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Practicing Detachment

· 5 min read ·

Spring cleaning is getting real over here! I’m home in New Hampshire and officially moved out of my Somerville apartment. Over the past week, I’ve been taking time to purge, donate, and organize, so that I can travel without literal and metaphorical baggage of the possessions I’ve left behind.

What does this look like? A beautiful clutter of the past. I’ve sifted through photos, reread letters, and attempted to retrace the source of old trinkets. I’ve had to make many decisions and parted with things a younger version of myself would have saved. I wanted to share a little bit of my thoughts here. Perhaps you, like me, are seemingly always searching for ways to shake off that which does not serve you, to make more space in your life, and make way for bigger & better experiences. Perhaps this will give you something new to consider.

First, a little background on my Boston residency: I moved to Cambridge in the Fall of 2015, and I proceeded to move every year after that. First it was Somerville, then the North End, then back to Somerville (a different apartment, of course). Four(ish) years, four different apartments. It’s been great! As I mentioned in the post On Creative Living, I’ve never been one for rooting myself in a comfort zone. I would rather live the message of the proverb: “Variety is the spice of life.” Though some may say this is an expensive hobby, I believe it’s actually saved me money while offering incentive to keep possessions minimal.

It’s me! My mom snapped this photo of me in front of my first apartment. (Spring 2015)
It’s me! My mom snapped this photo of me in front of my first apartment. (Spring 2015)

Returning home has proven to be more difficult. My childhood room is the sanctuary for all things saved. It holds my identity and my history and reminds me who I am and where I can go. Or does it? These are the thoughts and questions running through my head as I pick up yearbooks and birthday cards. Is my identity in these things? How did I feel before I walked in this room and saw all these things? Well… I didn’t feel lost, and I also didn’t feel burdened with these decisions.

I know the Marie Kondo process is hot right now — “Does this bring me joy?” I don’t disagree with this process! It doesn’t work for me though. If you know me, you know it doesn’t take much to get this girl feeling joy. Hand me an apple or give me a hug and my day is made. My room has joy in every corner— from old concert tickets, to sea shells, to various instruments. If I find joy everywhere, I can’t use that as my space-making mantra.

What I’ve done: Practiced the art of detachment.

Instead of asking if an item brings me joy, I ask “How did this serve me? Is it still serving me?” These questions not only help me to confidently cut things out, but also take a moment to acknowledge the original why. For example: a photo collage from a friend for my fifteenth birthday. I take a moment to recognize a beautiful friendship and to remember how I felt when I received the collage. That friendship and that experience receiving the gift undoubtedly have shaped who I am. Ultimately, though the photos bring me joy, the collage has served its purpose and keeping it will not serve me.

A small pile of things I was sifting through including my ukulele, photo album from my 16th birthday, the “grateful jar” I kept for a year, and my Dad’s Coast Guard jacket.  (No worries, Dad, I didn’t give it away!)
A small pile of things I was sifting through including my ukulele, photo album from my 16th birthday, the “grateful jar” I kept for a year, and my Dad’s Coast Guard jacket. (No worries, Dad, I didn’t give it away!)

I am practicing detachment in my life too. Though the location of where I live has never been a marker of my identity, my job and my hobbies have. Or at least for me they have. I’ve gotten attached to routines, to workouts, to people, and to my career expectations. This feels good and it’s totally natural. It’s also incredibly healthy to break down those bits of my identity and see what’s left.

I’m not saying that you need to quit your job, move on a yearly cadence, and toss out your possessions. But this is an interesting idea to explore — the idea of detachment and the idea of the unbranded individual. I’m starting to bring into question who I am with all of my possessions and self descriptions, and who I am without them. I’ve found especially in Boston your identity is chained to career, where you live, and how you commute.

Anecdote:

The other day as I was thinking a little bit more about attachment and identity, a guy pulled up beside my car wearing big headphones, some biker shorts, and a fanny pack. I thought to myself well this is definitely Somerville… Then I started to think a little bit more about what this person’s appearance made me think about them, rather than who they really were. When you take away the garb, accessories, and chosen route, what is left?

This idea of attachment also expands to levels of anxiety and emotion. During yoga teacher training, we talked about how much of the suffering (if not all suffering) that we experience is in our minds. We create it. I inherited many wonderful things from my mother. One thing that I inherited was the ability to think about a situation in 1 million different ways — I can do really cool things like understand different perspectives, I can problem solve, and I can be creative. I can also do damaging things like come up with what if scenarios and play them out in my head various ways. This is when detachment can help me understand how the imagined worries are actually just in my mind. From there, I can unravel the suffering and set my mind a bit more free.

Moving out of Boston, cleaning out my room, setting off on adventure. These things require detachment from failure, insecurities, possessions, and branded expression of identity. Doing so creates confidence in genuine identity and grants space for experiences I have yet to imagine.


Further reading

  • I’m curious: Interested in the art of detachment and want some simple steps? I like this article by Elephant Journal
  • I’m interested: Feeling like you want to explore detachment more on the emotional side? This article in Medium is a good one for you.
  • I’m hungry for more: If you really want to take the plunge, check out Byron Katie and “The Work.”
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