How giving stuff away helped me feel free

This time last year, whilst still in my job, I realised how much my home environment had an effect on how I felt. I lived in a beautiful, spacious flat in one of the most desirable areas of London, but my ‘stuff' was closing in on me. 

Have you ever wanted to be Mary Poppins: just click your fingers and it all go away? 

Well, last year, I made it happen. It didn’t happen with a click of the fingers; yet it can be done. 

By the end of my tenancy, I had half the amount I moved in with. And over the next 3 months before getting on the plane to Italy, I downsized even more.

What stuff do you have? 

I am an avid reader and book hoarder; I had lots and lots of paperbacks. I also had lots of ‘bits’: jewellery I didn’t wear, lots of those little purses, approximately a hundred and fifty safety pins and what my mum calls ‘knick knacks’.

I had the clothes you hold onto because you feel guilty for buying them but not wearing them and I had several sets of ‘old clothes' for painting, despite not lifting a paintbrush since I’d left my childhood home, 5 years before. 

Here’s what I learned: holding onto those things was doing me more harm than giving or throwing them away. 

That ‘nagging’ pile of ironing that was sitting in the corner? Once I’d created space to store them (and time to iron), the ’nagging’ stopped. When I finally released that jumper I'd felt sentimental about and refused to give away before, I felt as though I could be and do all the things I wanted to. The difference in how I felt was astonishing. I could breathe. I could relax. 

Facing my past

'The past’ came in various guises: in the form of all the payslips I’ve ever been sent; photographic negatives from when cameras weren’t digital (in case I ever wanted duplicates of me as a frightening teen perhaps?) and buttons from every shirt, blouse and coat I’ve ever owned (tidied away in one of the above-mentioned purses)

It takes bravery to face a wardrobe stuffed full of our past. Of the security we think our ‘stuff’ brings us. 

We find ourselves in the position when we hold onto things rather than letting things flow in and out of our lives, as they ought. Instead of ‘I could borrow it, or buy it again’ we kid ourselves that we are ‘saving' money by lugging it all around with us. I remember choosing one of my first rented rooms in London based on the fact it could store my ever-expanding amount of camping equipment (bought but hardly used) as one of its only redeeming features.

We accumulate and accumulate until we find that ten years has gone by and we haven’t ever 'needed' it. Instead we have gathered our stuff around us, protected ourselves and found that we are gradually grinding to a halt, because we feel ‘stuck’. 

This is not allowing life to flow. 

Using that phrase, "I’ll keep it just in case", had significantly increased how many possessions I owned. It had made me feel safe, like I could never be unprepared. Yet now, ‘I’ll keep it just in case’ no longer applied, because I knew I was going to be on trains and planes between Italy and England for upcoming months. I didn’t know what was before me, so I had to take the risk. 

I knew that the only certainty is that there is always change, and in learning how to navigate through uncertainty, I can live more lightly. 

We attach emotion to our stuff. Some of my jewellery had been given to me by friends, and it felt as though giving it away meant I was dismissing their friendship. But I wondered then: How many presents had I given over the years that was now accumulating in drawers around the country? Would I begrudge my friends passing a gift on, if it was past its use or if they didn’t really like it? Of course not. Of course not.

Why would I be so hard on myself

It took a long time to say goodbye to the alarm clock a now-deceased person had given me. But I can still remember him without the clock being there. I took photos some of the items so I could remember them, but looking back even now, a year later, I can feel that my attachment has gone. 

Handling myself gently through the process

I learned to take my time. I didn’t throw away all my books. I kept the most precious (about two boxes worth) and the ones I wasn’t ready to part with. But I was very honest with myself. For each item, I endeavoured to ask myself ‘What does this represent?’ and up came some interesting answers. I was off to Italy, leaving my salaried job behind and, as I looked at those old payslips, wavering about whether I would ever ‘need’ them, I realised how much I had let my job become my identity, and how much I defined myself through my work. 

I visited the local charity shop so many times, the volunteers and I were pretty much on first name terms (I tried to vary the times of day so it wouldn’t seem quite so obvious).

I got rid of two laptops that I’d kept ‘in case’ (one ‘old’ one which I had as a backup and the 'old old one' which was the previous backup. I painstakingly transferred all the files using every method I could think of: USB sticks, Dropbox, sharing via the network. 

During the process, I shared my experiences with a colleague, someone who was always extremely organised, neat and tidy. I’d always assumed he was the kind of person who had no clutter problems. Instead, he looked wistful and said: ‘It must be freeing’. 

It is freeing. Life flows much more. I am able to write more easily, more clearly since I feel ‘in flow’ in my space. 

I no longer buy so much. It took time and effort to part with my possessions; it’s as though I can see true value much more easily. Right now, I don’t need many ‘things’ and I’m surrounded by loving supportive people who are willing to share what they have. I feel free, expansive, and uplifted by the space. 

I can more easily create calm and peace. I ‘need’ less. I feel free. 

Where can you start in releasing some possessions to embrace your own freedom? 

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