I spent much of my life trying to fit into an ill-fitting mold. Rather than learning to embrace the person I am, I continued to reach for the person I thought I should be or the person I thought I would become. In doing so, I failed to be true to myself.
For many years, I allowed my misguided dreams and life plans to interfere with my identity. Over the years, I allowed my possessions to define me. When in reality, they were only holding me back from discovering my true self.
The Weight Of Our Material Possessions
After graduation, I found it incredibly difficult to part with the novels I read during my four years as an English major. I took the most demanding courses as an undergrad, and somehow those ratty old titles felt like trophies to me. As I lined those books up on the shelf in my room, I beamed with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
When I left for college as a high school senior, my destiny seemed predetermined. I planned to study literature and fulfill my childhood dream of becoming an English professor. It turns out, fate had other plans for me. Two months after graduating with a liberal arts degree, I started a job as a software engineer.
My future career had absolutely nothing to do with those novels, but I still couldn’t part with them. Those books connected me to my past and an alternate version of my future. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to either.
Letting Go of Things That Don’t Serve You
It makes sense to hold on to something you love. I love immersing myself in a good book or feeling transported into a make-believe world, but my books no longer served that purpose. Instead, they remained on the shelf, growing dusty.
Those books served as reminders of my hard work in college and my hopes of whiling away my days discussing my love of literature. In some ways, they represented the books I still wished to read and the hope that I would never lose my passion for reading and writing.
Letting Go of Former Dreams
One day, while cleaning and decluttering, I pulled piles of books off the shelves and placed them in a giant stack on the floor in front of me. I held those novels, flipped through their pages, and decided, entirely out of the blue, to purge them.
Getting rid of my books was incredibly difficult for me. I stared at each one, held it in my hands, and paused before forcing myself to drop it into a box. Sometimes I pulled them out and put them back on the shelf, before packing them away.
I thought I would become a teacher or professor for much of my childhood, but here I was on a completely different path in life. By letting go of those books, I was letting go of the person I dreamed I would become.
It’s tough to let go of our dreams.
Breaking the Pattern
Years after graduating, I repeatedly bought new novels. I filled my shelves with stories but never got around to reading them. Instead, I devoured books on programming languages and coding.
While my career path dramatically changed, my self-identity didn’t. I repeatedly convinced myself I would make time to read, but the shelves proved otherwise. As the dust settled on those book jackets, I felt guilty for taking a different path in life. That bookshelf was full of wasted money.
I wouldn’t read those books. No matter how interesting the stories seemed. I still wanted to be the girl who lounged in green grass reading novels, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was the woman staring for hours at my computer screen, writing code.
The person I was becoming was far from the person I thought I would be.
Do You Feel a Deep Connection to Your Possessions?
I am not alone. I know plenty of people who buy books but never read, paintbrushes but never paint, and yarn but never knit.
We keep these items stowed in small corners of our home, and most of us feel guilty for it. We feel guilty because we wasted money on things we don’t use and regret our failure to prioritize the time to use them.
Though we stare at these items from time to time, we don’t change our patterns. We don’t stop buying new books, brushes, or yarn, and we don’t suddenly start using them.
Surely, we will find the time at some point in our lives to use this stuff. Won’t we?
What if we don’t? Does purging our possessions make us feel hopeless? Are we giving up the hope that we will pursue passions we once deemed important?
If we throw these items away, are we giving up faith in what we think we should do or who we should become?
Do you convince yourself you will read, paint, play an instrument, learn new creative skills, or knit one day? Most of us do. I’ve made similar mistakes over and over again in my life.
A large china cabinet used to stand in the corner of my dining room. Behind the glass doors, expensive wedding gifts glistened and sparkled. Elegant decanters, pitchers, and shiny silver platters filled the glass shelves.
I vividly recall unwrapping those delicate gifts and placing them gingerly on the shelves. As I unboxed each item, I pictured my future self hosting extravagant dinner parties filled with tasty morsels and brightly-colored cocktails.
That china cabinet stayed in place for nearly fifteen years, but my husband and I only hosted one Christmas Eve dinner.
