- Martha Engeman
The Power of Stuff
“Do you ever notice that your things seem to mate in the night?” I have carried that thought from Terah Kathryn Collins, the author of The Western Guide to Feng Shui, for the two plus decades since I first heard her speak it. I remember making a series of moves several years ago in a short time and being amazed at how much I had accumulated in just two months. While I am not a shopper, I have been known to be a saver.
For the last few years, I have been in a process of sorting and letting go of what I no longer need. I am by no means alone in this process. When we were shut down during the pandemic, many people were clearing out their homes. The popularity of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing speaks to our collective need to get a handle on our stuff and to be conscious of what “sparks joy” (her words) and what doesn’t.
When my father died, I had the opportunity to go through some old papers of his. His mother had saved every school paper, every letter he ever wrote—everything. I got to see a side of my father that I didn’t know. One of the fun finds was a packet of letters from his fifth grade classmates when he was out of school because his sister had the mumps and was contagious. Each of the letters shared a bit of classroom drama–one child had dumped over an ink well and everyone had to help clean it up, another child got caught talking, another one had to switch seats which obviously changed the dynamics since many letters mentioned it. I realized the power of saving special items, but not everything. I really didn’t need every paper he had written for school and every spelling test.
When my girls were little, I would work with them on letting go of what they no longer wanted or needed as they grew. We would touch each toy or book and put it in a keep or let go pile. They have definitely internalized the message and are experts at going through things and letting go of what they no longer want or need.
As I clear out the things in my home, I have had many opportunities to interact with my stuff. Some things are easy for me to go through and let go. Other items are much harder. I have a visceral connection with my books, so letting go of them has not always been easy. Some areas I have put off for later–like pictures. Some days it is easy to go through things. Other days, it is really tough. What I find to be sentimental and want to pass on is not always what my daughters want. So I keep letting go.
Everything in our world is made of energy and that includes our things. We also suffuse our belongings with our energy. My daughter’s Pooh bear and my granddaughter’s special Lambie, contain so much of their love. Of course items can also carry our negative energy as well.
In the process of cleaning out, I have had some realizations:
The things that support us change over time. For seven years I had a storage unit. I thought I would go through the storage unit and clear it out, and I did in fits and starts, but never got to the bottom of it until I made a major move. When I finally went through the storage unit, I ended up discarding most of the items. What I thought was important seven years prior was no longer what I wanted or needed. It was a powerful lesson in discernment and letting go.
When we keep things that we don’t really want or need, it weighs us down. Our things carry weight and take up space. As we constantly interact with our living spaces, so do we interact with the things that are in our spaces. Have you ever had something in your space that you walk by regularly and think, “I really don’t want that” and do nothing about it? Each interaction with that thing pulls us down.
Our things want to be of service. They are designed to provide for us as clothing, storage items, decorations, furniture and more. They want to serve and support us. When they no longer support us, they want to support someone else or be discarded with love. One of the practices that Marie Kondo recommends is thanking your items for their service before you pass them on or discard them. This increases our appreciation for what we have and what we no longer need.
Storing too many things for too long leads to stuck energy. A few years ago I realized that saving things for some elusive future use was doing a disservice to me and to the items that I was saving. I was freezing the energy of the things, the energy of the place where they were stored and was overwhelmed with the amount of things in storage. To be clear, I have chosen to keep some historical items or some things that I just am not ready to discard, but those items are fewer and fewer.
Our spaces breathe a sigh of relief when we declutter them, and so do we. In preparation for staging and selling the house, I have moved several items into storage. My realtor warned me that the space would feel sparse. I haven’t felt that at all. What I notice is that the space is open, inviting and I literally can breathe better when I am in it.
As I interact with my things, I keep thinking about the concept of enough. How much space is enough space for one person? How many things are enough things? In a culture that pushes acquisition, is that acquisition bringing us joy and freedom or more burdens?
When we realize that we are enough and we have enough, we can live in a place of true freedom. When we live life from the present moment, the siren call of acquisition tends to soften. When we consciously choose our space and our things, they can truly support us. When we are present, feel supported, and know we are enough, we find peace.