Of course we are not what we own and we are not our “stuff”.
But then, the things we own define us. It’s all a very subtle process, something that creeps in through the back door, takes roots and directs your thoughts – without you even noticing it.
This is what happened with my life. Without me being aware of it, something has been going on, mostly in my wardrobe, but also in my drawers, on my book shelves and my shoe rack: Over the years, my “identity” accumulated there. It lived there. I lived there. The person I thought the words “my, myself, I” were referring to – she had her identity locked into possessions.
I used to think of all this in terms of decluttering, or minimalism. But I only started thinking about it as an “issue” beyond the material level when reading Deepak Chopra’s “Book of Secrets”. He says:
It’s impossible to be new and old at the same time, yet we all wish we could stay the way we are while changing in ways we desire. This is a perfect formula for getting stuck. To seek who you are, you have to let go of old images about yourself.
What finally tipped me over the edge was a very benign, and very nasty, comment by my husband. We were looking at my wardrobe and he said: Don’t you think that skirt should be thrown out?
I like skirts. All types of skirts.
But this skirt was different. It was tacky. But: It wouldn’t have appeared tacky ten years ago, with all its glitter and glamour. It would have been just the right thing when you’re 20, or 25 (and this was probably the last time I had worn it). Yes, this skirt was fitting me, but it didn’t suit me any longer. It belonged to an old identity. It reflected the old image about myself Chopra is referring to.
By gathering, keeping, accumulating, I had tried to resist change, which is inevitable, and refused to open myself to the unknown. But if my sense of “I” is based on past experiences, things I bought/used to wear, then where is room to grow for the person I will be becoming tomorrow? The person I was supposed to evolve into right now?
It’s really hard to throw things out, but it’s even harder to just let them go. It’s that subtle difference between “actively rejecting” or “simply not clinging”. And even though this is an internal process it took me a long time to realise that external factors also play a role.
There are smart studies which show that what people remember of an encounter with someone is mostly how they looked and their gestures – and only last what they actually said.
I feel that I perceive myself in an equally filtered and limited way. So maybe the first step to make room for change would be to let go of possessions that belong to a previous personality?
Do you feel that your wardrobe, bookshelf or music collection reflects a personality that you’ve outgrown? Do you find that you feel the need to renew things every decade or so?
How do you perceive the relation of internal change and a change on the material level? Do you think letting go of items that represent a previous personality helps with embracing change?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!