Clearing Out

December 31, 2015


As much as I adore the old photos I have of my parents and the smell of old books, I love how my current life documentation doesn’t infringe upon my limited living space.

At the beginning of every new year, I set intentions as a way to celebrate a blank canvas and build upon the foundations I set the year prior.  In the past I set resolutions that were more like punishments for what I didn’t achieve in the preceding year – usually some kind of unnecessary weight loss or exercise regimen or list of books to read that I had bought and not touched.  Of course those were never very fun or motivating so I stopped that tradition and turned it around by allowing myself to truly hit the reset button and ask for meaningful change in my life.  An intention should come from a clear space in your mind, from a humming in your heart, from a fresh new perspective that feels exciting and unknown.  It should thrill you and challenge you but also feel right and doable.  It should guide all your actions and inspire new paths.  Does ‘lose five kilos’ do that for you? Probably not.

I don’t have to think hard about intentions – visions for new ventures start to percolate in my head throughout the preceding year.  In the past I would try to act upon them immediately or stress if I didn’t have time to manage them all, but over time I’ve learned that some ideas that come to you are just seeds that need time to grow or pieces of fruit that need to ripen and thus I’ve learned to save them for a later date or more appropriate timing when they are ready to be birthed.  That’s why every new year is like a gift – sometimes it gives the green light to that thing that’s been whispering to you for a while and still feels meaningful.  Sometimes it’s just the vibe of those days between Christmas and New Years that allow you to step back and have a clearer vision of what needs to happen to create positive change ahead.  While getting ideas for intentions isn’t a challenge to me, what can be hard is harnessing all those ideas and finding the common ground – why are these ideas coming to me?  What are they ultimately guiding me towards? Why bother?

Therefore, to assist in the process of giving thanks to the past year (I don’t like goodbyes) and greeting the new year with welcome arms (sources tell me 2016 is going to need a hug), I also choose a word to define each year and what I sense it will be/desire it to be about and that helps me to create an action plan.  For 2015, my word was CLEARING.

Perhaps it was my boyfriend moving in with me in a flat with no storage space or the threat of possibly having to move flat completely, or maybe my life was just feeling heavy, but I had this overwhelming desire to shed the items I own and to do another massive de-clutter.  I had already started the process when moving flats in 2013 but I was craving more space and a simpler life and I knew that physical matter was getting in the way.  So I set an intention to confront what was clogging not only my flat but my life to create more flow.  Verdict?  Pretty successful.

Not only did I commit myself to culling items, but my friends caught wind and also started packing irrelevant objects and passing them on to friends, charity shops, etc.  It’s probably no coincidence that the best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, came into my life around February and has been making its rounds in my social circle.  Marie’s one critical piece of advice to only keep items that ‘bring you joy’ has been the fog horn in my head every time I nearly lapse back into a hoarder’s mindset of what if this will be useful in the future? or what if ‘so-and-so’ would be upset if I gave away this gift they gave to me that I hate and never use?  KATE – but WILL IT BRING YOU JOY???? I could imagine Marie asking.  Usually the answer is no.  And the action?  It goes!

Obviously ‘joy’ may not apply to practical items like utensils – that being said, I only have four butter knives and four forks from a fancy set I found on sale that I LOVE and use repeatedly to eat delicious food that I make so actually I am getting joy from silverware and crockery.  But it absolutely works when considering items that have more emotional weight or aesthetic appeal.  And it works when it relates to objects from the distant past, which feel more like relics from a lost time that will never repeat itself.  What resonated for me from Marie’s philosophy was that it wasn’t about getting rid of everything extraneous to live a minimalist life.  It allowed you to keep objects that create a little glow inside you (that’s what joy feels like to me).

I just returned from my family home near Boston after a week there away from my real home in London.  I still have a room there and two closets and lots of belongings from my former life as an American child/teenager/college student trying to find her identity and her passions and alternately failing/succeeding in doing so.  I also come from a gift-giving family.  That’s how we show love, even to the detriment of our wallets.  Every time I return to Boston to visit my parents (usually about twice a year), I go through old items (New Kids on the Block paraphernalia, dolphin-inspired jewelry, dinosaur books, Brad Pitt posters, course notebooks from all my studies, prom dresses, etc.) and separate them into bags for either ‘shredding’, sending to ‘charity’ or passing on to my nieces. Every year the process becomes more refined.  In the beginning, there was a lot of junk to go through, but the items that remain are now mostly glow-worthy or sell on Ebay-worthy.

I wasn’t sure what my energy would be like when I was visiting my parents or how much time I wanted to spend with dusty boxes and old memories, but it turns out I was primed for a productive week of weeding out.  I was like a machine – once I got stuck in, I was on a mission to leave for London knowing I left my parents home ‘clearer’ than it was before.  I am finally feeling that the end is in sight but I still have a little ways further to go.  Even all the items that bring me joy are unlikely to follow me through an itinerant life.  At the end of the day, possessions are a burden.

Ironically, one of the boxes I had to clear out was the one containing notes and rough drafts of my Master’s dissertation on the topic of how people store memories and their lives using traditional and virtual media (this was 10 years ago when Facebook and online photography was just getting more popular and I had returned to my parents home for the summer from London to finish up my degree work).  Let’s just say as an avid photographer, collector and scrapbooker as a kid, I have amassed a mighty collection of keepsakes in tangible form but later years have seen me move most of my memories into the digital realm (big fan of Instagram).  As much as I adore the old photos I have of my parents and the smell of old books, I love how my current life documentation doesn’t infringe upon my limited living space.

