If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen a few messages recently with either mentions of a big purge or just pictures of old somewhat eccentric stuff that I was unaware was still on my possession.
Some people seemed concerned and other intrigued about this whole cleaning stuff out business. To be honest, even I was slightly surprised. I've traditionally been a bit of a hoarder myself. Everything seemed to have sentimental value to me, so it's hard to let go of things when you're like that. Even if you do, you end up writing books like this one, so it takes a lot longer to declutter. But this year, oh this year. Exactly a year ago my whole universe was turned upside down, so to speak. My very-long-time relationship ended in the most unexpected and abrupt of the manners, and it took me a long while to get my shit together---both figuratively and literally, as I could only allocate some days in June to pick my belongings from the flat and bring them back to my old bedroom.
I then pretty much just dumped them there, and flew back to London. Since then, the notion of so many bags of stuff in my room increasingly annoyed me. Even more, meeting people from different parts of the world led me to challenge my old habits and trains of thought. I've done so many new things in the past months that I never imagined I would be doing and it makes me feel awesome and empowered, so why was I holding to and worrying about material stuff that I hadn't even bothered to look at in so many years?
Hence, I decided that the main goal for my Christmas holidays would be to get rid of as much stuff as possible.
I started discarding clothes first. That was somewhat easy, as I had clothes-decluttered a year ago already, and I like to pretend my clothes-declutterer-muscle is a bit more developed than it used to be. Two bags of clothes out later, I started looking at the bookshelves.
There were still lots of notes from my university degree, and even older than those. Why was I still storing them? I shuffled through: there was no point in keeping them. There are books written on all those topics which also examine the subjects in-depth. And, if I ever need some of the information I learnt in those subjects, I will probably look it up in the Internet. So what was the point in keeping them, other than sentimental value, again?
But for some reason there was no emotional attachment this time. I was looking at those papers and thinking they were just wasting room in my mind---ah, the agonising between throwing them away or not. Same happened with all the phone and bank bills from yore. Would I check who did I phone ten years ago? Probably not. So why was I storing all those things? Away they went.
That was when I wondered publicly if I should keep discarding all my letters and get rid of the personal ones too. I got two great answers:
I discarded everything when I moved to china in 2004. Took one suitcase, gave everything else away. Purge it, live in the present ---Troy Howard.
Keep the little things that inspire you to be a better person, and that's it. Discard all else. :) ---Angelina Fabbro.
To which I, unedited, rawly, answered:
yes guys, yes. I feel like a snake shedding old skin. Feels good.
Because I was actually feeling GOOD as I got rid of all those objects that were there in front of me for so many years, using physical and mental room. I was making room for new experiences, and that made me happy.
And then after I wrote that I remembered that about a year ago I sort of stumbled upon a snake while hiking. Back then we joked about the new Chinese Year being the year of the Snake, and maybe that would be a sign of good luck. The notion faded away as the Chinese New Year celebrations did, but now that the memory of that snake was suddenly, unexpectedly back and I was admittedly feeling a bit like a snake too, everything seemed to make sense, after all!
I set the two boxes of letters apart while I made up my mind on whether they inspired me to be a better person or not. In the meantime, I kept inspecting drawers and boxes of stuff. I started finding memos, notes, letters I wrote and never sent, things I thought which I don't think anymore. I could barely withstand reading them. It was the same feeling I get when I look at code I wrote ten years ago. I think: "I can do way, way better than that nowadays, so just discard it!" And I replace it with something that is leaner, faster, better. So I recognised that feeling, and knew all that stuff had to go away.
And in keeping with the metaphor, I certainly feel like there's a new me who's slid out of the old skin and can do much better than the previous me. And again, that feels AWESOME*.
In the end I kept the letters, even though I hardly recognised most of the names in them. Some were still amusing, so many years after. Others were silly, but had great stamps and envelopes (this was when we used proper stamps, not automated thermal stickers). I might go back at some point and dispose of the letters---once I read them all again.
I didn't give everything away yet---I kept the books because they inspire me in general, and some inspire me to be a better person too. With the difference that now I'm starting to consider giving books away once I'm done with them. Pass the knowledge around, and all that. Because it's about what you do, and not about what you store.
* and I know my British friends are tearing their skin out each time I drop an A- bomb but I just love how some of my North American friends say it as it never fails to cheer me up, so I'm going to keep using it anyway.