Last week, I swept my eyes across my living room and truly took in my living situation for the first time since I’ve moved into it. It’s been 10 months in this space, and I’m ready to search for a new place to create a home. Currently, I live in a 1 bedroom, ground level apartment on the bustling intersection of Lyndale. Throughout my time living here, I’ve been plagued with a vague sense of disdain for my physical living space. It only has one north facing window, and sunlight doesn’t ever reach my bedroom. I had an ant problem last fall, my bathroom wall caved in last winter, and the washing machine didn’t drain for the majority of my time living here. Since I moved in, I’ve joked around about being a recluse: holed up in my dark space, too exhausted and depressed to go out. Part of that is due to mental illness and to reassessing how I want to engage with the world. Another part of it, I realized, is due to feeling bogged down by what I keep in my space.
There’s still 1 unpacked box, a relic from my original move-in date. Sitting on and beside my chest of drawers are 3 paper bags, soft and torn at the edges, overflowing with various items I have wanted to “donate” since the beginning of the year. More boxes lurk under my bed. Boxes of memories: pictures, letters, drawings from over a decade ago, and my first journal, dating back to 1999. I have been consumed by countless things that hardly saw the light of day (not that that meant much in my dimly lit living situation.) It seemed like a physical embodiment of the emotional and spiritual burdens I continued to carry.
For many months, I have been tending to the flickering embers of hope inside of me, deepening my roots, and calling myself home. During this time of cultivation, I’ve started to shed what no longer serves me. Despite how much progress I’ve made in letting go, however, this sort of work isn’t linear nor does it ever end. I still have work to do. It’s hard, coming from a family of immigrants and refugees who developed the habit of hoarding because so much has been lost to the all-consuming monster we call imperialism.
Being a second generation pack rat, I have clung onto bittersweet memories, knowing that things will never be like the home I once knew and the home I never had the chance to know. I have subconsciously bought into the capitalist belief that more stuff will finally make everything okay. In doing this, I ended up creating my own suffering and surrendering my power to the intricate web of nostalgia – lost in the past and endlessly searching everywhere but inside of me for myself.
I’ve learned that life isn’t just composed of momentous events; it’s also an honoring of the small moments that make us human: the vibrant, familiar laughter shared after picking up loved ones from the airport; the silly games I play with my cat’s tail when she perches on my chest; the impromptu conversations that changed the course of a relationship and the course of my life. In that same vein, though this process of letting go is highly personal, it feels humbly political for me as well. Although it is certainly not the same as making a bold, public political statement, these small ways I hold myself and others have important implications as well. For if we achieved liberation tomorrow, how could I expect the way I engage with the world to be profoundly different if I don’t examine and change the patterns and behaviors that I hold today?
Today, I refuse to let PTSD, generational trauma and US imperialism have the same sort of power over me. I reject the idea that an excess of things will bring me joy. Instead, I will be grateful for what I have, make peace with my realities, let go what no longer serves me, and actively shape my future. I will participate in and cultivate alternatives to capitalism by focusing on sharing and gift giving, all rooted in community, reciprocity and abundance. I will strive to embody the knowledge that my health and happiness depends on the health and happiness of you and the world around us – and vice versa.
I hope for this list to be dynamic and ever-expanding. Who knows what I will uncover and bring into my space by letting go.
Author’s Note: Though this piece was draws from many sources, I wanted to highlight that the idea of reciprocity and the solutions I propose for myself are rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, as shared by Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. I recommend reading her book to learn more.