Recently I’ve been organising the flat, and a large part of the process has been de-cluttering everything, everywhere*. On the surface, our home actually appears neat and tidy, but it hides a chaotic mass of accumulated possessions which rarely (if ever) see the light of day. Buried beneath used items at the bottom of the wardrobes and in the hallway cupboard are hidden caches of forgotten clothes, ornaments, and notebooks** shoved away shortly after the move and promptly lost to the mind. Yet, on a visit to Chris’ hometown, we decided to cart back some of his things, only for me to despair about where everything would go. There was only one answer: time to sort some shiz.
So, we got on it. After a two weekends and a week of being away in various parts of the country for various reasons***, Chris and I only had a short four days to pull yet more boxes from storage, find and empty every box, bag and cubbie, and sort, donate, sell, recycle, or bin practically everything we own^. All while I was working my usual morning shift with the kiddlywinks and he was revising for some important upcoming exams. Time management was going to be a harsh mistress^^, and the magnitude of the task was instantly intimidating. However, when the project started, I wanted it done. I couldn’t abide the idea of all that stuff hanging around like a bad smell awaiting completion, or worse, being ultimately returned to the hiding places wense they came. If I had to do it, I was going to do it while Chris was around to help with the inevitable harsh decisions^^^, and while I still had the gusto to keep the ball moving.
My gusto and the early mornings actually made a rather productive team. Having to be up for work, meant I was already awake and moving by just after 9:00am when I returned back at the flat. Chris would also be awake by my return, the kettle would go on, beverages on hand, and we would get to business. I figured if we could summon enough motivation to get the bulk of it done while Chris was around with the car, I would wade through the smaller piles while he was away. Within the first three hours we had filled two large boxes and a clothes hamper for donation, and sold a large portion of our disused CDs and DVDs to an online service*^. We sent ancient mobiles to be recycled and purchased a shredder^* to handle old documentation and receipts, in what Chris terms as a ‘shredding party’*^*. By day two we had actually cleared away two huge boxes of obvious to-go items, which meant moving on to the nitty-gritty: the things I think I need and the sentimental.
On day three, I turned the study upside-down. For years I had been carting around heaps of stationary I was deluded to think I would someday find a special reason to use. Notebooks I had purchased in my teens still lingered in the cupboards, and I had empty files from University now void of their former content. Pretty objects with potential I couldn’t find a good enough reason to validate. It was time to say goodbye, but having kept them so long, it was harder to part with some items than I thought it would be^*^.
It’s funny how I didn’t even think about the things I was keeping in the background of my life before I analysed their worthiness in my existence. I was standing in front of two boxes^*^* – donate or keep – and always, regardless of item, found myself leaning toward the latter even when the rational part of my mind screamed a thousand reasons why that decision was counteractive to the task. It was easy to find counter arguments to rationalizations: I would put it somewhere I could see it and actually use it, I would resolve to actually spend time doing what it had been purchased for; I could do this or that, but I could not let it go at the moment.
It was the most frustrating thought process, and such thinking was probably why I had kept these things in the many clear-outs I had had in the past. This time, I was determined to be brutal, so I gave Chris the final vote*^*^ on almost everything, dictating the conflicting voices in my head. Being far more impartial than I , he allocated at least eighty percent to the donation pile, leaving me with a few spare folders and notebooks. His rationale was that we could simply buy these things again if a real, present need ever presented itself.
Chris was incredibly helpful, but I was going to have to face rough choices without him over the weekend and I didn’t fancy agonizing over every little possession like I had stumbled across a pile of diamonds, 50% of which were fake^^*. Mostly, because it makes the process three times as long, but also because I didn’t want to keep things just for the sake of not being able to let them go.
What is it about possessions which cause us such severe attachment? Ultimately, they are just things, ephemeral and lacking any ability to provide lasting happiness, yet they hold such dear places in our mind despite this. Without any effort, they crawl into our heads and sit there somewhere, almost secretly, creeping up only when the debate arises over what to do with them. Apparently, possessions actually trigger memory centers in the brain which connect with more abstract ideas about the self. For example, keeping boxes of long unused craft supplies**^ reminds us of our potential, and that we still have passions we want to pursue, even if we no longer have time or energy, or we have moved on from those particular enjoyments.
Memories and aspirations are comfortable places to stroll through, and possessions make it even easier to do so. Having things for many years, as far back as childhood, can make us feel calm, powerful and assured, because we attach a certain part of ourselves into old uniforms, and teddy-bears, into clothes which will never fit again, and instruments which have not been played in years. These objects remind us of who we were and who we might have been, if we had made different choices, the right choices, if we had given up corporate jobs or not given up corporate jobs, of a time when we were a blank canvas, a time when we were young and wild, or had more time, or didn’t care what the world thought, when we were skinny or confident or happy. A time before the trauma, before the accident, before he/she left us, before we made a big mistake. Possessions can zap us to a place and time seemingly more perfect than that which we inhabit. So, we keep them, because while they’re around we can drift off to another, better version of who we are.
