Letting go of stuff: Part 1

Like many people, I have too much stuff.

My stuff might be different than your stuff. As a mid-thirties person who’s unattached and childless and renting, my load might look different than yours. But the point stands.

The number of items that I’ve carted from place to place over the past ten-plus years despite rarely or never actually using them defies logic. They’ve become a weight.

And, like many people, I have a bizarre attachment to stuff. The association of material objects with people, experiences, memories, and even a sense of self-identity, makes it difficult to part with possessions.

My previous attempts to purge (like, really purge) have failed. I get caught up in those associations and it doesn’t take long for anxiety to creep in. Suddenly it feels like it’s not just the physical object that I’m parting with.

My internal dialogue during these attempted mass purges has tended to go something like this:


RATIONAL BRAIN: You have never once worn this item. Give it away.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but there might be an occasion when I’ll want to wear it!
RATIONAL BRAIN: You’ve had this item for five years and that occasion hasn’t arisen in that time. You haven’t worn it. You’re not going to wear it. Give it away.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but what if I give it away and then there’s an occasion…?
RATIONAL BRAIN: What occasion? You have other ‘special occasion’ clothes – and you haven’t worn them in years either, by the way. Give it away. There’s someone out there who will make use of it right now.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: True. But… I don’t know…
RATIONAL BRAIN (rolling eyes): What about those pants? You haven’t worn them – haven’t been able to fit in them – for years. Give them away.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but those were my absolute favourite pair of jeans! They are perfectly worn in and still in good shape. So soft and comfortable…
RATIONAL BRAIN: They would be comfortable if they fit. They don’t. Give them away. There’s someone out there who will make use of them right now.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but what if I lose fifteen pounds and want to wear them…?
RATIONAL BRAIN: There are other pants out there.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but these pants remind me of all the times from a certain period in my life and all of the people I spent time with while wearing them. I made memories in these pants.
RATIONAL BRAIN: Giving away a pair of old jeans doesn’t negate your life history or relationships.
RATIONAL BRAIN (rolling eyes): Like talking to a brick wall…
BRAIN: What about grandma’s things? Her sweater? Her jacket? Her shoes?
BRAIN: The ones that I haven’t worn?
BRAIN: Yes. Those ones.
BRAIN: She wore those. Her chest and arms and feet pressed against them, filled them up.
BRAIN: Yes. She did. They did.
BRAIN: She was here. She’s not now, but she was. And I’m not ready to let the things that she filled up go.
BRAIN: Neither am I.


RATIONAL BRAIN: You’ve had this book for fifteen years and haven’t read it. Give it away.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but my parents gave it to me for Christmas in 2003! They put thought into buying it for me. One of these days I will read it!
RATIONAL BRAIN: If you were going to read it then you would have by now. Give it away.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but what if it’s really interesting and I’ll miss out on something by not reading it?
RATIONAL BRAIN: You haven’t read this book in the decade-and-a-half that it’s been sitting on your shelf. Give it away. There’s someone out there who will make use of it now.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: Yes, but giving away a book that my parents gave to me fifteen years ago and having never once read it makes me a terrible daughter!
RATIONAL BRIAN: You’re being ridiculous. You’re not a terrible daughter – and, even if you were, being a terrible daughter has nothing to do with an unread book. Your relationship with your parents has nothing to do with a physical object.
IRRATIONAL BRAIN: True. But… But… Is it just me or are the walls beginning to close in?
RATIONAL BRAIN (rolling eyes): Like talking to a brick wall…

I could go on, but you get the point.

At the end of the day, my anxiety about parting with unused possessions has (in most cases) nothing to do with the physical objects themselves.

My discomfort and fear is rooted in the difficulty of letting go of what was.

The (often self-induced) pain of resisting change.

The challenge of accepting an unknown future, even when that’s an exciting prospect.

All the while aware that it’s a privileged position to be in to have anxiety about having too many possessions. Aware that my possessions are the product of labour from people all over the world.

Aware that, perhaps, if I felt more connected in my relationships and to my place in this world, then this stuff might not carry so much weight.

And that’s why I’ve had a hard time parting with stuff: I have a hard time letting go, and making sense, of stuff.