By Katherine Warner
When I was a young girl I saved the darndest stuff. In the second grade I actually had a collection of straw wrappers—not the straws themselves, but the straw wrappers. My dutiful friends went to great, sometimes comical lengths in order to save their straw wrappers for me. I can now look back and see origins of a hoarding habit. Over the years I amassed a number of unique items for various collections, always with some well-intentioned use for later. Usually for an “art project.”
I also had a parent who was a hoarder in his own right. My father, the antiquer, took me to the flea market on the regular where I was coached in the art of the “wheel and deal” which always yielded loads of stuff. My mother on the other hand was NOT a hoarder. She was quite the opposite. And she amazed me. She could walk into my room armed with a huge plastic trash bag and throw away nearly anything, with no remorse or flinching whatsoever. While she was not the greatest environmentalist, I had to admire her non-attachment to material goods.
Now as an adult I seek more simplicity in my life around stuff. I’m not just talking about the material “stuff” that clogs up my closets and living space, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual stuff, too. I’m talking about the “junk of the heart.” It’s that letting-go part that always gets me. What if I could use the item again in the future? But I’m already attached to the item, emotionally involved with the item. I mean it’s lived in my possession for over 10 years now! How could we ever part? Yet this is precisely why we must, because I have grown too attached. Life is about impermanence, and this has been a lesson that I struggle to get. Letting go has often been a process for me, not an all-at-once experience.
So what better way to usher myself along than to embark on a year of LETTING GO—by committing to releasing AT LEAST 1 item per day in an effort to simplify my life. Yes, straw wrappers included. My aim is to let go and de-clutter, allowing me to live more fully present in the moment while trusting that exactly what I need will be provided as I need it, rather than hoarding and saving “just in case.”
Since I started this practice, things have definitely been shifting. Some time ago I wrote on a little scrap piece of paper: “To keep clearing is essential.” This has become one of my favorite mantras as I have continually cleared and cleared away. Now that some months have passed and I’ve significantly changed the energy in my home by getting rid of things that no longer serve, and creating my space to be more in alignment with my authentic Self, things have shifted likewise in my life. After a year-long conflict with a very significant person in my life, we are now starting to see one another for who we really are. It’s been a journey and a process, and I believe it would not be happening had I not cleared and created space for it.
I also recently got together with some close friends at Ocean Beach in San Francisco to have a “burn baby burn” bonfire party to celebrate the letting go of unnecessary clutter in our lives. Doing this practice with a group is really empowering. It allowed me some support and showed me that other people really are hanging on to the same stuff! Letters from exes? Check. Old bills that never got paid? Check. Old photos that no longer serve any real purpose other than to bring you down? Check. Journal entries that contain toxic amounts of negativity? Check. Burn, baby, burn. Toss it in, watch it transmute. I really did walk away feeling “lighter and freer.” Quite literally! I walked all the way down to stairwell #15 from where I parked near The Cliff House, and I lugged my oversized bag full of crap to unload along with three large logs for the fire. As I walked, the sun was setting and it was a good time to reflect on why I’ve carried these burdens with me for so long. It was a beautiful and physical metaphor. I left there with an empty bag and skipped all the way back to my car. May I be lighter and freer for it, one day at a time.
Katherine Warner is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Palo Alto, CA, where she resides with her son, boyfriend, and two chipper Chihuahua mixes. She loves yoga, meditation, gardening, hiking, refurbishing furniture, and working on her minimalist skills!
Photo of Katherine by Coriander Stasi Photography.