I was one of those people who thought the tidying up guru was being ridiculous when she advised hundreds of thousands of viewers to throw away their belongings. Everything I owned brought me joy — or so I believed.
I still remember the process of going through my mother’s possessions after she passed away. I boxed up everything she owned, and brought it on a three thousand mile journey from a storage unit in Florida to my apartment in Los Angeles — even these silly blue cotton balls she’d brought with her when she moved from Connecticut. The package had an orange Genovese price sticker on it — forensic evidence of the purchase in Stamford where the store was located. Genovese had long gone out of business, and yet this unopened bag of pale blue cotton balls had survived. I figured it obviously meant something to my mother, and therefore, it meant something to me.
Today, I laugh at myself for being overly sentimental about a little bag of blue puffs. I admit this has been my modus operandi for most of my life — surrounding myself with items large and small to provide comfort, security, love, and connection to my memories.
But that all changed quite radically about six months ago, when I decided to pack up my belongings, and move to Panama.
When I started packing, I looked around at the material objects I’d accrued over the years — infused with meaning after the deaths of loved ones and my divorce. I started asking myself what I really needed, and what I could let go of. “Did I really need nine pairs of scissors?” I asked myself. “I’m one person with two hands.”
And so my journey began to detach myself from all of the meaning I’d given to physical things for my entire life — from the “someday I’ll use it” stuff, to the “but it was my dad’s” playbills, to the “I might entertain for twenty again” kitchenware.
I started by spreading the contents of cabinets, closets and boxes across any available floor space in my apartment. I had to see it in order to deal with it. I was now face-to-face with hundreds of meaningful mementos that in reality, had been weighing me down with feelings of obligation to my grandparents and parents long gone and to a past married life; an outdated structure where I no longer dwelled.
I hired an estate sale company to sell, auction and consign everything, secretly hoping I would somehow see them again. To my surprise and delight, I was incredibly enthusiastic to see my treasures in the arms of strangers, clutching them close as they waited in line to pay for a lifetime of my stories.
It became clear to me that letting go of these things is exactly what I needed. My deceased loved ones never intended for me to feel burdened by their belongings. It’s not easy to venture out into new territories while carrying weight from your past. For once in my life, I wanted to travel light. The desire for my new adventure required me to sever the puppet strings attached to the solid objects, only animated by the energy of my memories.
Years ago, when I felt despair over leaving the home that my husband and I shared, my aunt said, “Wherever you are is your home. It’s you, not the place.”
Today, I’ve learned to rely on what is inside of me for comfort, security, love and connection. And over the years I’ve grown to know that my aunt was right. I’m home.
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