“Be wary of stuff. Be careful what you purchase, what you save, what you pack into plastic storage boxes. Stuff can hog-tie your life.” —Hallelujah Haymaker
Note: This post was drafted in July 2017, but it felt too personal to share then.
“You’re doing major emotional work,” said my friend NK, cracking an egg into the frying pan on the stove. I was staying in Southern California with her for a couple weeks between house sits.
I sat at the table with a cup of coffee, immobilized about how to proceed with my day, and grateful that she was making us breakfast. I was touched that she had the sensitivity to notice my deep disorientation and to speak to it. I hadn’t been able to voice what was going on.
She continued. “What you’re doing is clearing out emotional attachment. You’re touching memories that you’ve collected over a lifetime. You’re actually releasing remnants of your experiences. You’re detaching from the physical attachments of this life. You should be so proud of yourself.”
Wow. That sounded like A Truth. It was an assessment that gave some stature, some importance to the dusty work I was doing.
All I was doing was driving each day to my storage unit in a town 45-minutes away and rolling up its blue door. Then I stared at the boxes crammed floor-to-ceiling in the 10’ X 7’ space and almost collapsed into fears and tears. What should I even touch first? What would I do with each bin, once I had opened it? What if a bin or box was too heavy? What if I made a bad choice and regretted getting rid of something?
Six years ago in 2012, I unwittingly started my Nomadic Period by selling my three-bedroom mobile home in Southern California. Along with that house, I divested myself of almost all furniture, a huge number of books, and many of the accruements of normal home life.
And at that time I put into storage my art-work and the basic stuff I might need if I wanted to resume conventional living. That included basic kitchen things, bedding & towels, lamps, fans, a four-drawer file cabinet with important papers, photo albums, and darkroom equipment I loved using before the world turned digital. And honestly, more.
It had turned out to be a far bigger mound that I expected. A tall, strong friend helped me pile it very high—too bad for the stuff at the bottom.
That’s what I was facing last summer, June/July 2017.
NK repeated her points and I needed the repetition. I even took out a notebook to jot down her words. “You are unloading your lifetime of physical and symbolic attachments. They represent the body of emotions you’ve gone through, a collective body of emotions.”
Oh, if only she knew. Yes, little pieces of stuff—a diary, a photo, a piece of fabric, a book—in that storage unit held memories of the years I spent as a child in boarding school in India; the four lonely college years when I didn’t see my parents and had to pretend to myself that it didn’t matter that I didn’t have someplace to go for Christmas vacations; the years in the 1960s and 70s in New York City when my whole worldview shifted from righteous Christianity to righteous Marxism.
“If you get down, get sad, if you have heavy-duty feelings,” NK said, “remember you’re revamping your life. Everything you touch has a story, your story.”
Then she proposed an antidote: “You can tell your emotions, ‘I’ve held you all these years. You’ve served me. I thank you, and now you are free to go.’”
Brilliant! Gratitude as a game plan hadn’t occurred to me. Relief filled my body. You mean that as I let go of stuff, I might release the emotional attachment by thanking both–the physical things and the emotions attached to them–for their service to me?
Deal! Now there only remained the physical, schlepping work of trying out that strategy. Gratefully, I was willing. _______________________________________________________
How do you know when you don’t need something? As a rule, if you don’t use it for six months to a year, it can go. Quite simply, we don’t use what we don’t have use for. Most people are so full with what they don’t need that they have no space for the new. They are attached to how pretty something is or to its sentimental value or to how “desperately” they need it. So they live in their desperation instead of in the abundance of the supply. The Spiritual Warrior, on the other hand, is ruthless in letting go of this excess baggage.”
—John-Roger, Spiritual Warrior: The Art of Spiritual Living
(Letting Go of Stuff II—coming soon.)