"You get to choose how you feel. You get to choose how you feel about everything."
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Danielle LaPorte in her sultry-voiced, slam poet wisdom said this in a recorded interview several years ago.* I have relistened to it no less than a dozen times.
You get to choose how you feel about everything.
This wisdom can be applied to everyday shit-hitting-the-fan kind of moments (Bay Area traffic, I'm looking at you). But on a deeper level, I think it's a powerful tool for reflecting on our stuff. And specifically:
How your stuff makes you feel.
This past year I've been treading through the decluttering landmine of Childhood Memorabilia. My parents decided to downsize and moved out of my childhood home this past August. This meant that all my photos, art projects, writing, diaries, awards, etc. which had to-date lived in "my room" were suddenly mine to deal with.
Arriving at my San Francisco apartment inside of a box and large suitcase were memories from every part of my life, from birth until I moved to California at 24 years old: every sports ribbon I'd earned, every photo I'd ever taken, even my first pair of shoes.
Where Do I Begin?
Opening these boxes up, it felt like everything inside them was a treasure: a marker of a time in my life that could never be recreated. Each object or written page felt like a crucial piece in the puzzle of "who I am."
Not only that, everything had been kept for so long already. They'd been stored for decades in Illinois and then lovingly boxed up and brought to California by my mom.
Obviously, this would all have to stay. Or would it?
There is a psychological principle called the Endowment Effect (look at me, mom and dad -- I'm using my college education!) which says that the longer we've had something in our possession, the more value it holds in our eyes. Combine this with a healthy dose of nostalgia and suddenly it seems unfathomable to part with a single item from our personal history.
And yet, in my attempt to match my actions with my words (aka: trying not to be a total hypocrite), I decided to question everything and go through each item, one by one.
On the surface, each item was of somewhat equal merit: it was from my past and had, at some point, been deemed worthy of saving.
So to help me through this process I called on Danielle LaPorte and decided to pay attention exclusively to how the item made me feel.
While everything was tinged with a bit of nostalgia, some created a sense of real happiness and joy while others fell flat and others still called up for me strong feelings of sadness or isolation or embarrassment (ah, adolescence).
The most joyful surprise of this entire process was noticing the threads of values and narratives which have remained constant throughout my life. Nearly every item I kept spoke to the traits and values that I still love about myself: family, creativity, athletics, adventure, and writing.
The things I kept: hysterical little notebooks that I've written creative stories and diary entries throughout my life, my songbook from camp, the journal from my NOLS trip in Wyoming, elementary school sports team photos (me and my tiny legs in huge shin guards with a soccer ball on my knee), elementary school class photos (some of those teachers shaped my life more than they could ever know -- Miss Badran, if for some crazy reason you happen to be reading this, thank you), a couple of my prized swimming awards, and nearly every family photo. Just typing out this list makes me smile!
What I Let Go
1. Items that "fell flat". This category mostly includes objects of achievement, ie: reports I got good grades on but could not care less about their content or don't even recall creating. Also, objects from areas that aren't important to me: participation awards for mandatory science fairs and spelling bees, photos of people who I knew briefly and never kept up with, yearbooks in general.
2. Things that made me feel negative emotions. Photos from my surprise 16th birthday (all of that attention as a teenager still in braces felt mortifying), inappropriate notes from friends during my rebellious years (a shameful defiant, bratty period), a slew of generally ugly photos from said teenage/braces years (don't worry, there are still plenty in our family albums that my kids can tease me about).
What's Your Story?
I'm not encouraging a false sense of who we once were or a rewriting of history. That time I snuck out in eighth grade and scared the crap out of my parents who then grounded me forever? I will never forget that. But I also don't need to be continually faced with reminders of who I was, frozen in a particular time period during my personal evolution. Of course, I still suffer, I still feel sad, but I choose not to have things that trigger those emotions in my home.
As humans, we are given the gift of narrative. We might think that we tell events exactly as they were, but we don't. We tell things as we saw them, through our own eyes from our perspective based on our own values and stories. And so I'm deciding to only surround myself with things that create and inspire a positive narrative in my life.
*PS- This quote was from Ms. LaPorte's interview with Mastin Kipp on The Daily Love Extravaganza 2012. I have this saved to my iTunes but unfortunately could not find a live link!