Have you ever tried to clean out your life? What do you keep? What do you leave behind? How do you decide what to hold onto and what to let go of?
Just before I sat down to write this post, I was shredding some old documents. One of my tasks this summer has been to finally, FINALLY, go through the last remaining piles of paper I have had lying around since my move last summer. You know how it is when you’re packing and moving—some stuff you just don’t have time to go through and so you throw it in a box, and you tell yourself that you’ll deal with it when you get to your new place. It’s taken me a year, but I have at last gotten around to completing this task. While shredding and sorting this morning, it occurred to me that what the shredding and the sorting of these piles of paper really represent is my continuing attempt to clean out my life.
Cleaning out your life. What does that even mean? I think the first time I put this process into words that held any meaning for me was at the start of my final year in graduate school. I was teaching, writing my dissertation, searching for jobs, and looking ahead to the end of the school year when I would likely have to pack up my life and move it elsewhere. I wanted to get a head start on that process, but it occurred to me that it wasn’t just physical things like papers, books, old clothes, broken shoes, and all the other ephemera and stuff that we accumulate in this business of life that I needed to sort through and choose what to keep and what to give away. I also had intangible things cluttering my life—doubts, insecurities, fears, anxieties. I had also gained a lot of weight over the course of my doctoral program and I wanted to take steps to lose those pounds. Perhaps even more detrimental, I realized that I had a couple of toxic relationships in my life that I needed to let go of and put behind me. It took some time, but I slowly became aware of a desire to clean out my life—to get rid of everything that was keeping me from being the person that I wanted to be, even if who I wanted to be wasn’t exactly clear to me. What I did know was that who I was at that time in my life was not the person I wanted to be.
That light bulb moment was almost two years ago, and since then I have worked steadily to cleanse my life of so many material and immaterial things that I no longer want, need, or aren’t spiritually, emotionally, or physically good for me. These lingering piles of paper remind me that there is still progress to be made and work to be done because the truth is that two years later, I am still not the person I want to be. Writing this post has resulted in an important revelation: I’m still a work-in-progress, and I’m still evolving into the person that I want to be. This is okay, but this revelation can’t be a stopping point. I have to keep changing and evolving and striving.
A few years ago, someone posed the following question to me: what is the theme song for your life? My response was fairly immediate: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2. In the years that have passed, my theme song hasn’t changed, and admitting that is somewhat disheartening. It’s that understanding that has inspired me to try to make sense of various things going on in my life. Enter these Thursday contemplations. The lesson and take-away from today’s contemplations: that change—lasting change—is hard, sometimes painful, but necessary. Also, I need to really accept the fact that it’s time to make some difficult decisions. The wait-and-see approach I have adopted in the last couple of years is no longer viable. If I want the theme song for my life to change, I need to make it change.