I am deep into purge mode these days. And I’m not alone in this.
Not that we’re ever alone, with almost 7 billion souls on the marble, chances are good that whatever you’re going through, you’ve got some fellow travelers somewhere. But suddenly, or perhaps it’s a creeping sort of suddenness, I see people all around me letting go of their shit. Moving on from relationships and jobs and systems that just aren’t working for them anymore. I have no idea if this is A Thing or another manifestation of Yellow Volkswagen Syndrome or both. I’m almost certain that, like my friend and fellow Virgo, Adam, it has something to do with marking the passage of another year the way some of nerdlier types mark it: the end of the summer, the beginning of the new school year.
I love the idea of filling my life up with learning, which is why I’ve always gotten a little schoolgirl-giddy for back-to-school time. New books! New clothes! New gadgets! All wonderful things, especially in a simpler, less stuff-filled time, the 1960s, when everything had a higher acquisition cost: it took you longer to find the stuff you wanted and it was more expensive to buy when you finally found it. Even the rented stuff, like library books (remember card catalogues?) and flat-out free stuff (remember life B.C.L.?) And at six, or even 16, that cost was insanely high: no wonder I clung to every new bit of input so ferociously; who knew when tiny, carless, broke me would get another shot?
Stuff is abundant now. Forget how easy (and cheap) it is to get almost anything you might have a passing thought about wanting: these days, physical stuff seems to breed in stacks and piles. It’s as though they embed crap-sprouting seeds in all that cheap crap from China we started glutting ourselves on a few decades ago.
Yet the oldsters among us, those raised by and around Depression-era survivors, without whiz-bang search and delivery tools like the Internet, are still operating in scarcity mode.
Save the rubber bands, the recipe clippings, the Shirts to Clean the Car In.
Save the orphaned Tupperware and gym socks, the never-quite-comfortable shoes, the stop-gap Fat Pants.
Save it save it save it lest you find yourself, what? Unable to wash the Toyota for want of a selection of 25 shirts in which to do it?
With each previous purge, I’ve filled up the empty space with new stuff. Nothing wrong with that, provided it keeps moving through: the Catch-and-Release Planâ„¢ for books; the assimilate, not accumulate method of information consumption. But too often, it’s been just tiny, greedy, scaredy-cat me, stockpiling crap against some kind of dreadful winter sans stores, power and people. When really, if it came to that, who’d want to stick around anyway?
This purge feels different. It feels both urgently needed and centrally right in a way that it never did before, as though I am on the brink of getting somewhere big, but can’t fit through the tiny passageway with all this stuff clinging to me. So I am shedding it in a way that works for me: quickly, then slowly. Or slowly, then quickly. Stuffing great heaping loads of things into opaque blue bags, the better not to be be eyeballed again before they’re sealed and trotted off to Goodwill. Finding good homes for a few cherished treasures that no longer serve. Asking hard questions not only about each and every item that touches my hands, but that floats past my eyeline: does this serve? When it inevitably no longer does, will I be able to let it go with relative ease?
Some things that have helped me to get here, I think:
- Removing myself from my mess. The trip to the Pacific Northwest last year was central to this shift, even if the high-intensity purging didn’t start happening until recently. I see huge value in the occasional long-ish retreat from everyday life, now that I’ve done one. Others, like my friend Chris Guillebeau, remove themselves more regularly, via travel. (More on retreats soon, as I’ve another one coming up.) Note: I see both retreats and travel as very distinct from vacationing or holiday. They’re vacations/holidays because they’re a break from routine, but that’s about it. This is not pina-coladas-by-the-pool stuff.
- Getting serious clarity on some short and long-term desires. Nothing fires one up to actually get shit done like white-hot desire for a specific thing, or even a white-hot dose of truth. I do not know what exact shape my next living situation will take, but I’m almost certain it means moving somewhere that pets are allowed and quietude is in greater abundance. (Do they let people live in the library with a small pet?) Reducing my possessions to what really serves right now clears the way for further reductions as the goal gets even clearer.
- Support, support, support. Almost two years ago, at the start of 2008, I decided to shift my goddamn paradigm to one of “Help is everywhere.” And since then, it has been. Help has turned up in the form of accountability partners, coaches, mastermind groups, teachers, classes, products and, yes, books. Help is so much everywhere that I’ve now started to trust there will be a net when I leap, or a hand extended when I need a leg up. The unexpected bonus in all this? That I have become a trusted source of support in various ways for all kinds of people I never imagined might find my help useful. This makes getting up in the morning a delight. Well, most mornings. And it’s been the handful of magic beans that started my new business. Huzzah!
I am wired to cling, I think. But I no longer fear it, because I know it.
Add to that my deep understanding that help truly is everywhere, and it becomes much easier to shed what no longer serves. What you cling to tends to cling right back. I cling now to the moment, and to my bigger truths, and to my growing belief that the glorious, chewy center of the entire bleeding universe is love love love.
Let go of my old books, and there is room for new ones.
Let go of my old way of thinking about myself as a writer, and there is room for poetry.
Let go of my old career, and a new one springs up in its place. (A little slowly, that fucker, but whatever.)
What I ask for now is support, in a very specific way: what are you letting go of, and (if you’re so inclined) how? And, if it’s started to happen yet, what do you find it being replaced by? Are you scared? Are you exhilarated? Are you both, or neither, maybe some other thing I’ve not even thought of, because I’m still clinging to my way of looking at shedding?
We are in this together, more than we know. We will explode with awesomeness once we get down with this, more than we can possibly imagine…