Slowly I’ve been de-cluttering my house, dis-possessing myself of all the things I once thought I wanted, and it’s amazing how much lighter my house feels. With every bag of “stuff” waiting for pickup by the trash-gatherers, I feel lighter, freer. I still have a long way to go before I can claim to live a simple life, but I think I’m on the right track.
Still, I don’t find it easy to let go of anything, no matter how trivial or dated. Every book I pick up I can’t let go without skimming through it, lingering over it, or remembering how much it once meant to me. Each small memento or salvaged yard sale find claims a place in my life, and I have to force myself to the task at hand, which is to decide, do I need this, will I use it, or shall I give it away? In the process I’ve discovered that the real reason I keep things is not (as I once thought) “because the minute I throw it away I will find I need it for something.” No. I hold onto things for the same reason I bought them in the first place: because it is a token of, almost a promise of, at least a glimpse of, a kind of life I hoped to lead.
Each thing I thought I had to have, small or large, had stirred a buried dream in me that I couldn’t resist: to be a gardener, to paint, to take long hikes through the woods, to have a home of my own with a fenced in yard filled with dogs, flowers and trees and furnished inside with simple but beautiful things. I once hungered for (and eventually got) a teapot only because I imagined myself having a quiet afternoon “cuppa,” sharing tea with a friend, sharing music and a quiet conversation. I bought art supplies because I dreamed of making something beautiful someday, and a huge, sturdy walking stick because I dreamed of taking long rugged hikes through the woods (before I developed arthritis). I even kept my last dog’s favorite toy for 10 years after I had to give him up! It was chewed to within an inch of its life, its squeaker broken and silent, but I held onto it because it held the memory of a dog I loved, and because I secretly felt that as long as I had it there was a chance I’d be able to give it to him again (or to another dog someday).
I’m like Walter Mitty, always daydreaming a different life than the one I’m leading and buying things to validate the dreams, each thing a token of a life I hope for. But, as John Lennon once famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.” I’ve been making other plans all my life, and they have never materialized in the way I hoped and dreamed. That’s not to say I haven’t led a blessed and grace-filled life – quite the contrary. But little shards of a quite different dream than the one I’ve actually been living still linger inside me.
How do you know which dreams you’re meant to reach for and which to let go? And when is it time to let them go? I still don’t know, really. But I know that there’s a certain internal readiness that needs to be there. If it took me too many years to be ready to throw or give away the many things that have ended up at the curb to be hauled away, well, so be it. I did the best I could until I could do better.
I can tell it’s time to let these things go now because I feel relief and peace as each once-longed-for thing passes out of my hands. Ministries I’ve given up. Identities I’m allowing to expire. Visions of a home that I may never have. Memories of activities, scenes, and creatures I’ve cherished that will not come again. I think of it as clearing the decks for what IS coming, whatever that may be. Opening my life to the real possibilities that I can’t imagine yet. Not judging my life by what might have been, but by what is – and holding no grudges. It’s given me a feeling of release and freedom!
So: when is it time to let go? When the time is right, which is to say, when circumstances are right and I’m ready. I can only trust that I’ll know that time as it comes around. Like, now….