that is not at all something I would encourage and this isn’t what this post is about at all. I don’t believe in following trends in the first place. But if you’re like me and had a habit of holding onto things “just because” or “just in case,” I would love to challenge you to question that a bit more… If you start removing some things, you may feel liberated by not needing to be an “owner” so much, and as someone who has had that experience, first-hand, I cannot express enough how wonderful and how truly peaceful it can feel to let go.