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I don’t remember how I became a hoarder.
All I remember is that I always piled things up: clothes that I stopped wearing, objects that date back to my high school days, and toys that I had when I was three or four.
I only stopped hoarding when I started traveling. After spending a couple of months in various countries with only one backpack, I’ve come to realize how little we need to survive.
Upon returning home, I grew accustomed to throwing away (or giving away) things that I didn’t use anymore.
However, a striking change happened a few days ago when I was moving into a new place.
I found in my old room outdated, broken, unnecessary things. I stumbled upon gifts from people I forgot existed. The amount of clothes that didn’t fit me anymore was innumerable and the unnecessary papers were uncountable.
The clutter had stayed, but—for the first time—how I reacted to it was different. Instead of adding more emotional value to it, I was simply honest with myself. Every box I opened, every piece of clothing I saw, every paper I read, I asked myself, “Do I really need this? Am I ever going to use/wear it again? Does this mean anything to me at all?”
The result was astounding. I let go of almost half of my belongings, and I kept what I truly value and think is necessary.
I quickly realized that among all the spiritual practices I have developed, decluttering tops them all. It has helped me find an undeniable sense of relief, genuine bliss, and healthy detachment from the past.
I know how tough it is to let go of something that we’ve had for many years. I struggled with this long enough to understand the complexity of detaching from what’s physical. Nonetheless, taking the first step—even with the smallest things—can induce great change within us.
Here’s how decluttering can serve as a spiritual practice:
1. Taking action.
We tend to procrastinate when it comes to decluttering. With every purchase and every gift, we add to the clutter and avoid dealing with it. Any spiritual practice requires taking action. Whether it’s a meditation session, a yoga class, working on a personal problem, or making a change in the world, we need to step up and do it. And, the fact is, taking action feels freakin’ good! When we get up and declutter, we feel a sense of responsibility and strength.
How can getting rid of an object make me more free? It’s it’s just an object, right? Well, visually, yes. But internally, it affects our attitude, perceptions, and mood. Looking at an old object might induce feelings of melancholy, long-gone pleasure, or attachment. When we let go of it, we become free from all the above.
3. Letting go.
What’s more spiritual than letting go of what doesn’t serve us anymore? We often associate letting go with people or emotions. But it also stands true for material objects. It’s incredible how many excuses the mind creates to keep an object safe in our grasp. We claim that it doesn’t bother us or it has zero value to us, so why bother throwing it away? To let go of a physical object means we’re strong enough to keep and honor our memories without identifying them with objects.
Anything we refuse to throw away is an attachment in disguise. Clutter represents the bond we have with all the stuff around us. These items give us a sense of identity, security, comfort, and assurance. We think that if we let them go, we let go of an integral part of us. What we should realize is that objects don’t define who we are—our essence and experiences don’t lie in an impermanent item.
5. Reality check.
Yes, decluttering can surprisingly provide us with a reality check. We keep so many things believing that we will use them today, tomorrow, or the day after. Truth is, we might never use them again, but our false aspirations make us want to keep them. To throw them away is to be honest with ourselves and accept that this object is of no benefit anymore.
I’ve come to realize that comfort lies not in the presence of an object, but in the getting rid of it. When we look at everything we’ve accumulated, we look straight at our past. When we let it go, we let go of old patterns. And by doing so, we regain our power from the object and feel personal growth kicking in. To grow is to feel comfortable enough to make space for new memories (and be ready to throw them away if they stop being of benefit).
We all have this crazy idea that our happiness lies somewhere “out there.” No wonder we all have so many things! The fact is, objects can prompt excitement and happiness, but only temporarily. In no time, they become another object on the shelf or in the drawer. True happiness comes from within. That said, we need to be careful about how we define our joy and be courageous enough to throw away what doesn’t serve us anymore.
8. Helping others.
If something is still in good condition but it doesn’t serve you personally, it can certainly serve others well. While I threw away many items, I donated most of the rest. There are many organizations and homeless shelters out there that would be happy with all sorts of thoughtful donations. To declutter means to revive the abandoned object and give it to those who are in need.