When Life Moves On, Move With It
Have you ever found yourself going through old paperwork and feeling strangely nostalgic about it?
Recently, I was cleaning out some files and found receipts and paperwork for a remodel we did about 14 years ago, in another house. I started to read through the notes and look at the old paint sample cards and fabric swatches I had filed. Suddenly, I realized that my brain was playing a trick on me. I hadn't seen these files in years and wasn't going to be looking at them again. Was I feeling a bit pensive because we completed this project when both of our kids were in their late teens and still living with us? Was I feeling wistful about the house we were thankful to sell in 2012? Whatever the reason for this odd attachment, it made no sense to keep these outdated files.
Sure, those were happy days, and finishing that big job gave my husband and me a great feeling of accomplishment. But these are happy days too, and I can tackle new projects that make me feel purposeful, challenged, and competent.
How attachments grow
I think the lesson of the file folder is that if I keep something long enough, it will seem sentimental, even if it wasn't sentimental to begin with. I develop an attachment over time, even if the item doesn't really merit one.
This is something we all need to understand. Keep that tee shirt long enough, and it won't seem like something that's ready to be turned into a car rag – it will morph into a memento of that band you used to like. Keep that luggage long enough and it won't seem like something that your daughter used to use but doesn't need anymore – it will become a relic of past trips that evoke fond memories. It becomes that much harder to donate or offer in your next garage sale.
If we let it, our stuff will take up all of our time and energy. There is always something to clean, fix, sort, file, organize, or maintain in some way. And it takes no effort at all for things to become piled-up and disordered (proving the Second Law of Thermodynamics).
That's why having less is so freeing, and why constantly acquiring more is a form of indentured servitude. And in our culture of abundance and affluence, it takes a certain amount of grit to reduce that flow of stuff.
Maybe you think minimalism sounds too extreme.
Maybe you don't think you're a minimalist because you don't live with white walls and white furniture, or one pot and one pan, or a ten-piece wardrobe, or zero books and one hobby (meditation, perhaps, or maybe yoga).
But as bloggers Liz and Eva at PrairieGarden.net have written, "Anyone who consciously tries to live with less in our current culture could be called a minimalist to some degree." If you like to buy just enough, creatively repair and recycle items, are always conscious of how much you already own, and have regular times of purging and decluttering, then you are a minimalist.
I am a minimalist. So I shredded those files along with a few others. I found a home for some old opera and classical music scores. (Yes, once upon a time I performed them, but my grandchildren don't need to come upon them someday after I'm dead in order to know that Grandma could sing.) I donated some shoes I bought that look cute but for various reasons are rarely worn. And I withstood the impulse to buy new wall décor, a scented candle, and some cute springtime dessert plates.
When I resist attachment to shoes, plates, and even tangible reminders of past challenges and successes, I not only free myself of clutter and chores, but I make room for something new and different.
Looking back can be rewarding, but finding joy today and hope for tomorrow is even more important.
Decluttering doesn't undo your accomplishments.
If you're an Oscar- or Grammy-winner, go ahead and display that award forever! But for everyone else: When life moves on, consider moving with it.
Updated August 2023