I’ve been a hoarder for over thirty years. It began from lack of money, and continued to prevent waste. I want to take responsibility for my consumption by reusing and recycling as much as possible. I like to make things, and I like to be prepared, so I have piles of cellophane and string and other useful things. This is good, right? Although maybe saving the little white string from every stack of paper bags I unpacked as a waitress BC (before child) is OTT?
I’m a visual person, a writer and an artist, and I have hundreds of books, drawings, writing and artwork as well as blank paper and canvases for my next creation. I keep my memories in visual form; real photos, boxes of diaries, homemade videos and a massive box of old calendars, letters and ticket stubs.
I also just moved from a house to a tent.
It’s a big tent. Two, if you count my son’s tent.
But it ain’t going to fit a houseload of stuff. So I’ve had a lot of sorting to do. It’s a foreign feeling to me, getting rid of stuff. I’ve spent my whole life acquiring things. I spent time, money and effort to find all this stuff. What do you mean, I have to get rid of it? It’s part of me. I don’t want to let go of myself!
I only have room to keep stuff I really love here. And I don’t want to just store it all somewhere. That would be missing the point of this opportunity for change. So I’m slowly going through decades of papers. This week I opened a dusty little handmade folder that I made in primary school, and found a stack of cubby plans.
When we moved from town to five acres in the country on my tenth birthday, I became passionate about cubbies. Until I left home, I was constantly planning how to build, decorate, fit out and plant around my cubby.
My pocket money started at $2 a week, so my budget was pretty tight.
But I had a plan. Can you tell I was the oldest of four siblings? I wasn’t always the most gracious big sister (sorry guys).
I had the interior all planned out. Complete with detailed colour scheme.
I worked out how to connect power and water, and make my own clay pots.
I couldn’t afford to buy books, but I could borrow them from the library. To save on photocopying costs, I copied out all the recipes and projects that interested me.
I had high aspirations.
I also took notes from stories I read, like My Side Of The Mountain.
And Little House On The Prairie. I was fascinated with how kids could live in the wilderness.
I’m a list-maker as well as a hoarder. Which is why I have multiple versions of lists I wrote over two decades ago. These are all lists of things to get for my cubby. They all include Bandaids, Medicream and Vaseline. Apparently these three things comprised a complete first aid kit.
Today, instead of lists of things to get, I have piles of things to give.
I have a treasured library, every kind of quality art material, and boxes of essential oils beyond my wildest preteen dreams.
I still have too much stuff, but I am making progress. I’ve given away dozens of clothes, toys, art gear, boxes of books, appliances and furniture. I’ve even thrown some of my lists in the recycle bin.
Living in a small space not only makes it impossible to keep unlimited amounts of stuff, it makes the clutter very obvious. There’s no cupboard under the stairs or spare room, or even a spare shelf. I like the basic spaciousness of this tent. There’s no room here for my wedding dress, or every hobby I’ve ever tried, or every piece of schoolwork I wrote since grade one. I can’t just shove them to the back of the wardrobe any more.
Moving things around several times also helps you to let go. It’s much easier to amass loads of stuff when you can stash it and forget about it. If you have to pack it, cart it and unpack it, over and over, you quickly start to question the use of owning it. Most of the travellers I know have less attachment to things.
Every time I’ve been moving or unpacking things, I reconsider if I need it. Does it bring me joy? Is it beautiful or useful? Another question that has been helpful for me is: ‘Am I ready to send this back to source?’ Wherever I can, I recycle, repurpose, compost, donate or give away. Knowing that someone else is going to benefit from it reduces my reasons for holding on.
When I’m tempted to just keep it all, I think of a girl at university that I greatly admired. Every day, she wore a different colourful zany outfit. She dyed her hair with a rainbow. One day I talked to her, and she told me she really wanted to leave home, but she owned too many clothes and couldn’t afford a place with enough storage. It struck me as ironic, that the incredible wardrobe that gave her such individuality was keeping her dependent on her parents. How interesting, the balance between enough stuff to live our lives the way that gives us meaning and joy, and enough emptiness to allow new beginnings. The dance between security and freedom.
Although it challenges me, shedding stuff is opening up physical and spiritual space in my life. It’s rearranging my interior, my values and possibilities, along with my physical exterior living space.
Catherine Maguire talks about decluttering as a death to your old self in her book ‘Tending Your Inner Garden’. Letting go of your identity and your roles, letting go of items that hold energy from past relationships or events, letting go of old patterns and habits.
‘It takes great courage to look at the aspects of your life that are no longer working, or stunting you, and let them go. Death to self is a courageous act of love. Do you love yourself enough to die and let go of the old to make space for something delicious and new, even if you don’t know what that new aspect of your being is yet?’
Wow. That’s a big ask! Do you love yourself enough to die? To surrender to not-knowing? To let things go, without knowing what will come next?
‘When we die to self, we allow everything that limits our inner radiance, our true Self, to fall away.’
Decluttering your physical space literally lets in the light. It’s an act of trust. That the world will provide for you, that you will have enough, that you can rely on other people. Removing stagnant and unused items from your life frees you psychologically as well as physically.
Even as I release things that no longer bring value to my life, and step into a new identity of tentdweller and community member, I find myself returning to my childhood. And I love that I kept these old plans and lists, because it brings my personal history back to me with vividly captured thoughts, values and dreams. As I read through them, I was struck how similar my reality is now to the dreams I had when I was eleven.
I actually live in a cubby in a paddock now, amongst the gum trees. I’m planting a little garden around it. I’ve learnt how to make soap and candles. I have the space set up for writing and drawing and dancing and sleepovers. When I moved here, I felt like I was changing the course of my life, rejecting common sense, moving too far from town, stepping away from ‘normal’ society. I took a chance with my child in tow, not knowing the people here or if we would be comfortable in a tent. Only to find I was coming home to myself. I’ve been planning for this my whole life.
When I was courageous enough to let part of myself die, I found my life effortlessly aligned with older values. And I continue to soften the edges of my attachment to things and people, so when things shift again my security will come from my connection with source rather than external circumstances.
What clutters your life? What stunts you, what is no longer working? What could you let go of?