The new year marks a metaphorical new beginning and opportunity for change- a perfect time for cleansing on all levels. I have found an effective way to go about this is to make it both a ceremonial and meditative experience.
As we ring in the new year, it's customary to take stock of our lives and make resolutions for the year to come. I left New York for Martha’s Vineyard two years ago today after ten years of city life, and a few months after my 31st birthday. Rather than ringing in the New Year with too much champagne and dubious resolutions, I spent the last day of 2013 culling the many many belongings that I had accumulated throughout my ten years in New York City.
I’ve always been a collector of things- cookbooks, scraps for collages, clothing, kitchenware, you name it. The first time that I considered the emotional significance that we place on personal possessions was when I was 16. That winter I lost many of my most treasured belongings to a house fire. My parents were in the midst of a chaotic divorce; my closest friend had just moved to Paris. Everything felt uncertain and out of control. The damage to our home, the breakup of our family, the loss of my friend left me deeply unsettled and clinging even more tightly to my possessions.
The house was repaired and our things were eventually replaced, but my instinct to invest a significant amount of emotion into my treasured belongings for comfort grew deeper. I was once again faced with this reality a few months after college. The very same day that my boyfriend broke up with me, we found out that we had bed bugs and had to get rid of most of our furniture, clothing and personal belongings. I will never forget seeing all of my things: bed, couch,curtains heaped in the trash. As I did after the fire, once again I began collecting things and in them finding emotional comfort.
The last day of 2013 was an altogether different experience. That year I was leaving the place that had been my home for ten years. I could not take all of my furniture with me. For the first time that I can remember I didn't feel the need to hang onto all of my belongings. At first I was loathe to get rid of any of it though. I was tied to all of it in one way or another. Something inside told me that if I could honor and release these things it would be an opportunity to consciously acknowledge and release old memories and emotions that were no longer serving me and might even be holding me back. The mementos; old boyfriends’ sweaters, art school projects, the kitchen table that I bought when I moved into my first apartment- I could let them go. As I sorted through and discarded different belongings it felt cathartic and liberating. I discovered that ridding myself of old possessions cleared a space that was unencumbered by old emotion.
Through this process I found I was able to honor my past experiences in a way that enabled me to move with ease into the unfettered flow of the present. It was both a symbolic and literal act of closure and completion on my twenties and my life in New York. I was releasing emotional weight. This time the experience felt deliberate, intentional and ceremonial. I was consciously making a choice to part ways with old things and with them patterns that I no longer felt the need to cling to. This experience of parting was totally different than that of the fire or the bed bug infestation. This time it was deeply liberating.
Two months later I headed to Martha’s Vineyard and settled into a furnished cottage. I brought clothing, art supplies and books. That was it. I have enjoyed decorating it and making it my own. But I no longer feel the need to protect myself with a surfeit of belongings. An amazing sense of freedom and relief is pervasive because I am no longer weighed down by stuff. I try to be mindful. I only buy things that I need or really want. The lack of external clutter in my space enables me to focus on creating a sense of inner openness. I can now feel and process my emotions with more ease. What I found is that the exterior clutter had to be removed in order to observe my intense need to collect things for what it was; an act of fear: a fear of letting go, something that kept me living in the past. Filling my surroundings with an over-abundance of stuff created a barrier between myself and my true emotions. This outer clutter was both mirroring and reinforcing my inner state of chaos and clutter. Both forms of clutter were keeping me perpetually overwhelmed.
It had become a challenge to process the past and also be present in the moment. What’s even more gratifying is that the newly opened space has enabled me to let go of other baggage: like old friendships that no longer serve me and were limiting my forward motion.
This is not to say that I still don't sometimes feel the pull to collect or surround myself with stuff. But I am able to recognize when I do and take a look inside at what is driving me to do so. I continue this process as my new New Year’s ritual. I use it as a time to reflect on the past year and consider what I want to bring with me into the new year. I take the opportunity to celebrate friendships and accomplishments and free myself from those things that no longer serve me.