Stuff: The Gifts That Just Keep Giving

Janet NealJanet M. Neal – Guest Blogger

My daughter goes off to college next week. My house looks like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Staples crashed and their contents are strewn everywhere. What once looked like an organized garage now has the feel of an overcrowded thrift shop, one where you have to weave your way amongst the items to get anywhere. The mantra I used frequently when my children were small, “This too shall pass,” has been brought back into good use.

Thinking we were getting away from the pre-college sendoff anxieties, we set off on a road trip last week to visit my family in Michigan. My daughter and I have become quite the road warriors of late and have a comfortable rhythm and routine, which includes stops at multiple Panera’s along the way (I can tell you the good ones…). Seeing my sisters and my aging, yet active, parents was indeed a joy and a reminder of what is truly important in life.

And then my mother said, “Come in here and get your stuff”.

What?! I still had “stuff” at their house? I remember the day when my mom (nearly gleefully) handed me a box of my “stuff” when I had bought my first house. “Now you have a place for it!” she said, barely disguising her delight. I remember feeling miffed – shouldn’t my childhood things stay in my childhood home? Forget the fact that my parents were no longer living in my childhood home…it just seemed like they should WANT to keep some mementos of me! Evidently old calendars and the contents of my desk were not high on their list of remembrance items! And, as is often the case, I now get it.

What my mother had to give me was my baby booties, my first dress, a family christening gown, and a t-shirt from our pool club. The first three brought waves of sentimentality and the last just a big puzzlement. Why in the world would she save this t-shirt? And now what was I going to do with it? And then I thought about my own home…

With three children in early adulthood, I cannot WAIT to give them their “stuff”! I have been saving their toys, clothes, drawer contents, and mementos for years, which is doing nothing but taking up valuable space in my house. But this latest “gift” from my mother made me stop and wonder why I’m saving them. Is it truly for them, or is it for me? Are they really going to want it? Am I looking for appreciation in the fact that I have kept and schlepped boxes from home to home over the years for them? Or am I just not ready to face the reality of their growing up and away? Am I not ready to let go?

Our “stuff” is so much more than physical items. It contains emotional energy: our hopes and fears and beliefs and misbeliefs. Why we hold on to things is often more important than the item itself. I was reflecting on people in war-torn areas who are forced to leave everything behind. Will they survive without it? Absolutely. Would I? Yes, indeed. And yet why do I find it hard to get rid of those files from a business I had 10 years ago, or a book I’ve never read but is signed by the author, or a broken clay piece made by one of my kids? I certainly don’t need them. It’s all about the attachment, the emotional energy, and what I get out of it. And the ingrained belief that “maybe I’ll need this someday.”

The way to start this process is by awareness. Take a look at the things you can’t bear to toss. What is it about it? Be honest. Do you REALLY need it, or it is an emotional need? If you believe you MAY need it in the future, how true is that statement? Is it replaceable? What is the cost of buying it again versus the energetic (and perhaps literal) carrying cost of holding on to it? If it’s something you don’t need, but you do want to hang on to the memory, take a picture of it! It will take up a lot less room and will trigger the same reaction within you.

Within a week I’ll have a lot less stuff in my house when my daughter leaves. It’s a true good news/bad news story. I know having a cleaner, clearer space will bring relief, but the absence will leave a void. If I allow it, it will also give me the impetus, and allow me the time, to begin in earnest the task of continued release of that which no longer serves me. With a deep breath, a commitment to allowing myself to clear my path (and my home), and the knowledge that “this too shall pass”, I am ready to begin!

Anyone want a Jolly Rogers Pool Club t-shirt?

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