I believe in letting go of old things. For me it’s as much a part of life as shedding is for our family dog Duke. Every so often Duke drops gobs of hair all over the yard so his new coat can grow in.
While I don’t shed in quite the same way as Duke does, I do get the itch now and then to discard things I don’t need. That’s not to say that parting with them is easy. Not long ago I decided to donate my electric typewriter. I felt a twinge of sadness as I lugged the old clunker three city blocks from my small Manhattan studio apartment to the thrift store. I hadn’t used the thing in decades, yet somehow I started to feel strangely connected to it. The closer I got to the thrift store, the more I felt I was casting aside a piece of me. And I guess I was. It was on that typewriter that I wrote all my college papers, prepared my first resume and composed my first letter seeking employment in the world. And here I was – unceremoniously giving it away. But I knew I was doing the right thing. Aside from the fact that I no longer used the typewriter, I needed the space for my new hobby: photography. Where the clunker once lounged in my closet, I stacked boxes of black-and-white photos I printed in the darkroom.
A week later, I attacked my cabinets. Out went the five-inch binders with school readings, all the dilapidated notebooks and the research papers from long ago. What a relief it was to unburden myself of things that, yes, helped shape me but that I no longer needed. It was like giving up my training wheels. While I was at it, I tossed out notes on old stories I had written for journalism classes, making room for all the new stories I had yet to write.
My closets, too, got hit, though not as ruthlessly as my cabinets. I go through them ritualistically once, sometimes twice, a year, packing a shopping bag of clothes and donating it to the Salvation Army. I banish all the ill-fitting, out-of-style clothes that don’t work with my wardrobe so that I can make room for the things that do. And if I’m feeling guilty about being wasteful, I take comfort in the fact that maybe someone with greater imagination and more resourceful than me will get some use out of the clothes.
Hopefully a new stylish me emerges from the exercise. If not stylish, at least it’s a new, preferably wiser, kinder, more generous me, as reflected in a fresh fashion look mixing new items with recycled old favorites.
For me, letting go is about moving forward. Just as Duke sheds his coat each year, I too need to shed remnants of old selves—old me’s—to allow the new me to breathe and come alive. Otherwise, I’d be lost in lots of clutter.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.