It is a weird process that I am embarking upon this winter. I have decided to purge.
I am cleaning out closets, slowly but surely, and getting rid of things that are not used or that don’t fit. I’m looking through my home and my life and my psyche and trying to let go of whatever doesn’t spark joy. Frankly, if I don’t love it, it needs to go.
And the hardest part of this process is not letting go of those fabulous quilted boots I have been wearing and wearing out for the past three years, but letting go of my expectations for my life.
You see, the closets aren’t the only project. I have been cleaning my office in little increments for the past month or so, and much of that work has been centered around clearing out boxes of files. Once upon a time, we used paper to hand in assignments and take notes. And that time left me with stack upon stack upon stack of paper.
It is more of an annoying task than a strenuous one. I just need to pick up the file and flip through the pages and determine whether to keep or toss the papers within. And the criteria of “love it, use it, or lose it” should help me to easily make such determinations. I obviously haven’t used this paper in years, and I likely won’t use any of it again.
But I love this paper.
I shudder a bit at even making that statement, but it is an expression that I cannot get around. I don’t love the actual pieces of paper, of course. I love some of the ideas on the pages. But that isn’t why I have kept them. I have kept them because I thought I would use them in my future. I believed that these articles and notes on theology and philosophy and psychology would be useful when I became a professor, or a writer of groundbreaking new concepts, or a preacher. And today I am dealing with the fact that my belief was wrong. I am not and will not be those things. Those things take energy and capability and cognition that I do not have. And sans miracle drugs, I never will.
I am not just throwing away notes and articles. I am throwing away the goal that ten years of education was meant to bring me toward. I am throwing away the ideas of my future self that have carried me through the last twenty years. I am throwing away expectations and dreams and hopes and promises made to myself. I am throwing away a life.
And I know that I have the opportunity to fashion a new life, based on new dreams and hopes. But I still have this moment to cope with—this mourning the loss of what I loved and this struggle of having to find myself anew. Everything I fought to achieve seems lost to me, and that is a difficult realization.
I am keeping some files. I am holding on to some of my favorite and most transforming and best loved articles and papers. At some point, maybe I will read them once more, or use them for my current writing projects, or offer them to others who are in need of the knowledge they hold. Because I am not able to, nor do I wish to, erase the past twenty years of my life. Those were good years in many ways. And I don’t think they were wasted. I learned. I grew. I developed my thought. I opened my mind to new information. I believed in myself. I accepted my intelligence. I embraced diversity. I became more and better than the person I had been before embarking on years of study.
I have all of that growth and development to hold, even while I let go of the goals I had made during that time. And that is wonderful.
But today, I am feeling a bit melancholy about the ways that I am having to change my view of myself and my accomplishments and my goals for the future. It is a loss. A deep loss. (And I often feel like I have had more than my share of loss already in life.)
It isn’t an easy process, this editing of my life and self. Edits to my writing seem easy in comparison. Rearranging my sentence structure is so much less work than rearranging a life.
There is one comfort I have in this process, which is the feng shui principle of making room. New things can’t enter into your closet, or your office, or your life, if there is not space for them to move into. So, a minimalist environment opens up all sorts of possibility, where an environment stacked and stuffed with things has no room for more. I am tossing my past and my previous ideas of myself, but I am opening up room for the new future and the new ideas of myself to come.
And they will come—eventually.
My file boxes are already beginning to fill with clippings and found objects that would go great in an art project. My bookshelves are filling with coloring books and meditations and fiction. My blank pages are filling with ideas of who I am and what I might wish to pursue. My closet is filling with clothes that actually fit over my ass. My spare room is transforming into a yoga studio. My mind is becoming a place of peace. My heart is becoming more open to others.
And I suppose that I can find joy in the fact that I am editing a life—that it is being improved and perfected and changed and made new—and not ending a life. There is more to this story. There is more to come.