After two years away, I returned to Sydney to clean my room.
Of course it wasn’t planned that way. No one returns back to their home town after a long absence thinking, y’know what sounds like fun? Cleaning! Forget catching up with friends, enjoying the warm weather, let’s get tidy! But looking back, I can definitively say thats what I devoted most of my energy towards during our month in Sydney. I banned myself to my room and cleaned out.
This post needs a backstory: When I was a teenager, my mum purchased a house and we – mum, my brother and I – upgraded from our small apartment, and I got my own room. Over the years, I accumulated a teenager’s worth of things and then a university student’s worth of things, and finally left home at 22.
I moved four times during my 20s. While the biggest purchases occurred on my first move out of home, I didn’t just transfer my possessions from one share house to the next. I kept accumulating more things, sometimes leaving the pieces unwanted in the next move, back in the room I grew up in.
I left the country at the end of 2012 and because there was no new house to put it in, I had to cram everything I owned – four homes, and a lifetime’s worth of stuff – into my childhood room. Ironically, despite being full of my life, the room became totally devoid of life: It was dark, dusty, cluttered and heavy with the past.
And it was this heaviness that I returned to, with Mesi, when we arrived in Sydney a month ago. Three months on the road in such uplifting places as India and Bali, and we found ourselves living in a space that was the antithesis of everything we had experienced.
The room was a time-machine, a museum of Brad with exhibitions such as a plastic plate which bore a crude drawing I made as a six year old, notes and text books from high school, a giraffe suit that served me well through my 20s at various parties, letters and photos from previous relationships, birthday cards from my 21st birthday (I just turned 31 by the way), various knick knacks from travels I felt compelled to buy and then compelled to keep, parts of my first car which I got at the age of 17, a mountain of CDs from when people actually purchased CDs, a folder of basketball cards from when people actually purchased basketball cards, old toys I played with back in Malaysia where I grew up, multiple fashion cycles worth of clothes… and much much more. Besides this, I also collected small memorabilia of events and trips from the past – but not interesting meaningful things – just random paraphernalia like movie stubs, business cards from eateries I might have visited once in my life for lunch, name tags from conferences, receipts from shops, old bus tickets. Junk really. Shoeboxes full of so-called ‘memories’.
I had hoarded my life’s chattels, and as I stood facing them all in one spot I wondered why I had kept all of this stuff? Stuff that I hadn’t seen in at least two years, stuff that I hadn’t used for years, stuff I didn’t miss and that didn’t add value to my life.
It was time to get rid of it.
I allowed myself one box for memories, a cupboard of clothes, one bookshelf worth of books, and only the necessary furniture. Everything else was discarded, donated or sold. It was an amazing, liberating process.
As I did I began to explore the question of why had I kept all this stuff? The short answer is fear.
Firstly, I realised that I used to like indulging in nostalgia. In a bizarre dance with time, it meant that I prepared for the future by keeping things so that I could look back on them when they became the distant past. How odd is that? Nostalgia is simply sadness parading itself as happiness. There is always an air of melancholy about it. While the experience at the time might’ve been amazing, you can’t have the past back, you can’t recreate it. It’s empty. Excessive nostalgia is founded in a fear of facing up to the present.
Secondly I used to believe my identity was tied to my experiences and preferences – the places I had been, the movies I had seen, the fashion that I liked, the music I listened to. This was Brad. And if I kept the possessions associated with these memories – like the movie stubs, the old clothes I hadn’t worn for years – I could more easily engage with these past experiences, and feel safer that I wouldn’t forget these things, and my identity wouldn’t slip away.
In the end, cleaning out my room was really just an analogy for what was going on deeper in my sub-conscious. Every object I discarded was a step towards shaking these former ways of thinking. In the process, I became aware to the idea that the things I own, the experiences I’ve had – none of this, nor anything else – was, is or will be inherently me. And getting that perspective, truly seeing the distance between stuff, experiences and Self, is the gateway to a profound and marvellous freedom.