Time to move on

clutter-4cClean out closets. Purge paper files. Erase hard drives and recycle old Macs. Dozens of housekeeping tasks have been nagging me for months.

Finally, with 2013 breathing down my neck, I’m getting rid of this baggage. It’s been weighing me down. But, while I’m inclined toward neatness and order, discarding stuff is painstaking. Why do I keep things that I don’t need, barely like, or rarely use? Why is it hard to let go?

Seriously, why keep two pairs of running tights that never quite fit? CDs downloaded into iTunes? Jewelry once treasured but now not my style? Travel guides (unused but obsolete) to places I want to go?

Part of my problem is sentimentality. I like having visceral reminders of the past: photographs, calendars, writings, and letters, obviously, but anything (my late calico‘s favorite toy, my sister’s scrubs from residency) can make the cut. They keep memories sharp (sharper, at least) and give context to my life. Where was I five, 10, 15 years ago? Who was I? If I discard this thing, am I forsaking that part of myself?

Another part is practicality. I might need that stuff someday. There’s space, so why not keep three portable fans, a lifetime supply of Lonely Planet business cards, and those running tights? (Case in point: when my old external hard drive recently died, I lost my entire iTunes library (gasp), but at least have the original CDs.)

A regrettable part is acquisitiveness, i.e., greed. In spring 2011, I purchased two sets of blocks—one in cork, one in hollow cedar—to diversify my longtime foam blocks (at a glance, they resemble lava rock!) from San Francisco’s Yoga Props. Soon after, I scored an awesome set of solid cedar blocks from a yoga colleague who’s a cabinetmaker. Later, I bought a pair of standard foam blocks to leave with my parents in Hawaii. Each type of block differs in size, heft, and touch-feel, but I might’ve gone a bit overboard.

Even if you’re not greedy, things simply pile up. If you think you’re immune, check your sock supply, tee shirt collection, and any “miscellaneous” drawer in your house.

I’m reminded of a quote by a lawyer I met before I even started law school. When he moved his family to his wife’s home state, Florida, forgoing his California career (and facing another bar exam), I expressed surprise. In response, he quoted the late Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowl championships as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and, after the third, immediately stepped down:

The most difficult thing a person has to do with his life is [to] decide when it’s time to move on.

That quote struck me years ago—and it still gets to me today.

It’s one thing to be fired or dumped, to be wiped out by natural disaster, to be forced to change. It’s another challenge altogether to control your course—to quit a job, to initiate a breakup, to get rid of once-valued objects no longer enriching your life. Whether big or little, these decisions are all part of moving on and letting go.

In an odd coincidence (maybe even ironically), I’m publishing this post on Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day of the year in Canada. Shoppers, myself included, buy only what you really need or really love!

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Image: A clutter of cats, Le Pen Now and Again, Collective Noun series



  1. Love this. I am currently on vacation but have already been thinking about my decluttering that I am going to start when I get back. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about all the things I am getting rid of in my closet when I get back (but the sad thing is there are lots of sales going on around here and I am tempted to get some new things!) I love January, it is all about new beginnings, a fresh start, new possibilities!


  2. Great timing yogaspy! My weakness is books, sox, and cards on the “things” side. More difficult is letting go of works in progress (like the papers I committed to complete by Dec. 31, or the handstand i want to perfect). It’s a new year – and time to stop relying on too full shelves or deadlines to force me to soften my grip. I am going to try a looser hand in the weeks ahead, to see what can pass easily through these fingers. It’s all about observation and alignment, isn’t it? Thank you for this thought-provoking post…


  3. Love your clutter closet!!
    Yes I’m constantly purging and sometimes have had to re-purchase my throw offs. Truth in what you fear-it won’t be there when you decide you could use it again! Yet I’m learning to do without. It keeps life simple!


  4. clutter, clutter, stuff and more stuff. it is the north american way. my desk is a disaster area and as soon as i clear it, more stuff appears… business cards for people i will never contact again, receipts i care nothing about, pens of a color that no one should have to endure and papers deemed “important” but which really have no value more than to start a fire. yet my desk is always in this state of disarray. perhaps it is reflection of my own mental state?

    the most treasured things on this desk are a couple of heavy iron japanese paper weights (artistic and functional) a jar full of coins from around the world (sentimental reminder of more carefree travel days) and some stones and pebbles from estonia and iceland. get rid of the business cards and CDs but keep the rocks. having pieces of earth within hand’s reach is essential to good mental health and inner peace.


  5. My mom wrote constantly—and when she died she left behind hundreds of steno pads, dozens of notebooks, many boxes of carbon- and photo-copies, and typewritten pages. Keep it all? Toss it all? Will I ever read through it? I doubt it. But I can’t bring myself to throw all her writing into the recycle bin. I’m all for less stuff, but there are some seemingly impossible decisions to make in that quest for less.


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