If I could change the prediction I made about the future of self-documentation I made while studying Media (which was that most people will maintain tangible and virtual forms of documentation instead of new replacing the old), I would say that, for someone like me, the first 25 years of his/her life will be reflected in physical items but the later half is likely to be contained significantly online – not simply because we’re not paying attention to how digital activity is taking over our lives but perhaps it’s even a concerted effort to lighten up life and not hoard, to never have to de-clutter ever again in the future – because it’s TIRING and TIME CONSUMING and probably a lot worse when it’s not your stuff.  So when going through relics of my past, I asked the question – is this something that will help future generations learn something meaningful about me?  Is it really a special item that is unique to me and my background?  Are my softball trophies bringing me joyful memories of my childhood?  No.  I never even liked playing softball.  I wasn’t good at it either – my mom confessed that she convinced the coach to give us all trophies one year because she thought it was unfair the same kids got the same ones every year (um, probably because they were good at sports and I wasn’t?).  Thanks Mom.  And no thanks all at once.  I love you.  I’ve kept one of the four trophies I earned 🙂 For now.

So here I am at the end of 2015 and I’m looking back proudly about how much I LET GO OF.  And this went beyond just physical clutter.  I realized I was really tired and that an early morning yoga class I was teaching wasn’t working with my schedule so I let go of that – the lack of sleep was over-powering the joy the class brought to me teaching it for the first three years.  I also let go of over-planning for a year and passed the torch to my boyfriend to plan a holiday for us in Thailand.  This was a beautiful experience – both seeing a new country and also allowing someone else to hold the reigns.  Did everything go the way I would have wanted it to?  Mostly yes.  Some things no.  But it didn’t matter – I let go of control.  I let go of trying to please everyone and do everything and had two working ‘holidays’ teaching abroad to grow my experience as a yoga teacher.  I let go of ‘needing’ to have a piano in my flat (for now) and embraced a smaller shruti box instrument to keep my musical side going.

So what does this mean for 2016?  Well, there’s a reason why ‘de-clutter’ or ‘clean’ weren’t my words for 2015, I chose ‘clearing’ because it needed to go somewhere and I really feel that I have cleared abundant space and a path towards more creativity in the year up ahead.  I want to write more, share more, teach more, build more, collaborate more – I want to stamp my nice new logo on more things that I hope will bring joy into others’ lives (and not take up room in their closets).  And I wouldn’t be feeling this way if I hadn’t committed to my word for 2015 – if I had forgotten this guiding force as I chose how to spend my time, where to focus my energy and what to let go of in my life.

So for 2016 I encourage you to think of a word that will be your foghorn.  What will ring LOUD AND CLEAR and keep you from slipping into old habits.  What needs to define your actions?  What will set the foundation for 2017?

If you think Clearing is a good word for you (or you just need to get rid of crap), then you might want to read on for a short summary of my de-cluttering experience:

  • Get a copy of Marie Kondo’s book to inspire you (better yet, download it to your Kindle).  Wish I had written it myself.  In fact, that was an ‘idea’ I had a long time ago, but I’m glad Marie manifested it.  I can tick that off my list and I’m not sure I would have hit the nail on the head with the ‘joy’ thing – very helpful.
  • One area where I disagree with Marie Kondo is in her philosophy that all de-cluttering must be done at once.  I say de-clutter in sections and allow for breaks.  I agree that you have to be 100% into it and stay focused but I also think you need to break it down by room or object and give yourself a good span of time because it’s DRAINING to go through old shit – especially if you’re doing it mindfully.  It can be emotional.
  • Which leads me to this one – de-clutter MINDFULLY.  That doesn’t mean you should spend 5 minutes deliberating over every item.  No way – don’t over-think it.  If something brings you joy, you should feel it instantly.  But then don’t just chuck things you don’t want in the rubbish.  Landfills don’t need your clutter either.  Who could turn your redundant object into something wonderful? Who could breathe life back into it?  Who might really NEED this item?  For example, sleeping bags, old coats, gloves etc. – there are a lot of homeless people approaching a cold winter.  Maybe you could even lend out items that you aren’t using but might want to use one day when you have the space/time?  Why let it sit there dormant?
  • What brought the most joy to me when going through old items?  Pieces of WRITING.  Honestly – write out your life if you want to hold on to memories.  My journal entries from third grade are a goldmine of insight into my younger self and also HILARIOUS.  I was a funny kid.  Other things?  My parents’ old photos and items they saved from a much less itinerant but no less interesting life than mine.  And most of it fits into one box. But especially anything with their handwriting on it.  I mean penmanship was a different thing back then and and even my third grade handwriting is superior to my present handwriting.  Most priceless item?  A romantic anniversary card my mom wrote to my dad with a real ‘seventies’ style photo on the front of it on the occasion of their first anniversary.  I also had to laugh when I came across this ‘About Me’ page I found in an old journal (to think how it compares to the one on my website now!  and I was totally lying – I did not like playing softball!)

‘I love animals.  I would like to be a arciologest when I grow up.  I love chocolate.  My favorite food is ice cream.  I love science.  I like to play softball.  I like to play games on the computer.  I like to color.  I was born in Boston.’




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