Disconnecting From My Possessions
A few years after my second child was born, we renovated our house and removed most of the furniture in our dining room. We sold that ornate china cabinet, donated the decorative platters, packed a few dishes into a box, and stowed it in a crawl space in a far-reaching area of our home.
That corner of the dining room is now empty. Where a wall of dishes once stood, there is now one solitary painting. The remaining cupboard no longer houses plates or trays. Instead, it’s filled with play-doh, popsicle sticks, and finger paints.
You might think that I’d feel disappointed by this change, but I don’t. Well, at least, I don’t anymore. Years after removing that cabinet, I feel an enormous sense of relief.
Be True to Yourself
The truth is that fine china doesn’t represent me. Before I received those gifts, I never aspired to host fancy dinners. I registered for china only after multiple family members convinced me to do so.
My husband and I bought our house years earlier. We didn’t need everyday dishes, towels, or silverware. “Registering for these lavish items just makes sense,” relatives told me.
But over time, I began to resent the looming furniture standing in my dining room. The giant cabinet required regular cleaning and dusting.
I wanted to discard that expensive piece of furniture, but I felt guilty about tossing presents others spent their hard-earned money purchasing. I also felt terrible that I never made use of those beautiful platters and trays.
My vision of hosting extravagant parties conflicted with my true desires. If I throw a party, I want to do it on a warm summer day with a piping hot grill, paper plates, and a giant pile of grilled veggies and hot dogs.
There will most likely be a slip-and-slide, a wheelbarrow full of beer, and a big pile of pastel-colored chalk in the driveway. It’s not the kind of scene where you’ll find delicate china, etched wine glasses, and perfectly ironed table cloths.
When I first removed that china cabinet from my house, I felt like a failure. In a decade, I only hosted one event that required fine china. How pitiful is that? The vision I had of hosting parties never came true, and I didn’t become the person I thought I would. But in reality, that person wasn’t me.
Why did I hang on to something that failed to bring me joy? Wasn’t it much worse to walk by that unused piece of furniture than give it away?
When the time came, I struggled to get rid of that cabinet, but I was thrilled to see the space it’s absence created. Rather than fretting over the things I gave up, I carved out more places for the things I treasured.
For years I convinced myself that I was giving up something valuable, but it wasn’t about the cost of those dishes or losing the ability to host fancy parties. After removing that stuff, I made more room to spend time with my kids, which I treasure so much more than fine china.
I gained so much more by living with less. Unfortunately it took me way to long to realize it.
Trying To Live Up To Other’s Expectations
When my oldest son was a toddler, my husband and I constructed a box garden in a small corner of our yard. I thought it would be a fun way to spend time outside and get our hands dirty.
After building that first garden, my husband decided to make three more, but it turns out I’m not a gardener. I often don’t feel well in the super hot heat of summer. My son didn’t want to dig in the garden, and we found plenty of other ways to have fun outside.
I immediately felt guilty about it. My husband didn’t consult me before building those box gardens, but I still felt terrible about it. I knew I wouldn’t weed or spend time planting in them.
Rather than removing the boxes and admitting that I was not a gardener, I let them overgrow with weeds. Every time I passed by, I felt more disappointed and ashamed.
Tying Our Possessions to Our Identity
I didn’t realize how my stuff was impacting my identity. I was trying to live the life I thought I should, rather than living the life I wanted. That meant, I wasn’t being true to myself.
It pained me to break down those box gardens and wrap up those delicate platters and trays, but once they were gone, I felt nothing but relief at having let them go.
Getting rid of that fine china felt the same as boxing up novels from my college days. I held on to those things in the hopes of using them. In the meantime, I was beating myself up about them.
Do Your Possessions Make You Feel Bad?
How many times do you buy beautiful craft supplies intending to be creative? Yet find yourself never making time for your crafting. The next time you go out, you repeat the pattern. You buy more beautiful supplies that end up in a drawer.
You pass by the wall of books in your home office, but never pick one off the shelf. Then you convince yourself you need to buy more.
We aren’t always honest with ourselves. “I love to read books,” you think to yourself.
