Monday, November 21, 2011

Ponderings on Downsizing

It is now four years since we sold our house and moved into an apartment. That action was a minor trauma. We had to look toward downsizing and, I believe, we managed to take some amazing actions.

Actually some of it was more than a minor trauma. I still have two images in my mind- the first was the car filled with nearly 30 boxes of books we donated. The other was unloading old electronics at the local recycling center, equipment that had not been used in years but held great memories. When I drove away it was with an awareness of how much money had just been recycled.

I have a hunch that some of us hold on to things because we don't know how to let go. Or perhaps it's a hedge against getting older. Or maybe it's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Or, just plain fear that what you toss out today you will most surely need again next week, even if it has been in that box in the closet now for four years.

Then there are pictures and books that have sentiment attached. So and so gave me that book. Or that book REALLY moved me in a new way of thinking. Or that one is a classic.

How about all those CDs I had digitized and now have more music on my iTunes library than I can listen to in a month of continuous 24/7 playing, including nearly 1400 Christmas songs. Maybe I need to take another look at that OCD symptom list.

What brought this on was sitting in my computer room looking around and wondering how in heaven's name I was ever going to clean things out. To truly downsize these books and boxes, tiwzzles and mementos from 63 years of my life, 40 years of marriage, 35 years of a career, or just the music I have discovered I like in the last six months. To let go would be to give in to aging. To get rid of them would be to say I may never need them again. Or all those papers, tax, finance, legal, etc. How long do I keep them? Why bother with something that is from 40 years ago.

I remember when we had to clean out my father-in-law's house a few years ago. I kept asking why he kept that. I still don't know why he kept those things- and I am no closer to finding out why I keep them- or how to stop.

Yes, I know I am rambling and not getting to the heart of the matter. Not really. Even minor hoarding like I do may be a sign of an inability to trust that we will have what we need when we need it. My wife has said for years (and I agree) that at least some significant portion of all this was triggered originally by being "orphaned" as a teen. Life will change, I learned, but if I hold on tight to some things perhaps I can maintain balance and my place in the world.

This rambling is all taking place on Saturday evening and, as I write, I realized again that this would be my Dad's 106th birthday. He died a very long time ago, at age 59. I am 63 today. I knew him for 16 years. I have known one of my best friends for 27 years, my daughter for nearly 31 and my wife for 41. Maybe part of my holding on is to keep the past alive. If I give up it may mean that those of the past will be forgotten. Or the events will lose any meaning.

Yes, it sounds like I am playing a game of ring around the circle or psycho-babble and analysis. Why do these things go through my head? Why can I not find it easier to let go? As I sat and stared at the books and boxes Saturday evening I kept saying that to clean out- to downsize or get rid of things I don't need or won't even use or look at- would be to give up. It would be to finally admit that I am mortal and time-limited and ultimately powerless. To hang on like I do may very well be an attempt to keep my life managed BY ME.

In the end I have the feeling that most of us wrestle with these issues as we age. It is not an easy thing to wrap ones mind around. It is not about life after death. It is not about heaven or hell or nothing. It is simply recognizing the arrow of time heading in a direction we find hard to accept.

Yet this is Thanksgiving week. I know that the best antidote to these thoughts, and perhaps the fear of becoming nothing, is to look at the day we are given each and every day. I have been blessed to have far more than either of my parents. I have many reasons to be grateful today- and I am. All this pondering becomes a way of ignoring what is around me. All the baggage of the past I have stored in my closet and on my selves and in the files can be a burden. Perhaps it holds me back from what is next, or its weight is slowing down the growth I continue to experience.

So maybe, just maybe, I should take the advice I would give you or others: Stay in today. Turn it over. Be grateful and see what you have.

If it works now as it has in the past, I'll let you know.

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