The New Year brings a desire for rebirth, which is why so many people—45% by some estimates—make New Year’s resolutions.
This year, Linda and I resolved to simplify our lives by clearing out clutter and paring down our possessions. We thumbed through high school yearbooks, through 30 year-old vacation photos, through journal entries and childhood toys, through the myriad reminders of the joy and pain that we’ve carried with us from place to place. And we talked about why we were keeping them.
January is a time of transitions, a time of reflection as we review the triumphs and disappointments of the departing year. The emotional kaleidoscope of Christmas-time gives way to stillness and introspection. It is the time of Janus.
In the Roman pantheon of gods, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, looking at both the future and the past at the same time. He watches over us during his namesake month as we resolve to lose weight, or to exercise, or to unpack another box full of memorabilia.
As the New Year approached, we examined moth-eaten teddy bears and faded photos of old flames. We talked about our memories and the intangibles associated with each object. A pattern emerged, and we noticed that the main emotion our old things evoked was sadness. So why were we holding onto them?
Navigating the New Year: One Face to the Future, One Face to the Past
By Tom and Linda Peters
Our culture encourages us to cling to our possessions. If our closets can no longer hold them, we can outsource them to climate-controlled storage facilities.
The self-storage industry in the United States generates more than $20 billion in annual revenue and is the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry.
We had formed lifelong attachments to physical things, to items we’d outgrown, to feelings and memories that were standing in the way of new growth. But we were reluctant to release these things because we were scared. Because we thought that our stuff could somehow define us, that our history was etched onto dusty relics from earlier life, that the strength of our identities depended on the continued possession of unused items. We worried that maybe we were not enough, just as we are, without overflowing boxes of documentary evidence.
For 2015, we’re resolving to keep only the things that we use, releasing the emotional weight of the things that no longer support us. We’re helping each other to move forward unencumbered, to replace old keepsakes with spiritual strength, and to trust in an abundant universe where a new path is always waiting.
5 Tips for Clearing Clutter from Your Life
1. Be kind to yourself.
Clearing out memorabilia can bring up strong emotions. Trust that these feelings are coming to the surface so that you can release them, and treat yourself with gentle care. If you are clearing things as a couple, always respect the feelings of your partner, even if they don’t make sense to you.
2. Make four separate piles: things to donate, things to sell, things you want to keep, and things to throw away. This is a kind way of handling objects that were once important to you. Sometimes it helps to know that an item that has been sitting in a box for years could be very useful to someone else.
3. Pace yourself.
Objects from childhood can carry great emotional weight, so it’s a lot more manageable to spread clutter clearing over several weeks. Set achievable goals, stick to a schedule, and take a short break if you get overwhelmed.
4. Don’t get rid of everything.
If you just can’t part with that old teddy bear, then keep it. Sometimes our keepsakes bring us real joy. Just take the opportunity to examine how the object makes you feel and consider getting rid of stuff that incites negativity.
5. Keep yourself in the present.
Remember that you are not the same person now that you were when that item was new. Celebrate where you are on your journey. Your memories, your history and your identity are all held inside you, not in the boxes in the back of your closet.