This topic has been in the forefront of my own life lately, as we recently moved our belongings from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they have been in storage for three years. Some of you know that we sold our home there, bought an RV and lived and traveled in it throughout 2012. We settled here in Florida, where we rented for two years and just recently moved into our newly built home.
Before we left Santa Fe, we gave away a great deal of what we owned. What went into storage was furniture that we liked and thought we would use again, along with things that we weren't ready to part with for sentimental reasons or to which we were just still attached. Three years later, we honestly felt that if the storage unit had blown up, we wouldn't miss a thing that was in there! In fact, it would be a relief.
Despite having gotten rid of so much already, that 10' by 10' by 10' storage unit was still pretty full. This is how it looked when we opened it up last month after not having seen it for three years:
After living in an RV, you realize how little you need. The idea of bringing all that stuff to our new home felt overwhelming and suffocating. So we kept the pieces of furniture that we knew would fit here and gave away the rest. That included a beautiful antique church pew and a lovely chair that had been my grandmother's. I gave away my parents' wedding china and my mother's tea cups. I gave away my collection of dolls and all my books except my yoga and poetry books and a few books I have from my childhood, like Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins.
We went through as many boxes as we could open before moving day and ruthlessly purged. We were able to give most of it to an appreciative family and the rest was donated to charity. By the time the mover came, we had given away at least half of what was in storage - stuff that three years ago we just couldn't let go.
This is how it looked after we we purged:
And this is how we felt at the end of move day - no more albatross of stuff in storage 2000 miles away; no more $150 a month to store STUFF....
We didn't have the time (or the energy!) to go through all the boxes, so we knew that there would be more to get rid of when the moving truck arrived here in Florida. The idea of filling up our cabinets and closets actually made me feel depressed - I just couldn't do it. So when everything arrived here, we purged again.
There are some things we are delighted to have back and there are a few that we got rid of that we wished we hadn't - I was especially ruthless about purging and gave away our salad spinner, some bowls and a few other items that we actually had to go out and buy again. Oops!
The moral of the story is that we don't need all this stuff to be happy and it may even contribute to our unhappiness. We don't need two or three of everything. We don't need closets full of clothes we don't wear. We don't need every gizmo and gadget under the sun.
Throughout my life, I accumulated. I think most of us do. But eventually we realize (hopefully) that our value is not judged by how much stuff we have, or how much it is worth in monetary terms.
Letting go of things with sentimental value can be hard, but I realized that my mother's tea cups are not my mother. They have been in boxes for years. I don't even drink from tea cups, but maybe someone else would like to, or would just like to appreciate them for their beauty. Mom would like that.
Living with less made me realize how little I need - or want. Stuff weighs you down, it really does.
Aparigraha refers to this dynamic: that, when we let go of excess baggage, the space created is like a vacuum into which what we really need can flow to us. Over the last few years, I let go of defining myself, my worth, by my home and my stuff. It was tremendously freeing! I didn't even know if we'd ever own a home again, and that was all right. And when I let all that go, we were suddenly blessed with the unexpected opportunity to buy a lovely new home that beautifully suits our needs now. During this same time frame I also let go of friendships that no longer felt good and into that vacuum came new friendships that feel healthy and easy. I let go of what dragged me down, and suddenly lots of things that lifted me up came my way.
I know from personal experience that this phenomenon of opening our hands and letting go results in much better things coming our way, so I wonder why it is so difficult for us to let go - of anything. We hold on, we hoard, we cling - to stuff, to people, to places, to ways of living and doing things. Maybe we're afraid that if we let go of something we have, we'll never get anything as good again; that we'll never get what we want. We seem to have this idea that the bounty of the universe is limited and we won't get our share - like in the game of musical chairs, we'll end up the odd man out. But it isn't true. It's really a very abundant world. And the things of true value, like the beauty of nature, the ocean, a sunset, flowers and birds, love and friendship - those can be found everywhere, in vast abundance.