“One day I looked around me and realised there was no room for me in that room. I was surrounded by stuff”.

I coached someone recently on what was stopping them clearing out some of their belongings, when they knew they had too much ‘stuff’. As is often the case in coaching, my client’s situation mirrored something pertinent to my own life. I have been clearing out some of my own belongings in preparation for moving house. It’s an emotional, challenging but ultimately liberating experience. A hoard of childhood mementos, photographs of old drinking buddies, collections of found and interesting objects, paper trails from various careers, books read, essays  written, school reports .. ‘a record of my life, interests and loves across different times’. Evidence of a life lived. There are also clothes I like but don’t wear and books I will never get around to reading; ‘an aspirational life’ that doesn’t quite fit now, so I don’t get around to living it.

A couple of years ago I went through a similar process, clearing out the things I was keeping because ‘they’d be useful one day’ or ‘just incase’. I have not missed ‘the useful collection’ and I’m positive that I will not miss ‘the sentimental collection’. During the clearance process we tend to revisit memories which then install a greater significance and identification with the things we are trying to get rid of, making it more challenging. These difficulties relate to letting-go:

  • fear that we will regret getting rid of something that is irreplaceable;
  • loss of the familiar and reassuring;
  • making decisions about what is really important to us now;
  • recognising that we’ve changed, so things don’t have the same meaning or interest as they once did;
  • fear that our life story will somehow be diminished without keeping hold reminders of moments passed;
  • feeling that our identity and it’s expression may be less tangible within our space, and so to others;
  • trusting that the process, although difficult, will create a new sense of freedom.

We surround ourselves with objects and keep sakes to externalise our journey, make it real and meaningful and to render it and our self visible to others. It’s evidence of our past and of our existence. It enables us to revisit with nostalgia times we have lost; ‘the good times’ we once had. However nostalgia isn’t an entirely positive experience. I looked at ornaments I’d kept since my childhood with new eyes. I don’t even like them. I’ve invested meaning in them. They remind me of my childhood. But I know I was young once. I remember. In recognising that objects do not keep and are not our memories, we are less tied to keeping the material evidence.

The hermit crab discards and acquires new shells (from others) as it grows, as those with too-small shells cannot grow as fast as those with well-fitting shells. The hermit crab doesn’t keep a stash of old shell mementoes. Our environment needs to be space, to allow for the present, to allow for the future. Be selective about what’s in it, about what to hold as important and be clear about why you are keeping things, don’t keep for the sake of it. Our home and our belongings are not an archive, a memoir or a map of who we are. ‘I am not this stuff.’

I’m advocating for the present over the past.

Be clear about what you love now. Get clearing. Create space for who you are now.