For most of my life I had what you would call a "collective nature". Whether it was Legos, Hot Wheels, books, etc. If a set existed you had better believe I wanted them all, and would work obsessively to do so. Problem was as soon as I had collected all of whatever I was pining for at the time, boredom would creep in almost immediately and I'd be obsessing over something else.
Now my whole life I was taught never to throw anything away, and anything you'd worked hard to obtain somehow came with an unspoken sentimental attachment so you could never part it. So when you pair a rampant fixation for collecting with a never part with anything mentality it's easy to see how you can quickly end up with a lot of crap.
The breaking point for me came around 2012 after my grandma passed. Unlucky for me a large part of helping to clean up and divide her estate fell to me, and the experience almost broke me.
For starters there was an incredible amount of junk. My grandma was never a fan of throwing much out so there were tons of clothes, outdated electronics, things like typewriter ribbons, and BetaMax tapes. It was like a rift in time had opened in her house and every obsolete object from the past 50 years had somehow made its way into her closets. There were still things from when my grandpa had passed 10 years prior that grandma could never find a way to part with, regular household goods, and an entire house worth of furniture - most of which hadn't even been utilized for decades.
The thing that surprised me most was I never had thought of my grandma's house as cluttered. She was by no means a hoarder, and I would venture to say what she owned was very modest compared to some. Even so it was a tremendous undertaking. Trying to clean it all out, figuring out how to sell, donate, dispose of, or divide out amongst surviving relatives I found to be extremely taxing. A process I naively assumed would take a day or two was now stretching into weeks and to make matters worse is the rest of the family kept getting into arguments about who was entitled to what.
The fighting is what bothered me the most. I was the one who was cleaning all of this up, seeing first hand the layers of dust and neglect on these objects people were fighting over and it caused a sobering reality to sink in. Neither my grandma, my mother, my aunt or anyone else for that matter had used or even thought about these things for years, as the build up of dust could attest to. They didn't have a need for it then, and from where I was standing didn't have a need for it now so why all the fuss?
When all was said and done most was thrown away or donated. The stuff that was so valuable, that the prospective heir's just had to have it, well most of that ended up -at least in my mom's case- in a storage closet. She didn't have the room or the use for any of it, but she would be dammed if anyone else could have it. Curious isn't it? People can make their own clutter easy enough it seems, but the fact that it could also be inherited seemed absurd.
It dawned on my that sentiment has to be the root cause for so much of the problem. Tying emotional value and memories to inanimate objects affects us in such a way that we feel we can't let something go, because if we did part with it we would also be parting with that feeling or memory as well.
Thing is you reach a point where you've held on to so much that these special items become insignificant amongst a stack of others and end up just blending into a background of useless crap that really has no purpose in your life. Think of something you've held onto for a long time. When was the last time you used it, or much less even looked at it? How many of you have a closet somewhere with boxes of unopened "memories"? You can't bear the thought of getting rid of them, but it's fair to assume you really don't have much use for them either.
So as I went back to my own life I started looking at everything I owned. All of the things I had collected and how little I was using or enjoying most of what I had. I also couldn't let go of the thought of what happens to it all after I'm gone. Who would have to go through the trouble I did to get rid of all of my junk? What burden would I unknowingly bestow upon someone else?
It was then I made up my mind to change and despite the objections from friends and family alike, telling me how much I'd come to regret it, I started selling or giving away a large part of my possessions. The funny thing is never once in all this time of letting go have I ever felt regret. I will freely admit once in a while I'll see something I once had a momentarily wish I still did, but it's amazing how fleeting those feelings are and how soon my thoughts move on to other things.
What I do feel is relief. Each time I let something go the feeling is joyful, calming and feels like a bit of burden has been lifted away. It is as if being released of from the care of that object is somehow directly tethered to my soul. The part of me that I had to give towards being the caretaker of that object has now returned to me and I feel a bit freer as a result.
My first taste of this was addicting to say the least, and like being obsessed with collecting I soon became obsessed with purging. Soon I reached a point that if I couldn't sell it or donate it, I burned it. This last solution is a bit extreme I admit, but I found that if the item in questions wasn't permanently removed it had an odd habit of creeping back into the house.
The day I moved out of my parents house I committed myself to taking only one truckload of items with me. I carefully chose what I needed, what remained of the things I couldn't donate I carried out the front yard, where we had a fire ring, and I set them alight.
It was extremely freeing at the time, but I've since learned about the consequences of moving from one extreme side of the scale to the next. Balance truly is the key to anything good and sustainable, the trick is to find it. That however is a story for another post.