Buddha had something when he spoke about attachment being a road to suffering. Mostly all these items do, having long since expired in any other meaning, is remove us from the present. While you’re busy lost in the delusions of the mind, the real opportunities to grow and develop slip by unnoticed, allowing you to gather more possessions to fill the voids which grow where potential withers. Though the boxes may fill the spaces of our physical existence, no amount of material outside of us can sprout true happiness within; only the present moment and awareness can do that. Clinging to clutter is just a way of drawing further into a delusion, and the majority of us do this at least to some degree.
For me, I find owning possessions is not the problem. I know there is a simplifying movement sweeping through the West right now, but I genuinely don’t take issue with owning things, not even extraneous things; the true issue lies with the attachment, and the psychological minefield**^^ which can arise from such clinging. I had to really think about why I was keeping things. Digging into your psyche can be exhausting, but is seems for me it is the only way to stagger through the obstacles of my decision making.
What did this singular thing really represent to me? Why was I holding on to it? External to my mind was it a useful object? Who was I when I held it and why did I want to be that person? Why was I anxious when I thought about parting with it – who was I when I was anxious to part with it?
In the end, they were just things. Whatever version of me had held them once, no longer was, and whatever version of me^^** I hoped would someday hold them does not exist yet, even if they might in the future. Once I had worked out a strategy, it was easier to face the more personal items, even when I had no judge to hammer in the final sentencing. Instead, I slipped into mindfulness and let my less earth bound (the side which is closer to the Universe) side hold the gavel. Which had a surprisingly effective result. Using questions geared around usefulness and self-awareness rather than emotion, I could more easily decide what went and what stayed, and in doing so, cleared three 80 litre storage containers from the hallway cupboard. Phew. But there’s still a wardrobe full of clothes to consider and bits and bobs which have been put aside while the big stuff is being processed.
One thing at a time. Eventually, everything will be done, carefully and mindfully.
*Don’t take me wrong; it’s not that I’m drowning in stuff. I’m not one of these people who have piles of useless junk everywhere. I downsize every time I move for goodness sake, and I move more than the Grey Whale. Look it up.
**Actually, I kind of knew about the notebooks, because I like having pretty notebooks ornamenting my shelves. Yes, I admit that’s a problem, but notebooks are a type of book, and if you have been following me long enough, you know we don’t question books. Don’t worry; I donated many of them this time around. Mostly because they were no longer on shelves, but were shut away in a cupboard. I only kept the really pretty ones…. Don’t judge me.
***Easter trip, anniversary trips, family visiting; it seriously felt like we had travelled thousands of miles in the space of week. I intend on writing some of those journeys, but so far life has strolled in dancing with a baton and getting in the way… so we’ll have to see. Hey, remember that time I said that before and then I actually wrote it up? Me neither.
^I say ‘we’, but 90% of it is my stuff.
^^Turns out the time management mistress also carries a whip and wears spurs on her boots, and she will ride you like a horse across the desert. I’m not even sure if that works as a simile, but she isn’t nice is my point.
^^^I’m pretty good at a few things in life; but making decisions about particular aspects of my life is something I am considerably (a lot) bad at. There’s nothing wrong with second opinions, right?
*^And oddly enough one book. I actually donated a few books which I hadn’t actually enjoyed all that must due to the shelf space crises of 2016. Not much, but I tried. Anyway, we boxed the book up along side the other media for selling, but when the recent came through, I was told the condition of the book was too poor for them to offer payment. What? Have you seen my books? Probably not. But my books have unbent spines and un-dog-eared pages, and are frequently dusted. So, you know, I’m insulted. I mean it was only 30p, but it’s the principle. That book, was the equivalent of a crufts dog pure bred… minus the probable birth defects.
^* Oh my goodness, guys, if you are getting tired of this being an adult shiz, buy a shredder. They are a blast! You can make confetti from boring documents like bank statements and everything. So cathartic. Seriously, it’s one of those adult things which is actually kinda super awesome fun. And they are a useful and practical item found in big important fancy offices, so you don’t have to justify having one. After a bad day, go and shred stuff. I guarantee 100% satisfaction.
*^* In which you shred a whole bunch of stuff which has been hanging around and then you throw it at each other like kids on a snow day. Then you recycle it, because you care about the environment and the whole point was to clean up. And you are an adult and stuff.
^*^ You know that show hoarders? Where people are basically buried in seemingly useless clutter, including heaps of stored newspapers and crisp packets and stuff? I have to admit I was always slightly judgmental of them, but now I understand how these psychological issues can actually arise from probably small beginnings.
^*^*Okay, drinking game. Every time you read the word ‘box’ or ‘boxes’ in this post, take a shot. Of apple juice. Stay in school kids.
*^*^ Continuing my thoughts in the notes earlier, also there’s nothing wrong with having someone impartial to give the final word after giving a second opinion, right?
^^*That was a fairly labored metaphor, but I can’t think of a better one, so you’re stuck with it. Sorry.
**^Yep. As you can imagine, this example comes from real life experiences.
**^^ Or mind-feild! Haha!
^^**More information on versions of me coming in a future blog. Saddle up folks, there are weird stories ahead.