Does having less give you more?

Thoughts before a process. Watch this space.

I recently moved home for the holidays after my first year of Med School. Overnight, I went from living in a 9 square metre shared room back to living in an airy open house. When I first started uni, the room was a blank canvas to me, empty and free. But over the course of the year I gradually picked up a bunch of random stuff, filling up the space. I thought it would make the place happier, more unique to me, more like a home. In the beginning, this sort of worked, these things were comforting to me and brought me joy. But over time, the accumulation of trinkets became stifling. The things hemmed me in, I had no space to breathe, to think. This was all very unhelpful as it came towards revision time (I also had no natural light, but that’s another story, got to love a basement dwelling).

When it came to moving out day, there I was, laden with boxes and bags – at least twice the amount I had originally brought with me. It had taken me around three days to pack and not for lack of effort! Where the hell had all this stuff come from? I just didn’t understand how I’d had enough time and money to put towards this strange habit of collecting tat, but somehow it had caught up with me. I felt disordered and bloated with the glut of rubbish I had acquired.

I thought that coming home would therefore be refreshing. I thought I’d have more space to spread out, more space to think. But it would turn out not to be the case. Something has clearly shifted in the past few months because whenever I look at all these things around me I rarely see objects of use to me or objects of comfort, I just see extra stuff. Stuff. Even that word makes me unhappy. It feels unwieldy, unsatisfying. Wouldn’t you rather have space than stuff? There’s just too much of it, everywhere. When I look around at it all, it feels like I’m looking at all the mistakes I have made since childhood. It’s all just too much. Too much money has been wasted on this stuff, too much time. An overall excess that brought with it some initial, but ultimately, fleeting joy. It just doesn’t last.

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But what’s truly weird is how difficult it is to get rid of any of it. However uncomfortable and unhappy it makes me feel, I still have some sort of connection with it. It feels like I have some sort of responsibility to my keep all my past selves alive by carrying their various physical baggage. And, from what I’ve heard and read recently, that also has an emotional impact. That physical baggage brings with it some complex emotions to haul around too. And I had a happy childhood and youth so goodness knows how other people must feel about their various hoarded belongings. As far as I can figure from my so-far limited research into minimalism, it would refresh my spirit to do away with it all. But that looks like a mighty big hurdle for now.

Of course, I still have some things that bring me joy – my photos, my books – in fact, to me these don’t even fall in the remit of ‘things’. They are more than that – these are the remnants of my past that I want to keep with me. A reminder of who I was and a sign of who I may well become. It feels important to retain some sort of physical record of the days I have lived, the various people I’ve been throughout my short life. I want to be able to pore over these records with my children, my grandchildren. To be able to laugh at those photos, feel the edges of postcards, feel where my youthful hands wrote short stories in my old school books. Those things are real and cannot – should not – be denied.

I guess the problem is the blurred line between useless and meaningful. I see a box of tangled cables – I have no qualms in getting rid. I see my first teddy bear, ouch no hold onto that. I see my A Level notes? Ooh. Yes. I’m just not sure. I almost wish I’d had the balls of some of my friends who threw caution to the winds last year, not thinking of retakes, and burned their schoolwork in an impassioned post-exam rage. But I couldn’t. I had put so much hard work into all that. So much work into passing those exams, getting into Med School. I know the paper doesn’t tell half the story of the many hours and days put into that effort, but it serves as a reminder of what I’ve accomplished and what’s possible in my future. I doubt I’ll even look at half those books again. But as memories fade, a big part of me wants to keep the record intact. I want to watch my own development. Read the comments of teachers long-forgotten. Be a bit nostalgic.

So it makes me sad when I realise that, chances are, if half of these books and folders disappeared without my knowing – if a small pixie man came and took them in the night – I would probably be none the wiser. I guess in that lies my answer. That nostalgia is just that. I need to recognise the transience of things, not cling onto that past, remember it but not wallow. That would require me to live more in the present. And we all know how difficult that is. Scary too.

Problem is, I’m about to turn twenty. I have about three months left and counting down. Now, I want my early adulthood to count for all it’s worth. I’ve even written out a sad goals list (the usual get fitter, be healthier, work smarter etc.). But a big part of that list is about letting go. Letting go of the people that make me unhappy. Of the memories that make me wince or feel guilty. Now – when put into context, surely getting rid of a few stacks of paper should look much simpler. But – as with so many things – I’m sure it will be easier said than done, no matter how hard I want it.

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