Layers of Letting Go


We come into this life naked, with nothing. We leave the same way.

Throughout our lives, we accumulate. Accumulate. Accumulate. It is as though this accumulation validates our existence on this earth. Our collections make us somehow feel more valuable, or more fulfilled. Our clothes and accessories express who we think we are or want to be. But these are just costumes; our possessions are the props. Our homes, our workplaces are the stage sets of our lives. And we are the actors and actresses "full of sound and fury".

There is an ebb and flow of this life process. We accumulate, and then we let go. We achieve, and then we move on. This pattern is not just in the tides; it is everywhere in nature. Trees blossom, leaves fall. Feathers grow, then moult. We eat, we flush. We tense, we relax. There is this constant swing of movement from full to empty, empty to full, and back again.

Within each extreme are layers. It is like a child's swing. At first, the to and fro is slow. Then it gains momentum. Progressively, the swing flies higher and higher, alternating between one direction, then the opposite direction.

There are so many rags to riches stories, and millionaires who have gone bust. The greatest population experiences more moderate waves in between. The degrees may vary, but we still swing from one end of a spectrum to the next. Even if it just means drifting from paycheque to paycheque. There is still that ebb and flow.

For years, I have only really noticed the losses. I have had many times of 'starting over', completely from scratch. These were some of the happiest times in my life! I had a clean slate; I could completely reinvent myself! Other times, my losses seemed to be thrust upon me. I felt like the victim of a force 5 tornado, with my life completely flattened into nothing. And still I rose out of it, like a phoenix, to create more stuff yet again.

Stuff can be burdensome after a while, and so we must take every care to appreciate what we have while we have it. The minute we no longer value something, its shelf life is expired, and we must throw it out. Otherwise, we are needlessly carrying junk that is preventing the entrance of more of the goodness we crave.

When we finally take a good, honest look at what we own – all that is stuffed in the back of closets and at the bottom of the shed – we are amazed by what we have acquired and totally forgot we had. Some are wise enough to get rid or start making use of these things (or passing them on to someone who can truly value them), while others hang on for dear life, in case that 'one day' may come along when they will need that particular doodad.

This kind of possessiveness is truly a sickness.

We are assuming that we will live forever. We are mistrusting the world, the universe, God and providence. We are believers in lack: that doodad may never come my way again, so I better keep it, 'just in case'. We store, and we pay for storage, for items we forget we own.

"Use it, or lose it." Or lose something else, because you haven't made room for the something that you really love and want. You've occupied that space with the useless doodad, which, face it, is never going to be in fashion again, will never get repaired, and isn't worth the cost of the plastic bag you've stuffed it into.

It is shocking when you go into someone's home and rifle through their stuff to see what they have kept over the years. This is something I did when I moved back in with my mother for 2 months in 1998. She kept dozens of old empty glass jars. She kept clothes that she hadn't fit into for decades and most likely never would, (not to mention the styles were embarrassing). Worn out shoes, broken ornaments. I was pretty brutal going through stuff with her, forcing her to face why she kept certain things. She did release a lot of stuff, but still the congestion drove me mad and made it easy for me to move away again.

When she passed away in 2000, I was forced to revisit the mayhem and sort it all out for her. Newspaper clippings that seemed pointless to keep, and receipts for things justifying purchases made in the 1950s were among the bizarre things found. What's the point in hoarding such things?

My boyfriend’s grandmother passed away a few months back, at the respectable age of 94. Now, it can't be said she had too much stuff, but what she left is of no monetary value to anyone. And in fact, there was nothing she seemed particularly attached to emotionally, either; nothing you would want to retrieve and keep because it reminded you of her. She was who she was, totally and completely, without any of those items to define her. Although it will be strange, I suspect it will not be too difficult for the family to let go of the stuff she left behind. Her life is in our hearts.

On the other hand, my mum's attachment to her stuff prolonged and intensified our grief. She was gone, but having been engrossed by hoarding, her life was still so deeply ingrained in her stuff. It was as though she was still hanging onto these things beyond the grave, making it all the more difficult for us to let go of them also. Things that were otherwise meaningless to us, gave us guilt trips about getting rid of it. This is wrong. Stupid little items were fought over. It destroyed my family.

For a few years before her passing, I had been using the smallest bedroom of her home to keep all my things that were too big to fit into my suitcases when I moved to the UK. My whole life up until then, was contained in that room. And although I had made many major moves before, letting go of probably between 70-90% of my stuff in those moves, I still had a lot of junk. And a lot of treasures.

Facing my mother's death meant facing my own mortality. I realised there would come the day that I'd be gone and someone would rifle through my stuff to make decisions about their fate. My sister clearly didn't want the job, forcing me to empty the room of any evidence of my life. It was as though I was the one that died.

Over the next 3 years I was coming to terms with the loss of these items, the most precious of which were my paintings. I put some things into a tiny public storage place, but by the time I was ready to ship it all to the UK, I had pretty much forgotten what was there. I knew I had saved some books, toys and ornaments, most of my photographs and a few paintings. The main pieces included a child-size rocking chair given to me when I was 3 years old, and an old cabinet that belonged to my parents, which stored some memories for me.

It's been about 6 months now since the last of my possessions arrived from Canada, and slowly bit by bit I have been sorting through them. Already, I have given much of it to charity. Some things have been designated for a boot sale. Others I have relished to destroy: including every last bit of that rocking chair, which I realised, only represented hurt in my childhood. The cabinet will go, too, as well as things I had previously fought tooth and nail to keep. They just do not mean anything to me anymore. These are the layers of letting go.

Sometimes we need to let go in steps. I have gone through an editing process of my possessions over the last few months, each time thinning out more and more. Each time, truly questioning, "why am I keeping this?", "how does this make me feel?" and "what does this mean to me?" If the emotions associated with an object aren't totally positive, good and wholesome, out it goes. I no longer have any room in my life (or patience) for things that disturb, disrupt, distract or destroy me. I don't need negative triggers. I want a clean life. Without the emotional – or physical – baggage.

It is work, going through stuff. Many times, I'd rather close the door and ignore it. Doing that is like closing the door on yourself. You need to deal with your issues, and you need to deal with your stuff. Somehow, the two go hand in hand. When you face your stuff, you truly do face your issues.

Learning to let go is a very profound lesson, and something we all must do, and on many levels. Every moment of our lives, as we acquire, we are learning also, that one day, we must let go of this, too.

Appreciate, utilise to the fullest, each thing, in each moment. Once you no longer are doing that, release it on its way. With blessings. It has a life purpose, too. Set it free, and you will free Your Self.

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