You may think that I’m going to talk about all the stuff we (particularly Americans) have, but I’m not. What I really want to discuss is the energy that is behind your stuff. Your stuff is a physical manifestation of who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. The problem is that sometimes those three versions of you can be wildly different. If you want to make significant change in your life, holding on to stuff can create an energetic cord tying you to the past you are trying to get away from. Lao Tzu wrote, “When I let go of who I am, I become who I might be.” I would phrase it like this, “When I let go of who I was, I make space for who I want to be.” If you are trying to break away from an old identity, clearing out your stuff can be a form of energy work that frees you to move on.
Imagine this. You live in Philly and you’re a big sports fan. You loyally cheer on the Eagles, 76ers, and Flyers through each season. Your home is full of sport paraphernalia proclaiming you a fan. Your identity and your stuff match up. Then you land a long-term job in New York. Off you go with all your Philly sports energy to live in a foreign land. All is well for a few years until you slowly feel your allegiances shift. You begin to root for the Yankees, the Knicks, and the Bills. Now your stuff doesn’t match your new identity. What can you possibly do? Well, most people would change their stuff. Out goes the Philly stuff and in comes the New York stuff. You might keep a few things that you love, but overall your stuff shifts to match your new identity.
We do this naturally in many ways. Your old Goth clothes, beloved in high school, make way for the natural, organic, handmade clothes of your new low-impact identity. The home you bought ten years ago gets a makeover to reflect your most current tastes. Your skateboarding and rollerblading stuff of your youth makes way for family camping and biking equipment.
However, sometimes we don’t let our stuff change with us. For a multitude of reasons, our stuff gets stuck in our homes along with an old identity that we are unable to let go. We hang on to clothes we haven’t been able to fit in for 20 years. We have books on our shelves that we loved as dewy-eyed college students exploring intellectual ideas for the first time. We have closets full of hobbies we never take time for. We hang on to cooking utensils and cookbooks that no longer give us enjoyment. In these cases, our stuff holds the energy of who we were but no longer are.
When you keep old stuff in your life, it creates an anchor point that energetically holds you back from change. It is hard for your identity to evolve into something new when the old is staring you in the face every day. If you want to grow into someone different, you are going to have to think about how your stuff influences your identity.
So let’s think about your stuff and how it might be keeping you stuck. You can divide your old stuff into three basic groups. The stuff that represents “Who I Was,” the stuff that represents “Who I Am”, and the stuff that shows “Who I Want To Be.” Right now, take a physical or mental walk through your living space. Sort the stuff you see into one of these three groups. Some things might fall into more than one category, and that's OK. Just get an idea of what you have and where the majority of your stuff falls.
Just to be clear, we are not making any judgments about your stuff. We don’t care about how much there is, what quality it is, where it came from, or how much you use it. We’re just looking at how it relates to your identity.
The next step is to think about the stuff that represents “Who I Was.” Let's divide that stuff into two groups. Group 1 is the stuff that reminds us of who we were and have naturally grown out of. Group 2 is the category of stuff that represents who we were but haven’t let go of yet. Looking at your “Who I Was” stuff, ask yourself if you keep it to remember who you were (Group 1), or to help you hold on to who you were (Group 2)? In other words, is it a reminder of the identity you have moved away from, or is it an identity you haven’t given up yet?
For example, old sports trophies could fall into either category. Suppose you have a wall full of them. If these trophies remind you (happily) of the person you were (Group 1) but they aren’t representative of who you are now, then maybe you can keep a few and let the rest go. Do you really need them all to remember your sports career? However, this wall of trophies might be there because you are trying to maintain an old identity that you can’t let go. In this case, you need to realize that the energy around those trophies is keeping you stuck in the past so that you can’t move into the future. You need to make a conscious decision to release that part of your identity, get rid of some of those trophies, and free yourself from that past identity.
Stuff that falls into Group 1 and Group 2 should be evaluated to determine what you can get rid of, but it is Group 2 is where you are probably going to have to do the most work. This group is the physical representation of your inability to let go of who you were. There may be good reasons for this. You may need to take some time to mourn what was lost and the person you no longer are. You might need to get real with yourself and do some loving truth-telling. You might need someone else to come in and give you some loving truth-telling! However you tackle it, you need to face this stuff and remove it if you want to create change in your life. If you leave this stuff in your life, you are also leaving that energy there and you will find it extremely hard to change into who you want to be.
When I was preparing to retire from teaching in 2019 I came across Tosha Silver’s books Change Me Prayers and It’s Not Your Money. As I was trying very hard to open myself to any new possibility, Tosha’s perspective and prayers were transformative for me. A piece of one of her prayers constantly ran through my mind. “Let everything that needs to go, go. Let everything that needs to come, come.” I said this constantly as I cleared out my life preparing for whatever was next. I literally cleaned out every single area of my house, letting go of anything that was energetically holding me back. I opened myself up as much as possible to what was ready to come in next. I got rid of all my Dickens books (I don’t read them any more) and kept all the Jane Austens (definitely a favorite for a rainy day). I gave away all my basket making materials (I never actually used them) and some carving tools I finally admitted I was never going to use. I gave away a lot of clothes and shoes I kept only for my job. I sold artwork that no longer felt right and boxes of canning jars (I love to can, but I have done very little the past few years). Piece by piece I looked at and evaluated everything I owned. Was it part of my identity? Did I want to keep it moving forward into my new life? What needed to go so that the new could come?
I bet you never thought of de-cluttering as energy work! By getting clear on where you want to go and releasing the stuff that won’t get you there, you also release the energy cords holding you back. This can be a freeing and transformative practice. It also sends a signal to the universe that you are serious about changing your life. You may not know exactly what to do, but you are starting somewhere and trusting that the next steps will arise at the right time. Energetically, you are committing to the change you have envisioned and are asking for the empty space to be filled with the energy of who you want to become. This is a powerful way to get unstuck and start moving forward again.
So are you ready to start cleaning out your stuff and the energy behind it? If you want to jump right in, go for it! Take what we talked about here and these two mantras to get you started:
“When I let go of who I was, I make space for who I want to be.” (Katie Dunbar inspired by Lao Tzu)
“Let everything that needs to go, go. Let everything that needs to come, come.” (Tosha Silver). What are you ready to let go of so the new can flow into your life?
Want a little more help to get started? Download the Your Stuff, Your Energy PDF that will help you clarify where you are and where you want to go. Then it gives you directions on how to look at and evaluate your stuff.
If you find it really hard to let go of your old identity or to let go of your stuff, you might be coming across deeper energy patterns that need to be released. Physical stuff can all be connected to beliefs, thought patterns, and emotional traumas. If you are running into walls clearing out stuff, this is an indication that some deeper work needs to happen. Take the opportunity to explore these areas of tension.
Just as a side note, as I was writing this post it occurred to me that this also explains the trauma that happens when natural disasters wipe out homes. Fire, flood, tornadoes, war, and more can unexpectedly and violently destroy a lifetime worth of stuff that represents your identity. In this sense, it isn’t “just stuff,” it's the collected physical representation of who you are. Of course that would be traumatizing to have that identity and its energy ripped away from you! Of course you would need to mourn before being able to move on! The next time you see someone trying to recover from a disaster, recognize that it isn’t just their stuff that is gone, it is the energy of their identity that has been torn away. This experience can be extremely painful and requires a compassionate response from all of us.
Good luck starting to clear out your stuff, and your energy this week!