I sit in the middle of my living room, surveying the stacks of books, dishes, picture frames, games, pillows and other assorted items surrounding me. I feel like all these items are slowly creeping in on me, threatening to crush me under the weight of their sheer beingness. “Why do I own so much stuff,” I groan.
For the hundredth time that day I ask myself why I decided that moving was a good idea, didn’t I know that would entail packing (an activity I am definitely not enjoying)?!
The key is to sort through it and divide out what I really want and what I can let go of. At least that’s the advice my family and friends keep giving me. Ok, I can do this, I give myself an internal pep talk. I don’t need 29 empty picture frames, afterall, 28 will do, so now I just have to find the 1 that I can let go of. That’s what the advice meant, right? Just kidding, of course I know I will need to let go of more than just 1…maybe 2.
I look around, there is the little mermaid picture my cousin and aunt made me for my birthday, there is an ancient game of backgammon that my husband insists we play at least once a year, even though it usually ends with me feeling insulted that he didn’t let me win and him feeling frustrated that no matter how many times he explains the rules to me I just can’t seem to remember them. There is the book I bought on the recommendation of a friend but have yet to crack open.
All of these items – MY items – have a story, hold a memory, connect me to the person who gave it to me.
Going through these items should make me feel happy, why do I feel like crying instead?
“Ding-dong,” the doorbell startles me from my deep thoughts. With a big smile of relief, I get up and greet my friend at the door. Earlier that week, I frantically sent out an SOS signal to my friends, asking desperately for their help with packing up my house. She gives me a big hug, and I exhale some of the pent-up franticness that I had been feeling moments ago.
Everything seems easier with the support of a friend.
Laughing a little about my state of mind we tackle the boxes together. With her by my side – a friend in the flesh – I feel better about letting items go that are only a symbol of the friendships in my life. I tell her about my earlier musings about why packing up my house in advance of a move has been so ridiculously hard for me to do. Having recently gone through a move herself, she tells me about her theory that our house mirrors our identity.
The items we have in our house - furniture, decorations, knick-knacks, they are a representation of our identity in this world; our style, our taste, our culture.
No wonder then it is ridiculously hard to pack all of this away.
I am literally packing away my identity. Stripping it down one room at a time.
My hodge-podge collection of dishes in the kitchen that symbolize my affinity for collecting used, mismatched items from all over. The wall hangings in the living room from my travels through Asia and Africa, my collection of board games in the dining room that were played with much hilarity with my nieces on weekends.
In our home we surround ourselves with items that represent to the outer world what our inner world looks like.
Granted they are all merely symbols, and yet it feels important, it feels like the anchor that I need so that my boat won’t blow away in the winds of change. The anchor not only reminds me of experiences I have had, but also that I am not a solitary tumble weed. I have a community of connection in this world, people who cared enough about me to give me a candle or a glass vase or a photo frame at some point.
These are all my little anchors, connecting me to others, to a world that is larger than just me, to a life that has left an impression on the world that isn’t just going by unnoticed.
Our ‘things’, our ‘clutter’, even our highly practical and useful items are not only a representation of our identity, they are a representation of our connection to the world.
Ultimately, isn’t connection to others the key to just about every happiness equation? Humans are pack animals, we rarely can or chose to survive in solitary modes, we travel in family units- either blood family or chosen (non-blood) family. We are hardwired to pair up with a partner and cohabitate.
Just like I needed my friends when I was freaking out about packing, we rely on others to help us through tough times and look to others to share the good times. And since we don’t all live with all of our family and best friends in the same house (sadly – though can you imagine how chaotic that would be?), we choose symbols of these connections to put up in our homes to remind us that we are not alone, that we matter to others, and others matter to us. In Western cultures we may chose to live in silo mode – single family households, but ultimately our connections transcend the physical boundaries of a house, we are connected with neighbors, family and friends who sometimes live all around the globe.
Well no wonder I’m having one melt down after another. Because my husband and I haven’t quite decided yet where we want to settle down next, I am packing away my symbols of connection, putting them in storage for an indefinite amount of time.
Not knowing when I will see these wonderful symbols again shakes my identity to the core.
I’m feeling ungrounded, all my anchors are pulled up, and with every next wind gust I may blow further from shore. Adrift in this next life phase feeling untethered.
The knowledge that my home furnishings are merely symbols tides me through this emotionally rocky time.
While that vase my friend gave me symbolizes our bond, our bond is so much more. Afterall, thanks to technology, I will always only be merely one text message, phone call, or email away from connection with her.