Of late, I have been tearing apart my house in search of a long lost pair of pants, casualties of the move north no doubt. In seeking this material possession, I have unearthed myriad memories. I am what you would call a severely dedicated, worldly packrat. In my nearly 30 years on this planet, I have collected and gleaned odds and ends from many corners of the planet, and I have held onto them in my travels until now. Alaska will be the last frontier that many of my worldly possessions will see.
It is freeing to let go. I can honestly say that I have never been very good at parting with my possessions, even those I rarely incorporate into my daily life. In moving to Alaska, I was forced to part with many things due to space limitations. The further down to the wire I got, the more simple my criteria for holding onto possessions. In the end, I simply asked the question – is this replaceable?
In my recent rampage to simplify, I am asking fewer questions and parting with far more. You wouldn’t know it to look around my home, which is still fairly bursting at the seams with “stuff,” but I can begin to feel relief with each garbage bag I donate to the local thrift store, the Community Chest (or “C” chest as locals lovingly refer to it).
The Gustavus community reuses and recycles impeccably well, by Alaska standards and those of the lower 48 (which isn’t always saying very much, considering you cannot even recycle glass in parts of Arizona). Baby clothing, strollers, and packs make the rounds around town so new parents hardly need to purchase a thing. One high school student told me she loved seeing the little kids walking around wearing her childhood clothing because it felt like watching a moving memory of her life each time.
Local kids set aside clothing they have outgrown with particular friends in mind to share them with. Kids will ask those just a bit ahead in the growing process is they can have a certain t-shirt or sweater when it has been outgrown. Even footwear is spoken for! The mother of one young member of the community told me her daughter confessed that she didn’t want to give anything away because she was concerned that if she promised something to someone and then did not wind up giving that person the piece of promised clothing, she would feel badly about it.
This is one extremely far cry from the world where I grew up, a community where you were chastised for wearing the same dress to two bar or bat mitzvahs and where it was common practice to invest in brand new clothing with each turn of the season.
There is much that is meaningful in life, and I am finding great satisfaction and warmth of heart in giving away. A favorite young person in the community has been visiting me each week for a piano lesson. We play piano for about 20-30 minutes, and then it is cat playtime, which typically begins with flying string and cat acrobatics and winds down with a search for the most skittish of the three.
At the end of the most recent visit, I asked my student if she would like to try on a sweater that I had held onto for years. She immediately put it on and hasn’t taken it off since. I wonder if I hold onto things because I am waiting for just the right person to give each piece a good home. Ok, I know it is a bit ridiculous to anthropomorphize a sweater, but if it helps me to part with inanimate objects, why not? My old sweater is certainly fulfilling its purpose on this planet far better now than it was sitting in my closet untouched for the past 5 years.
I am finding that these material things offer more burden and weight than levity and joy, especially when moving time rolls around. In the end, the fullness of life cannot be measured by how many sweaters or shoes one possesses. I have a friend who once told me if you ever wonder about your quality of self, you have but to look at the people in your community, those friends you choose to surround yourself with, for they are a reflection of you. If nothing else, I would be proud to be mirrored by the young people of Gustavus.