As I spent the last days before embarking on the formidable task of boxing up my life and ridding myself of very many things, a thought began to form: we each have a shadow of history which trails along behind us. When moving from one home to the next, it’s far too easy to just put our history in a box and trail it along behind like a shadow that perhaps we no longer recognize; maybe to reopen on arrival, maybe to go on a shelf.
In my case, that shadow manifests itself in large part in *stuff*. I have a hard time letting go of the physical reminders of my past. Books I’ll never read again, old tattered clothes that maybe someday I’ll get around to repairing, collections of memorabilia from various aspects of my past, all of which have contributed to who I am today but are no longer essential to me.
Preparing for this adventure provided a much-needed incentive to let some of that past go, to pare away parts of my shadow that have become hazy and unrecognizable with time. I gave away half of my clothes, a third of my books. I spent time – but not to0 much, due to Julie’s stopwatch – going through those old memories, remembering the stories they crystallize for me, and letting them go. I felt such a sense of relief when I pitched my 25 year old bought-for-college footlocker, crusted with Greenpeace and Grateful Dead stickers, into the pit at the transfer station. Watching the ancient futon frame collapse on impact was cathartic and liberating. Giving old blankets and shoes and socks to the folks at the local homeless encampment felt like a best highest use, much better than yet another shelf.
Despite this, I kept too much – I have bags with stickers and concert ticket stubs. Burning Man memories have superseded those from the distant hippie / outdoor bum days of my twenties, and I kept pendants and patches and, yes, tickets. But I even let go a lot of these things. Not enough, but some. More shadows coalesce in boxes, on shelves.
Trimming the shadow of one’s own history proved a far greater challenge than I anticipated. I can only hope that in 18 months when I return to the life I’ve put on a shelf with all those boxes, I am able to look at the minimalism I’ve lived during that period and make another set of hard decisions, and trim more of the shadow.