Monday, November 1, 2010

Musing on Monday

For me, the hardest part about Project N is not packing up our stuff. The hardest part is leaving behind the stuff which we can't bring with us.

I keep everything. EVERYTHING. Old photographs, old journals, old greeting cards, every letter and every gift I have ever received, old school T-shirts, every soft toy. When I watch a play or a stage musical, I always buy a souvenir programme as a keepsake. Every year, when my university hostel put on its annual musical and sold commemorative T-shirts, I would buy two - one to wear and one to keep. 

You might say all that is fine and normal. After all, everyone keeps old photographs and autograph books and sentimental stuff like that.

But that's not all of my treasure.

I kept every credit card bill and bank statement that I have ever received. Every phone bill, even the bills for the phone numbers we no longer use. All our expired credit cards and old bank account books. Shopping bags. Red packets with zodiac animals that won't be relevant for another 12 years. Magazines that are nearly ten years old. Earrings which have lost their partner. Buttons which came from goodness knows which blouse. Cups (including the ugly ones). Stationery that I never use, including notepaper that is turning yellow with age. Empty boxes which are too pretty to throw away. Old spectacles, watches and wallets. Old mobile phones.

I know it's ok to keep some treasured items but I also realise that this sort of "collecting" can get out of hand. Most of the time, I just keep stuff until it becomes irretrievably irrelevant or useless, which may take years. Then when it comes time to trim the pile of irrelevant/useless stuff, it is too much, too intimidating and too pressurising. So we chicken out and we leave it. And it grows. Essentially, I have an ongoing battle between wanting to hang on to my stuff and wanting to get rid of it.

I had a morbid thought the other day. A friend's relative had passed away and I had this picture of my friend sorting through the relative's belongings, deciding what to do with all of it. And then I thought, what if someone had to sort through my stuff? Oh my. I certainly do not want to wish such a task upon my son. It would be a terrible burden.

I know, I know. I'm supposed to de-clutter, to simplify. I'm not supposed to let myself be bogged down by stuff. I need to clear the decks, make space for the new and get some good chi flowing, instead of allowing myself to grow old, stale and irrelevant. 

I recently read this article on Apartment Therapy, one of my favourite interior design blogs, and the author put the issue so well.

"...we all still harbor a little voice in our heads that wants us to hold on to stuff "because we might need it."

Don't believe it.

It's that ancient caveman survival voice, and it's not going to help you now. Now, we run the greater risk of suffocating our life under an accumulation of small and large possessions (and their attendant upkeep) that no longer serve us in our daily lives.
The secret to dealing with clutter and changing your life is to realize that 1) you don't need as much stuff (you are no longer a Caveman, after all), and 2) that by having less you are opening your life up, lightening it and creating an environment that will allow you to flourish and reach your greatest potential. It's not just about letting go, it's about realizing how much more life you can have.

One of my greatest sources of inspiration is Karen Kingston, who wrote Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui. She helped me see something as simple as collecting books (a great source of clutter) totally differently. While books are great resources and markers of experience, we all tend to hold on to more than we actually use. And many of us hold on tightly! In order to declutter them, we need to realize that books are collections of memories and OLD THOUGHTS, not new ones. As she says, "Holding onto old books doesn't allow you to create space for new ideas and ways of thinking to come into your life."

I would even take this further. Holding onto ANYTHING that doesn't have a working role in your home won't allow you to create new space for ANYTHING new to come into your life — things, jobs, people, opportunities, etc. Even as we bring new things in, we need to bring old things out. In this way, we ensure a vital life flow in our lives."

It reads like what I wrote last Monday, about how letting go of the old lets you be free to get hold of better things, about how change can be a good thing.

Every once in a while, I do look around and try to do some spring-cleaning, throw out stuff, give away stuff. Not a lot though and it doesn't make much difference to the clutter. It isn't that much of a problem in our present big house. I suppose clutter looks less like clutter where there's lots of space for it. Unfortunately, we are moving to a smaller place and we can't bring everything with us. So we are going to have to go through the painful process of pruning.

In truth, I am really looking forward to a massive garbage day. As I grow older, the "wanting to get rid of it" feeling is stronger. I am more inclined to let go of stuff now. I guess with more life experience, I now have a better idea of what's important to me and I can do without all the rest. I know that, however attached I am to my stuff, I will feel much better once I am rid of (some of) it. It's that nice light feeling you get after you have tidied up, cleaned up and thrown out the garbage. It will also give us a fresh start to the next exciting phase of our life.

Here's to de-cluttering!


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