A few days ago I was faced with the challenge of moving out of the third floor of Nonna’s house. This meant that I was going to have to complete the impossible task of squeezing the entire contents of an apartment-sized room into my modest-sized childhood bedroom.
The words of George Carlin instantly came to mind in one of my favourite sketches of his:
If you’re looking for a good laugh that rings true, check it out. He spells it out better than anyone ever will: “All your house is is a place to keep your stuff while you go out to get more stuff!”
When we cram nick-nacks onto every shelf and inside every cupboard of our homes we stop owning things and begin to feel that they own us. There is something expansive about the notion of an empty room, or a house that is filled minimally, almost as if the physical space allows us to free mental space in our minds. The ease with which we can interact with our belongings reduces stress and makes life seem more manageable.
So, determined not to be owned and made stressed by the belongings I’d decided to keep, which were supposed to make my life more enjoyable, if anything at all, I hauled out a stack of garbage bags and cardboard boxes and went to work on the stack of papers littering my shelves.
Initially, things were difficult as I became absorbed in photos, essays, short stories from my childhood and remnants from courses I’d taken over summers ago. It was hard to let go of the past and, in many cases, the sentimental value made me cling to these inanimate objects, as if their presence in my room would tie me to the memories in my mind. However, with each snap decision: garbage, donation or keep, I began to feel lighter and airier. I began to take on a cut-throat attitude – if it doesn’t fit right, has weird sleeves, or I only read it once then, give it away, give it away, give it away. Someone else will love it more than I can. The space the clutter occupied began to lighten and became brighter.
I filled garbage bags with books I’d never read again: recommending a few childhood favourites to my younger cousins. I let go of clothes that were a good idea in theory but never felt quite right on my body and, which therefore took up residence in the back of my closet, and unnecessary space in my mind.
Jewelry, paper, books, clothes and junky, half-finished art projects became sorted into three categories: garbage, donate or keep. With each item that I let go of I felt like I was at the same time remembering, acknowleding and, finally, releasing a part of my past that I now feel ready to move on from.
I reorganized my artwork, hiding the unfinished works or the disasters and planning to paint over them; the evolution of the canvas they currently reside on mirroring the evolution of my abilities and maturity.
The Goodwill is now 6 garbage bags richer, with piles of books whose words shaped my childhood and adolescence, ready to shape the minds of other children, and with clothes and bags that are destined to become “great finds” for used clothing pirates in search of buried treasure.
And, as for me, I am now 6 garbage bags lighter, my room has become more open, giving me space to stretch out my body and expand my mind. My shelves remain full of only my favourite novels, relics from my travels and my naturopathic textbooks, which serve as representations of where I am now in my life and promises of what I will one day become. What’s more, there are now even empty spaces on my shelves; blank canvasses that are ready to be filled with the unknown as I release the past and make space for the future.
The most remarkable feeling, however, is that I feel less of a want for anything now. The burden of owning too much has taught me a lesson; almost like releasing the accumulation of bad memories and stale emotions, it feels good to work with minimalism for a change.
I think I’ll wait awhile before I go out and get, as Carlin says, “more stuff.”