How to say no (with a suitcase)

Last week I wrote about how I reduced my possessions in order to have just two suitcases to get on the  plane to Italy.

It makes it easier to part with possessions when you know that you have to carry them up four floors because the Italian apartment you’re staying in has no lift. I’d shed more since I arrived in Italy, giving away what I knew I didn’t need. Carrying books around for 3 months, on numerous train journeys does beg the internal question: How much do I really want these?

I still had too much stuff. 

I’d lugged my two suitcases from Bologna Centrale (about a ten minute walk) and squeezed myself and them into the tiny lift which took me to the top floor of the apartment, where the B&B was located. 

Roberto, the proprietor, smiled in recognition as I had previously stayed with them on my first visit to Bologna in 2013 (in fact, my first visit to Italy). In the sanctuary of my room and dripping with sweat, I sank onto one of the beds. Oh for a long sleep!

After a shower and a snack, I started with the first suitcase. 

I made three piles: ‘Yes', ‘No' and ‘I don’t know’. 

The ‘Yes’ pile contained all the items I loved, that made me smile or that I used regularly. 

The ‘No’ pile was everything I didn’t like, made me feel a bit crap, I was keeping ‘just because’ or hadn’t used since I had got to Italy (and didn’t like). 

Anything I couldn’t really work out how I felt about, was unsure about or just wavering over went in the ‘I don’t know pile’. [The 'I don’t know' pile is generally a second ‘No’ pile but which needs a little more awareness]

I stopped after a while. It was bringing up some emotion for me and I was hungry.

We attach a lot of emotions to our stuff. The shoes mean something because they are comfortable, even if they are a bit worn out. The purse was one that we bought because it was in the sale and we never really used it, but feel guilty for throwing away. We keep the washbag because we actually need it right now, even though we only bought originally for it's functionality, not because we liked it.

We don’t want to part with possessions because we were given them by someone, or they remind us of someone. They have been with us for part of our lives. They remind us of good times or a way we felt. We feel wasteful for throwing out something that was essentially a bad purchase, or because it still works, it’s just not our preferred taste. 

And in my case, at this stage, I only had one of most items. This was not a whole life’s worth of stuff I was dealing with: I’d gone through most of it several months before. It was also interesting think back to the first time I’d looked at these items, and realise I now felt differently about them. And yet this stop in Bologna was only 3 months after waving goodbye to England.

I changed into a dress and stepped out into the cool evening air in search of some food. I wandered through the streets in search of a restaurant, a table for one. Dinner and half a lager helped restore my energy and, by the time I ventured back to the B&B, I felt refreshed. 

I saw the ‘No’ pile, sitting there just as I’d left it.

All the items sitting there together, made me see them differently. I realised, it was all the stuff I was ’trying’ to like, but didn’t really. I didn’t want them in my life. They needed to go. 

I designated one of the suitcases a ‘No’ suitcase and began filling it. 

I saw the ‘I don’t know’ pile and it looked different. More like the ‘No’ pile. Yet there were still some bits and pieces I wanted. So I was gentle on myself and kept them. I really recommend this. Keep the things you can’t bear to part with, until you’re ready to do so. Take your time. After all, you’ve probably got more time than just a night in a Bolognese B&B to create the change.

For me, this ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘I don't know’ continues, and I am bringing it into my day to day living. 

  • When tidying up or clearing space, I ask myself: Do I really want this, or am I keeping it because I think I should?
  • When I receive an item, I ask myself: Does this fit with who I want to be - the ‘me’ I’m heading for, or is it the ‘me’ who I’m used to being? 
  • When I'm in a shop or browsing online: Am I buying this because I love and adore it, or because it’s the most convenient and cheapest version?

It's not to say I don't make mistakes still - I do! But as I get better at choosing in line with what I want, I sense a feeling of flow. I feel a natural ease, that possessions flow in and out, at the right time. I have known that order and a lack of clutter help me feel more at ease anywhere, but it’s taken me this long to allow myself the courage to create it. 

For what box, cupboard or room could you start a ‘Yes’ ‘No’ and ‘I don’t know’ pile?

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