I have a lot of stuff. I have always thought, “I wish I had less stuff,” while simultaneously accumulating more things. I don’t really know why I have always had such a hard time letting go of things, but I always have.
Because of some recent unpleasantness, Carlos and I have had occasion to open and sort almost every box that I have had left over from all the times I’ve moved as an adult, starting in 1999. From the time that I left my tiny home town to go to college, I have moved 19 times. Nineteen!
Among the many boxes that we sorted were photos I took in middle school, memorabilia from high school, textbooks from my time at Reed. I didn’t have very many things left in Patagonia when I left Portland for Yakima, and the things that I accumulated in the time I spent there before going to Olympia were few and had mostly already been purged. But still, my straggler boxes and Carlos’s together filled a 10×4 storage unit to bursting.
I don’t know why I have kept so many things, and why so many of the things that I have kept are such junk. I think that I have held on to so many things as a way to hold on to my past, to make some part of my story permanent.
I am not permanent. Permanence is not real.
I am afraid of change, and I am afraid that in changing, I will completely lose touch with where and who I have been in the past. I have held on to detritus with a belief that it is somehow magical, that those sophomore text books hold within them some secret essence of what mattered to me about that experience.
As I went through those boxes, though, I realized that all the things that I had been dragging around were not the magical totems of my life experiences that I had hoped they would be. They were just things. Now I wonder why I thought that they would hold that kind of power — I have never been a sentimental person, or an especially nostalgic one. As much as I have been prone to getting stuck, I am not much of one for looking backwards. In fact, the lack of desire to look backwards is probably part of how I ended up with so many boxes full of silly crap to begin with.
I can’t tell you that going through all those boxes was easy. I cried a little before we started, and spent a lot of the time cursing my many failings. But like the events that precipitated the Great Box Purge of 2013, there was liberation in the pain. I no longer feel like I have to hold on to parts of my past that weren’t really great the first time around. I had an opportunity to give all those tchochkes a moment of closure, and set them free. I did it with my core team, working together to build a new foundation out of the things that we each brought to our marriage (ok, Rockford didn’t actually help that much, but there was a surprising amount of second- and third-hand baby stuff in all those boxes).
I don’t know whether I’ll be better about my gravitational collection of junk in the future; because we are living so intentionally minimally, I think that I will have to be. I have written before about trying to occupy my physical space as a reflection of the way I want to be mentally and spiritually. I hope that this exercise in letting go can be the foundation for a better path in my future.