I’m not a minimalist. My wife and I have an entire shelf that is full of special objects from trips we’ve taken, anniversary gifts, and woodsie decorations from our wedding. As I spend more time than I wish to on my living room couch, having space for memories I treasure is a solid source of strength for me. This said, we recently went through a substantial downsize in order to move from a 2 bedroom house with storage to a small 1 bedroom cottage with no extra space. I struggled with this. The move was necessary because the house we’ve been living in sold unexpectedly and things are tight for us financially right now. Unsurprisingly, this is just the kind of situation where having a yoga practice is really freaking good for supporting my work to come to terms with what is happening. I don’t have to love it, I just need to see what I can do with what is.
Two parts of this downsizing required me to take a tremendous look at what I did not need to carry with me anymore and damn, this was some hard heart work. The first, involved clearing out some cabinets that I have moved around with me for years but had long-since stopped using productively. As I went through them, it appeared that I had been stuffing everything I didn’t want to deal with in their drawers and folders for about 20 years, from photographs to forms. While clearing it out, I leafed through pictures of myself in my early 20s– vivacious and engaged, my cheeks usually flushed from a recent hike, yoga practice, or other adventure. Among the pictures from this era was a photo of the last day that I saw my grandmother. The day that I realized I needed to cut off contact. I was 22. There it was–I was pale, almost grey through my face, my eyes were glazed over–I simply was not there.
So many people who have faced trauma have also faced friends and family telling them not to believe their own truth. Many are given reasons why their abuse couldn’t have happened and consequently struggle to believe the gravity of their own experience. I was no exception to this. As soon as I looked at the picture I was struck by the truth that it told, how strikingly my body spoke the trauma that I had yet to articulate with words. I was torn with two immediate impulses: rip the picture to shreds and keep it to validate what I know to be true in my life. In the end, I did neither. I simply didn’t keep it. I realized that I now trust my memories well enough that I don’t need to hang onto it.
In addition to photos, I have carried several dozen old journals with me over almost two decades. As I prepared to release what I did not need to carry, I leafed through their pages. In the seemingly endless processing sprawled in over twenty spiral bound notebooks, there was so much grappling as I learned to trust myself and my experiences and face the simple but hard to hold truth that those who claimed to have loved me had inflicted deep harm. These days of downsizing were fraught and it took all my self-motivation to continue my yoga practice through each one. Yoga is a sure way for me to feel all the feelings, emotional and physical, and staying in touch with myself in this way was such a challenge. As I’d return to my mat, another truth emerged in my body–that I can trust my own memories and no longer need the record. I found a local park in the woods that had a bonfire pit for day visitors and my wife and two lovely friends fed the journals to the fire while we talked and sang songs of release. As they burned, the pages lit and opened, turning as they became embers. This was a beautiful ritual, rooted in a new stage of healing.
There is currently much debate about the “right” way to deal with clutter, whether it is better to own a lot or very little. I don’t pretend to know the answer to this and strongly suspect that it, like so many things, is highly individual. What I do know is that we moved a few days ago and the new space is feeling just right for us. It has room for some of our special things, but it does not have room for what I had been carrying in order to trust myself and my memories. And it no longer needs to.