When I was a young girl I saved the darndest stuff. In the second grade I actually had a collection of straw wrappers–not the straws themselves, but the straw wrappers. My dutiful friends went to great and sometimes comical lengths in order to save their straw wrappers for me. I look back and see origins of a hoarding habit.
Over the years I have amassed a number of unique items for various collections, always with some well-intentioned use for later, usually for an “art project.” I also had a parent who was a hoarder in his own right. My father the antiquer took me to the flea market regularly where I was coached in the art of the “wheel and deal.” This process always yielded loads of stuff. My mother, on the other hand, was not a hoarder. She was quite the opposite and she amazed me. She could walk into my room armed with a huge plastic trash bag and throw away nearly anything, with no remorse or flinching whatsoever. While she was not the greatest environmentalist, I had to admire her non-attachment to material goods.
Now as an adult I seek more simplicity in my life around stuff. I’m not just talking about the material stuff that clogs up my closets and living space either. I’m talking about the mental, emotional, and spiritual stuff. I’m talking about the junk of the heart, so to speak.
It’s the letting go part that always gets me. What if I could use an item again in the future? What if I’m already attached to the item, emotionally involved with the item? I mean, it’s lived in my possession for over 10 years now! How could we ever part? Yet this is precisely why I must let go, because I have grown too attached and life is about impermanence.
Letting go has often been a long, drawn out process for me. Not an all-at-once experience. In an attempt to usher myself along with this process I decided to embark on a year of intentionally letting go of at least one physical item per day in an effort to simplify my life. Yes, straw wrappers included.
Since starting this practice, things in my life have definitely been shifting. Now that some months have passed I’ve significantly changed the energy in my home. By getting rid of things that no longer serve me, I’ve created space to be more in alignment with my authentic self. As I let go and de-clutter externally, I let go of something internally as well. The same can work in reverse – as I let go internally, I can let go of a physical item to mark this transition, to symbolize an inner letting-go. This process encourages me to trust that exactly what I need will be provided as I need it, keeping me firmly grounded in the present moment.
My intentional letting go experiment culminated with a gathering of friends for a bonfire party to celebrate the releasing of unnecessary clutter in our lives. We dubbed it the “burn, baby, burn” party. Sharing this practice with a group is empowering. It gave me extra support and it showed me that other people are hanging onto the same stuff. Letters from exes? Check. Old bills that never got paid? Check. Old photos that no longer serve any real purpose other than to bring you down? Check. Journal entries that contain toxic amounts of negativity? Check. Burn, baby, burn. Toss it in and watch it transmute.
As I lugged my oversized bag full of junk along with three large logs for the fire, the sun was setting and it was a good time to reflect on why I’d carried these burdens with me for so long. It was a beautiful and physical metaphor. I left with an empty bag and skipped all the way back to my car, lighter and freer in every step.
This post by Katherine Warner, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, originally appeared on annapurnaliving.com