A couple of years ago I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I had the book on my shelf for a long while before finally picking it up. I would eye it from time to time, suspiciously, and with a touch of fear. One week it seemed as though every person I spoke with said that I simply had to read this book.
“Okay, Universe – I hear you”, I thought.
I sat down and read the entire thing in about eight hours. The emotional roller coaster that it took me on before even starting the process was wild. Deep fears surfacing at the very thought of facing all of my stuff.
What if it all left me? I’d be left with absolutely nothing? Why was that so terrifying?
As I read, I kept focusing on what would be lost. My deeply wired loss aversion kicking into overdrive, ramping up the panic and nervous system responses of fight flight freeze.
Without losing momentum I started the process. I started it and followed it exactly as outlined in the book (different for me as I usually try to get out of systems and structure, not into them). This structure worked for me.
The first day, sitting in a living room heaped with every article of clothing I owned, I picked up each item and asked if it sparked joy. If it didn’t, it left my apartment immediately. If it did, it stayed.
Item after item did leave and item after item sparked joy.
At the end of going through all of my clothes and packing up at least eight garbage bags to donate, I was absolutely emanating joy. Every single cell felt alive with joy and beaming and bursting forth.
The entire time I was reading the book I didn’t once consider that some things would stay. I imagined being left with nothing and that would be miserable. I focused on what would be lost and assumed that loss would be painful and scary. I didn’t once consider what I would gain – the joy. That amazing swell and light right up through my heart, down my arms, and throughout the rest of my being.
In the months that followed, I finished off the process. I did allow for a wide range of joy at the time – from the smallest spark or wobble of it to the times when my arms would go shooting straight up in excitement, and I’d nearly burst.
So much stuff left me.
So much stuff left me and I loved that it walked out the door. Became dispersed out into the world.
What was left with me was perfect. I had more than enough. I felt lighter, happier, and everywhere I looked the energy of joy beamed back at me.
My brain had liked this process of decision-making as well. I could feel it rewiring as I went through the stuff. My, perhaps underdeveloped, capacity for joy grew.
Beyond stuff, it did change my life. In the same way that what happens on the mat in a yoga practice translates into the world, this practice – this yoga of letting go – helped me gain more confidence in letting go of the bigger things that no longer served me. The kind of work I was doing, and eventually my apartment and way of living. It was constructed all around attachment and fear of not-having. Feelings of deep insecurity and panic at losing what I had built or of losing everything. Fear of being cast out onto the street. Those fears and beliefs just didn’t hold up any longer.
The structures shifted. I no longer needed to be tied to something (like a job) that once served me and now, no longer did. It’s almost as if the practice of aparigraha or non-attachment stepped to the forefront and eventually I became more open to impermanence. I started to feel safe within myself instead of seeking false trust outside of myself through having “stuff”.
The fear of letting go healed through this process in many ways allowing new aspects to be revealed recently when cleaning out and packing up my apartment.
I felt confident that the next right step was to leave a place I had loved and that had brought me so many gifts and as I packed up I started to notice two patterns continue to appear. In one pattern, I realized that I keep things like birthday cards and some other artifacts simply because of the person who gave them to me and that they will die one day. It sounds morbid and yet there it is. I’d circle around, hesitant to let go even if the card no longer brought me joy because one day that person won’t be around any more and I might want to look at the card. The ultimate fear of letting go – a fear of death.
I’m letting myself notice that and keeping the cards for now.
The other that struck me was I kept a lot of larger items to be put in storage. Like my bed frame and other larger pieces. I kept hitting a wall, uncertain of the joy and tied up instead in how much they had cost me in the past. Why couldn’t I just sell them? Let them go? I’d let so much else go over the past few years. Why not these?
On the very last night before the movers came it hit me as I stood there, surrounded by boxes and with a near primal urge said “why am I keeping any of this stuff? Why not let it all go?”.
It hit me: I’m attached to the suffering that I experienced in acquiring those things. It felt like such a long process to be able to afford them and I want to avoid that pain – that suffering again by holding on mixed with the fear that I won’t be able to replace them. The fear of not having enough still sneaking in there.
As soon as I saw the reason why I wanted more than anything in that moment to not keep a single thing.
Of course, it’s “just stuff” and that stuff itself isn’t want interests me. It’s the psychology and energy that the stuff illuminates and how that can translate into more of my life. How I could be so afraid of letting go that I instead choose to shut out joy? How I could let myself remain connected to suffering from the past instead of letting it go and seeing what the future might bring (without attachment to what it might be)? How could I prefer to stay stuck in past beliefs that lack is more dominant than abundance? What is it that I’m afraid of losing in death – my own or of those I love? Does keeping the birthday cards act as a shield to the pain I’m already anticipating and creating at losing people? Or do I already keep them so that my future self can find them and be reminded of the grief and loss at losing them? Or the joy of knowing them? Or Or both?
How much more am I limiting myself through what I carry around physically and within?
I’m not berating myself with these questions or to judging myself at all – they’re simply to notice that this is where I am right now and that it’s okay. To learn that I am used to and like contracting myself around the pain and events from the past and potential events in the future – and I’d like to do that less. To also understand that these ways of being are blocks to energy and to flow. They’re ways of staying stuck. Showing me blocks and stagnant energy that I’m holding for some reason – perhaps it was helpful in the past and I no longer need it. In holding them, I can see that I’m blocking movement and letting myself be completely open and present to what currently is.
As I become able to let go, more and more parts of me seem to open. More ways of living appear.
I become empty and full at the same time.