“Every life needs a little space. It leaves rooms for good things to enter it.”
Sarah Addison Allen, The Peachkeeper
We need space to grow and change and breathe. That’s true mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. When K and I moved in together four years ago, it was a merging of two households into one. We owned a lot of the same things (toasters, bed linens, sofas, televisions, etc.) and decided together what to keep and what to toss. Though it was quite a lot of work, it allowed us to start the next chapter of our life together without being overrun with unimportant stuff.
Four years later I found myself standing in the living room, looking around me and feeling suffocated. It felt like we had too much stuff. Much of the excess I couldn’t see since it was stuffed into cabinets and drawers, but I knew it was there. I could feel the weight of it. I have never been one for having lots of possessions, and I always keep a running stash of things to donate, but it was still easy to accumulate things. I knew it was time to minimize, but the task seemed daunting.
One night I watched a documentary on The Minimalists, and there I found my inspiration. (Check out their website The Minimalists) I realized I had been holding onto a lot of things for sentimental reasons. I had memories tied up in these items, but they were hidden away from view and I wasn’t enjoying them; I was passively owning them. It was time to stir up the past, dive into the nostalgia, and let go of some stuff.
I started with the easy spaces: clothing closets and drawers. I dug in deeper than usual, letting go of shirts and dresses that reminded me of events and encounters but that I no longer wore. From there I built momentum. I tackled my desk drawers, closet shelves, the kitchen cabinets, and lastly the storage cabinets in the pantry where I uncovered a trove of treasures, including:
- One of my first friends in college was a rugged survivalist. I didn’t believe in the extent of his skills, so he proved them to me by hand-making me a rope for camping purposes and wound ribbons of my favorite colors into the strands. It was frayed and coming apart and it was time to let it go.
- Our sweet dog Toby passed away last February from heart failure. (You can read about it in A Recent Loss: Grief and Gratitude.) We still had his collar, his leash, his warm winter jacket. I put his things in the pile of items to donate to the animal shelter so that another dog can benefit from them.
- My first 16mm film project was a series of black and white short clips I hand-spliced together to convey tone and emotion. I learned a lot about my creative style from that project and have grown in many ways since then. The images I captured are seared into my memory, and now there is space for new projects.
- When my little brother was pre-school age, he performed in a dance recital. He dressed as a soldier with the other little boys, marching and dancing with fervor, a smile on his face. Using my camcorder I made a mini-documentary of the event, even interviewing him before and after his stage time. I recorded many fond memories with that camcorder and was happy to learn I could recycle it.
Sometimes we aren’t ready to let go of things, and that’s okay. As I was cleaning out a closet, I pulled out a photo of my husband’s junior high class. He agreed that I could throw it away. I set it aside, and he picked it up to study it, peering closely at his teenage self and friends from yesteryears. I saw the look on his face. He wasn’t really ready in that moment to let it go and decided that we should keep it for now.
Keep the things that have deeper meaning for you and that you would miss. Display them in a way that you can enjoy them rather than treating them as forgotten items shoved away into a drawer. I have mementos onto which I am still holding. When it’s time to make more space, I’ll face them, but all in good time. We can let go of only so much at once.
I did let go of a lot of things though and it was hard, but it also felt cleansing. When all was said and done, I stood in my living room, looked around, and reveled in the fact that I felt lighter. I couldn’t see them but I could feel the pockets of open spaces around me. I felt less like I was hanging onto the past and more like I was making room for the future.
To live a more minimal lifestyle, you don’t necessarily have to live in a tiny house or give up 90% of your worldly possessions. Just aim to keep only the things that bring value and joy to your life, and make plenty of space for the good things to come.
Photo via Visual hunt