Excess Baggage

Last week, my siblings and I came together to clear out the home that we all grew up in, preparing to put it on the market. As children of the Great Depression, my parents threw nothing out. Every piece of rope, wire, nail or scrap metal had potential value in it. It took two dumpsters and seven of us an entire day to clear out the mountains of items that had accumulated in the attic and garage since my parents bought the house in 1970. Had my father not died of a heart attack, this surely would have killed him.

It’s not easy letting go of the house and the memories it contains. If the walls could speak, they would tell of birthday celebrations, home-cooked meals, late night vigils with sick children, a ninety year-old grandmother, three overly domesticated dogs, hermit crabs, wrestling, music, homework, and finally my mom’s recent hospice care.

As I watched my old wooden roll top desk go out into the dumpster, along with dozens of other childhood artifacts, I felt a brief stab of pain. This is it, I said to myself, the end of an era. Eventually, I stopped observing things with inherent meaning and just started seeing it for what it was – a bunch of old stuff. The memories are what are important, and they live on in me, not in a tricycle, luggage I traveled overseas with, a cheap pine desk or any other piece. Aside from some family photographs and books, I had to let it all go.

If you’ve ever cleaned out a closet or sent clothes to Goodwill, you’ll know how liberating this can be. The same is true with relationships. If you have some that are weighing you down, or are potentially destructive, then let them go. No one says a relationship has to last forever. If the dead leaves of a tree didn’t fall away, there would be no chance for buds to grow next season.

It helps too if we can remember that all things are in a permanent state of flux. Jobs, lovers, neighbors, even our health – all will come and eventually go. But we will have a much more enjoyable and comfortable passage if we don’t hold onto things too tightly. The river of life is constantly in motion. Clinging to the shore will only ruin your nails, and make you exhausted.

Each day we are given a choice: hold on or let go. And it’s not just the material junk in our attics. Old worries, wounds, and narratives we tell ourselves – eventually it all needs sorting. When I meet with new clients, one of the first things I’ll ask them is: “What stories can we lose here that may not be serving you well? Is there a way to loosen this grip?” How much farther can we travel if we are not weighed down by so many concerns and worries?

In the end, stuff is just stuff. Clinging to my small roll top desk would have felt childish, like the Peanuts cartoon where Linus holds onto his protective security blanket. Loosening my grip on the past helps me to make room for the future.

And that, as the saying goes, is where I want to live.