I am struck by how many things I have done and kept in my life in anticipation that a bad thing might happen. Just take a moment and ask yourself, how much of what you have in your house, and in your life in general, is kept there because a bad thing might happen?
Insurance is the easiest example, and while it may not be a horrible thing to have insurance, it is an interesting thing, conceptually, given that it is undeniably based on nothing other than, “If a bad thing happens, all will not be lost.”
But then there’s that even more grayish area of keeping things in case a bad thing might happen: keeping clothes, for example, or perhaps furniture, because you may not ever be able to afford something like that again. Or, what about keeping inherited things, or gifts, that you would never have purchased yourself, and yet you allow them to clog up your space and your energy, sitting around like the white elephants that they are?
In my case, the fear-based possessions seemed much more innocuous: files and more files of papers that would validate and protect me in case I was ever subpoenaed to court, for example, after having won full physical and legal custody of my children after a long, hard court ordeal. Or tax documents and files in case the massive IRS decided to take on little me. Some of it, yes, I needed to keep, and I still have it. On the other hand, once you look up how long these things need to be kept, you might realize that you have more than you need.
I always thought, for example, that it was necessary to keep seven years’ worth of tax return materials.
The IRS website says that in most cases, three years’ tax returns are all the can hunt you down for.
Because I’m the parent of a disabled son who takes a medical deduction every year, the pile of paperwork for a decade’s worth of medical bills for a child who’s followed by maybe seven different specialists is, well, a lot. I had been so busy just making sure their needs were met that clearing out old tax files was not on my mind. Ever.
But not only is it a lot to keep (frankly, I had four full file cabinets in my house of those and many other things, which has been cut in more than half).
It is heavy, depressing, disheartening stuff. And when I went on my burning spree not long ago, a lot of it was burned.
It. Felt. Fantastic.
It’s funny, but not surprising, that as someone who has spent a couple of decades dedicated to helping people overcome their fears and work through their limits, here I am, with a shit pile of my own.
The clothes have been donated, the papers, burned or recycled, layer after layer is being removed, but what this has done is boiled down the issue to what’s much more core: How about the place where I live? How about my house? How about my work? How about the way my primary relationships look?
Suddenly, every aspect of my life, well beyond the physical, is up for introspection.
As an example, I live in a lovely little place, in a highly desirable area. Inside, it is quite an oasis. But it’s on a busy street, it’s noisy, and there’s no real space around me. If I am going to be totally honest, I’ll have to admit that I don’t like it all that much.
In fact, can I go ahead and say it?
I don’t want to live here anymore.
Buying it was a choice I made before I even had children, the oldest of which has gone off to college and the youngest of which does not even attend school in our district for medical reasons.
My home is almost paid off, and my eyes were so focused on that finish line that I never even looked around me to see that it was a finish line I don’t even want to cross anymore, don’t need to cross, don’t care to cross.
What makes us blind like this?
What has made me blind like this, willing to just live a life that perhaps other people would say is absolutely amazing but that isn’t quite right for me?
At the same time, I don’t feel the need to be impulsive. I feel more like a predator in the grass, waiting, waiting. There are some things I need to do before I sell it, not the least of which is to get rid of all the stuff in it that I don’t want or need.
Years ago, during the California fires, we were evacuated. I remember piling my two kids into the car, throwing in a few of their clothes and toys, but not much else. I also remember stopping and asking myself, “is there anything else that I truly would hate to see burned to the ground?”
The answer was no.
And yet, much of it remained, like a bad habit, a deeply worn groove, a “this is the way things are.”