Bindu Wiles asked me to be a contributing writer as part of The Shed Project, an effort in cleansing your life and living minimally, to say the least. Having packed one bag to travel the world for over one year, and later moving from NYC to Paris, I have learned to let go and the journey that comes with it. (Thank you Bindu! And good luck to fellow Shedventurers.)
The Journey of Letting Go
I always found great comfort in my stuff, even as a child. Things that remind me of a person or a place. Things that, to me, hold emotional value. Notes, ticket stubs, a drawing on a napkin, a love letter scribbled in haste, a valentine’s day card from my father. I think of these as sacred pieces of a puzzle that compose my life.
As I got older I became more selective with my mementos. Living in close quarters in NYC played a major role. As did the accumulation of stuff. Closets filled with fabrics for clothes I never had the time to make and store bought clothes I never had the occasion to wear. Shelves filled with books I had not yet read but surely would one day. And all the hidden spaces containing mementos I had collected throughout the years.
I often thought if I had to evacute my apartment in an emergency what would I take? Surely my 7 photo albums and 11 hand-written journals. And that huge box of memories I’d been saving since the 8th grade. These were all pieces of my past. But how was I supposed to grow and become by holding on to them? And weren’t they all part of me anyway, even without their physical presence? Thankfully, I never had to flee my apartment.
As the years went by, I began to feel more encumbered by my stuff. Yet I could not let go of it. I had very skillfully attached sentimental value to each and every item. I remembered the moment I bought it, or who had given it to me and for what occasion.
I felt weighed down by my possessions and dreamt of feeling light and unencumbered. This was one of my motivations for throwing away a quarter of my belongings, packing a bag and hitting the open road. One year of travel taught me just how little you really need. And how empowering is the detachment from stuff. I was reminded again and again how much more important people and places are, and space in which to create new memories.
Post travels I returned to NYC and was reunited with my stuff. The two thirds that remained. Was I happy to see it all again? Not really. I hadn’t missed it and not once did I feel like traveling back into my history to dig out a past memory. I had created too many new ones.
The greatest lesson in letting go of stuff came when I fell in love. I was moving to Paris to begin a new life. Again, it was time to pack, not simply for one year but quite possibly, forever. I was forced to open each box of memories I had been saving, even those momentos from my travels, to revisit my life and for the most part, let it go.
I sorted through the bulk of my possessions, mostly clothes and books, with a trusted friend. Someone emotionally detached from my past. Two-thirds of my wardrobe ended up in a mountainous heap on the floor, ready for the taking. I could not bare to throw these once relevant pieces of my life away. Instead, I gave them to friends, neighbors and those in need, free to create memories of their own.
In terms of my most personal stuff, many long nights were spent living in the past, confronting chapters of my life I had not thought about in years. Filled with nostalgia, I reflecting on the life I had created and all the momentos that were left as a result. I very carefully selected keepsakes and placed them in a box titled ‘my past’. Well aware that irrelevant of what I discarded or stored, these memories will always remain a part of my life. This process of letting go of so many chapters of my personal history resulted in a feeling of freedom I had only briefly encountered during my travels.
A few of my most revered remembrances, the scrap book composed from my travels, my most recent journal, an envelope of childhood photos, I put aside. They would join me in Paris.
I left NYC with two suitcases, and never looked back.