If this was true, wouldn’t you find time to read them? Maybe you love the idea of spending your weekends lounging in a hammock reading, but in reality, you find other ways to use your time.
Do you have a box of crafts that taunt you or a row of books on your shelves? Do you convince yourself you’ll get around to those unfinished projects one day?
I kept thinking that the future version of myself would be better. I failed to realize that the current version of me is pretty incredible right now.
When I got rid of those possessions, I thought I would feel guilt and regret. Instead, I felt relieved.
I let go of unrealistic expectations of myself. Expectations that didn’t truly define me.
The same goes for other possessions. After leaving my high-paying job, I struggled to get rid of my work clothes. When my relationships soured, I struggled to get rid of old notes and letters.
I give myself a million reasons to keep holding on my possessions, but they are all poor excuses. Sometimes I feel guilty for wasting people’s hard-earned money. Other times I feel badly for choosing a different path in life, but that isn’t why I struggle to get rid of it. I struggle because I let those possessions define me.
Buying books may make me feel well-read and intellectual, but I’m not any of those things if I don’t read them. Keeping old letters won’t rekindle old relationships.
For years I tied my self-worth to my net-worth. I also linked my identity to my possessions.
Do These Objects Represent Me?
If my house burned down a decade ago, would I have worried about that fine china? Nope, not for one second. Shouldn’t that have been a sign that I didn’t need or want it?
After getting rid of the china cabinet, I made a decision. I wanted to stop thinking about the vision I once created for myself and instead write a new story. Not the story of who I think I should be, but rather the story of who I am.
I forced myself to see that old china cabinet as nothing more than shiny clutter.
Be Patient With Yourself
The struggle doesn’t end by removing a few books or fancy dishes. The pattern repeats itself again and again.
I keep a box of my children’s former toys and books in an area in our attic. They represent the decision to become a stay-at-home parent, not to mention the years of love I’ve poured into my children since they were born.
Although my boys are now five and nine, I find it incredibly difficult to detach the image of myself as a young mother. I allow my possessions to solidify my memories.
Over the years, I’ve forgiven myself for holding on to things I should probably get rid of. I’ve also learned to get rid of stuff that doesn’t define me.
It helps to be honest with myself. Sure, I could waste money continuing the cycle of disappointment. I could hold on to fine china, buy new books I’ll never read, and purchase gardening tools I’ll never use.
I could also stare at the dust growing on my shelves and the garden full of weeds, or I could stop, reevaluate my goals, and try to figure out who I want to be.
A Few Lessons I’ve Learned About My Possessions
Our possessions have more significant impacts on our psyche than we like to admit. We can easily tie our hopes, dreams, aspirations, and accomplishments to the objects that surround us.
It’s tough to let these things go, but to live our best lives, we must. If we hold on to false images of ourselves, we cannot discover our true selves. We must remove the unwanted stuff to make more room for the things we love.
Our possessions can make us feel like failures. Am I a failure because I choose not to garden or spend time reading novels?
To create a better future, we must honestly reevaluate our aspirations. Will you use the crafting supplies in your house, or is it time to give up on that goal and remove them? Either make the time to accomplish those tasks or move on from them.
An aspiration is a strong desire to do something, but there is a large gap between hope and achieving your goal. Don’t allow your aspirations to gather weeds or dust. If they do, ask yourself, do you still aspire to achieve them?
When you go to the store, stop buying stuff you don’t need. Then convince yourself to use the things you own before purchasing more.
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Above all else, remember that you are good enough. I don’t need to garden, host fancy parties, or read books to be any better.
I am no longer ashamed of all the things I haven’t done well in my life, and I don’t wish to continue judging myself by them.
To understand this, I had to free myself from the possessions that were distorting my identity. I had to remove the objects that were creating an identity for me that wasn’t me.
Be Proud of Yourself
What I didn’t realize many years ago was how I tied my identity to my possessions. In my mind, those objects represented my past, present, and future. The trouble is, they were misrepresentations of who I was and who I wanted to be.
If I needed those items, I would use them. If I didn’t, it was time to discard them. Each time I removed one of these items from my home, the guilt and shame disappeared. What replaced it was a great sense of relief.