If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that my mindfulness journey has led me down the interesting path of minimalism.
I’ve played the Minimalists Game (#minsgame). I’ve taken carloads of items to Goodwill and Milwaukee Working. I’ve free-cycled a bunch of stuff and generally have begun to evaluate the utility of every item in my home and garage.
Over and over again, I’ve practiced letting go.
Sometimes, it’s relatively easy. The forgotten shoes in the back of the closet. The old binders and software boxes in my office. The dozens of cheap picture frames and candles. Sometimes, it’s a little harder. Will I use it again in the future? Will it ever fit again? Might the person who gave it to me realize that I don’t have it anymore?
But then, you come across stuff that is really hard to let go. And the irony? It isn’t necessarily the stuff you love.
Letting go changes the story you tell about yourself. As long as those 5 pound weights are sitting on your closet floor, you MIGHT still be the person who does arm exercises while watching TV. As long as you hang on to that shirt an old boyfriend gave you, you might still return to to being the person whose heart hasn’t been broken and abandoned. When you don’t deal with paperwork and receipts piling up on your desk, you can keep telling yourself that all your money problems aren’t really your fault and would be solved if you just got a raise.
The hardest things to let go aren’t necessarily the treasured possessions. The hardest things are those that support parts of our identity that we’re clinging to.
For me, the giant, daunting, emotional hurdle has been books. And boy do I have a lot of books.*
As a child who loved to read, I cherished the few books I had and read them over and over again. I got rid of my college textbooks ages ago, but classics are still on my shelf, with their faded highlights and notes in the margin. As an adult, I’ve fed my curiosity with poetry, literary fiction, biographies, self-help, business books, science fiction and more. Nearly every room in my house has bookshelves, and my books live in neat rows, organized by type and then by author.
Essentially, I live in a Barnes and Noble.
While I do still have some books that I re-read or reference on a semi-regular basis, the truth is of course, that most of them will never be read by me again. So why hang on to them?
After much thought, I think it’s hard for me to let go of the books because it’s also letting go of that childhood part of me who coveted books so desperately. Letting myself read ALL THE BOOKS should be soothing that empty feeling, but instead it keeps the memory of that empty feeling alive.
I’ve made a start. Asking myself if I liked a book or not didn’t make much of a dent. (If I didn’t “like” it, it would have been gone long before now.) So now I’ve gone through every shelf and asked myself “Did this book change me?” Asking the question allowed me to acknowledge that, while many books are interesting and well-written, not everything marked a pivotal part of my personal development. And suddenly those books were easier to box up and donate.
I think the next question will be “Who could benefit from this story/resource?” These wonderful books are languishing on a shelf when they could be inspiring and entertaining someone else. My next shift will likely be to look at giving away the bulk of my library as an act of generosity.
But that’s for the future.
Today, I’m walking around like a person who’s just cut her hair pixie-short after decades of keeping it long. No matter how many people say it looks great, it feels oddly vulnerable.
De-cluttering is easy. Letting go is another thing entirely.
* “A lot” is a relative term. I estimate my library, pre-minsgame, was around 1300 books. I’ve reduced it by 1/3 so far.