Standing knee-deep in a sea of dust-covered packing boxes lining the walls of a massive storage unit, one thing was glaringly clear: my parents had accumulated far too much stuff.
After hours of sifting through dated paperwork, moth-eaten clothing, and odd knickknacks, something else became evident: my parents were gone and hardly any of the things left over mattered.
Don’t get me wrong, after my parents’ death, my siblings and I were careful to parcel out the special memories: the family photographs, the handmade sculptures, the favorite early edition books. Those artifacts of my family’s life would be thoughtfully preserved and passed down to younger generations. They’re a record of our history. But the rest of it—the absurd amount of junk that filled the space around us—was evidence of an acute inability to let go.
And that inability was crippling us.
Returning to my hotel room later that evening, grimy and bone-tired from the arduous day in my home state, I reflected. My siblings and I had spent hours filling an entire dumpster with all things unwanted: yellowed bills, worn out office supplies, appointment slips, magazines, and gathered postcards from past travels. Lugging old files and broken down boxes to the trash had not only been laborious, but a bubbling up of resentment surfaced over the wasted time and energy it took. My siblings and I missed our parents, but sorting through their garbage was embittering our sentimentality.
This realization served as a hard-earned lesson: holding on to unnecessary items doesn’t do anyone any good. It doesn’t represent our best selves or even the memory of our best selves.
Why hadn’t my mom and dad understood this? They had, after all, been the poster parents for moving around. By the time I left for college, my parents had moved at least 25 times. That meant packing up their home every couple of years only to unpack and re-establish elsewhere just as often. How on earth—or rather why on earth—had they insisted on collecting so many meaningless material possessions? And even more unsettling, would this same thing happen to me?
Lately, I’ve been trying to be more mindful. I meditate in yoga class, keep up with my journal, and pray daily to my angels. The one area I’ve neglected, however, is to be mindful in the collection of all things superfluous. My desk has a shameful amount of papers crammed into my “junk drawer,” my kitchen pantry holds expired items I’m too lazy to toss, and my cabinets contain far too many insignificant bits of décor I will never use. Don’t even get me started on the condition of my closet.
What is all of this useless stuff doing for my well-being? How can I possibly strive to have uncluttered, clear thoughts if I’m not able to rid my environment of the mess? Shouldn’t I practice what I preach and make space—sacred space—in both my home and my heart? If I could manage even a fraction of this type of clearing out, my creativity and mindfulness would surely flourish.
And yet, like my parents’ things, the amount of energy it takes to accomplish such a task is overwhelming. I don’t have time or patience in my schedule. So what to do?
The answer brings me back to mindfulness—in all areas of our lives. It’s not enough to save this sort of idealism for the last 15 minutes of yoga class. If we truly want to clear out the mess and let go of things that burden us, we need to clear out the material as well as the metaphorical, though perhaps not all in one afternoon. I’ve done that and trust me when I say it was unpleasant.
Bit by bit, drawer by drawer, such an excavation is possible. Our lives are too important to be bogged down by a trivial mess, which has the ability to affect us in a deeply negative way. So why not let some of this go before it becomes a storage locker full of regret? I know I’m going to try.
What would our lives look like if we let go of the clutter? I’m willing to bet the answer is better.
Author: Nicole Meier
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen