Everything you're carrying

Everything you're carrying, you picked up. I'm not quite sure where I heard that line but I vividly remember the day it clicked. I had just gotten home from work and as I opened my bedroom door, I remember knocking over four or five Amazon boxes just to get into the room.

I stumbled over a pile of stuff I’d been meaning to find a place for. As I did so, I grabbed a shelf to steady myself and sent a rainfall of trinkets, keepsakes, toys, letters, and books to the floor. I had asked that shelf to hold far more than it was built for.

I remember that in this new pile on the floor there was a letter from the bank, a notice from my insurance company, countless unopened credit card offers, a picture of an old friend, and a leather journal filled with thoughts from another time. Something about the scrap mixed in with the sacred made me realize I'm headed down the wrong path.

As I returned these items to their temporary home on the shelf, stacking them no more gently than they were stacked before, I noticed the shelf itself was falling apart. This plywood and pressboard IKEA-find was a true testament to the impermanence of mass-manufactured crap. I wondered if it would even burn in a bonfire. Maybe it'd light up like paper.

I was unhappy. I was surrounded by things, some of which were supposed to bring me joy, and yet I was unhappy. My whole house was drowning in things. In my closet alone, there were floor to ceiling stacks of folded clothes (ok, bunched up clothes) where the shelves could no longer hold them and they spilled over.

There were 11 or 12 winter coats, 10 or so jackets, probably 70 or 80 shirts. 30 pairs of shoes (I did count those as I painfully chose which to donate, which to try to recycle, and which to just toss). There were also over 200 books in my closet because every bookshelf in the house was full up and starting to sag.

Not only was my bedroom cluttered, my life was cluttered. Hundreds of unchecked messages and emails, constant dings and pings from one of my three mobile devices, relationships I had neglected for too long, toxic friendships I needed to gently break, poor eating habits, poor sleeping habits, and no time for exercise (but I somehow found time for every TV show).

I was self-medicating my discontentment with too much of anything and everything I wanted to consume. I had a breaking point that day when my door wouldn't open without having to push through all the things.

When I noticed the broken shelf, I found it a perfect metaphor for all of the disrepair in my life. That's when the quote came alive to me, "Everything you're carrying, you picked up."

  • Discontentment? You picked it up
  • Bad relationships? You picked them up
  • Poorly-made consumer goods? You picked them up
  • Broken things? You picked them up
  • Debt? You picked it up (Don't say, "but I had to go to school”—no debt is good debt)
  • Depression? You picked it up. You may have a legitimate mental health issue but it isn't helped by the things you've picked up!
  • Baggage? You picked it up
  • Addictions? You picked them up
  • Bad habits? You can guess what I'm going to say...

Everything you're carrying, you picked up. Don't want to carry it anymore? Good. Remember this feeling, remember the weight on your back. Now drop it. That's what I did last year, when I started my minimalism journey. That’s what I’m continuing to do as I return to and reevaluate these practices this year.

Drop all the clothes you never wear, all the books you never read, all the junk from all the fads you chased, all the stuff you convinced yourself you needed. Drop it all. Sell, donate, recycle, gift. Ray Bradbury said, "Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled."

One year later (and again, after a slight return to my old ways), I'm still dropping things. Everyday I find more and more things that stand as trophies to my restless want and relentless drive for more. If something doesn't truly add value to my life or bring me joy, I drop it.

Marie Kondo said, “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now. Not for the person we were in the past.” You've got to drop the things that aren't bringing you joy. You've got to think about your present happiness and future well-being—no time for dwelling on the past, you have a life to build.

Drop the burdens too. You don’t have to carry those things. You’ve heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” I think that’s kind of corny but I love what Jesus said, “Let me carry your heavy load. Walking with me, you'll find rest for your soul.”

His disciple Peter said, “Give your anxieties to him—he cares for you." In The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett, there's a prayer: "I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal, and it delights me to leave them there."

Letting go is something that anyone, at any level of income, can begin to practice. Why? Because it's not another self-help remedy to buy, it’s a mindset. Joshua Fields Millburn said, "Letting go is not only freeing, it’s free—no purchase necessary."

Further reading: "Don’t Just Declutter, De-own" by Joshua Becker; Farewell Summerby Ray Bradbury; The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō; You're Doing Just Fine: Prose & Poetry from a Past That Was Never Present, by Charlotte Eriksson; "Stop Comparing Your Life. Start Living It" by Joshua Becker