Last weekend, I got rid of a bookshelf. Yep — we’ve gotten far enough into our decluttering adventure to start getting rid of furniture! I was excited. It’s the first big thing we’ve let go of.
But when I moved the shelf out of its spot and into the “get rid of” pile, I was taken aback. The wall looked…well, naked!
I didn’t like the hole. I felt something was missing, and it made me uncomfortable. Something had shifted. Something had changed. There was less in the room, and it felt empty.
Half of me wanted to put the shelf back, fill it up again. I didn’t. And now, after learning to live with its absence for a time, I’m adjusting.
In fact, I’m better than adjusting. I’m loving the empty space — and looking around the room to figure out what else I can get rid of!
This shelf adventure got me thinking about absence. Of physical stuff, yes, but of more than that.
I think we’re generally uncomfortable with absence. It suggests lack, inadequacy, incompleteness. Something is missing, and that’s assumed to be a negative thing. We work hard to fill in or cover up the absences in our lives.
But I can’t cover up the fact that a wall in my home is now empty. I see it every day. I’ve had to face it. And it’s forced me to face some other absences, too.
Absence can make you realize how much of what we cling to is excess.
Shedding Old Identities
When we get rid of our physical stuff, there’s a deeper clearing that inevitably happens, whether we want it to or not. Along with letting go of a thing, you also shed the way you defined yourself through that object.
For instance? The shelf I just cleared held all my baking books. I used to adore baking. I would tell people, “I’m a baker, not a cook.” Because of that identity, I didn’t do much in the way of cooking — but hardly a day went by that I didn’t bake up a new treat.
I’ve since learned through trial and error that the ingredients of baking don’t agree with my body. I kept my baking books for a long time. They felt like a part of me. Then one day, I realized — having them there on my shelves only made me sad. I was happy with how I’m eating now and with how much better I feel…until I looked at my shelf and saw all the things I couldn’t eat anymore.
So, one by one, I’ve let those books go. As I do so, I’m letting go of the image of myself as a baker. It’s a little sad, but at the same time, it opens up all kinds of new possibilities.
I’m no longer a baker trying to adapt to an ever more restricted set of raw materials. I’m a person exploring new kinds of food, experimenting to see what’s both delicious and best for my body. I even brewed up a batch of my own kombucha with the guidance of a new friend — something I’d never have tried a year ago.
And none of that probably would have happened without the absence of an outdated identity.
It’s opened my space, my energy, and my attention up to exploring new things I’m actually interested in. And it feels amazing. I’m giving myself permission to let go of an old dream and embrace a new, maybe still unknown one. I feel lighter, more agile, more excited.
When you’re trying to live as vastly different versions of yourself, it’s nearly impossible to be comfortable in your own skin or feel confident about anything. You have to bring your identities into alignment, and that means dropping the ones that are outdated or inaccurate. Let go of even one, and you’ll begin to feel less scattered, more centered, more complete.
Here’s My Challenge to You:
Take a look around your life. See if you can find one object that belongs to a former identity, a way of seeing yourself that you’re ready to let go of. It could be a piece of clothing, a photo or letter, a book, a knick-knack, a remnant from an old hobby, anything at all.
Once you’ve found it, figure out what it says about you, what it’s forcing you to hold onto.
Now let it go. Toss, recycle, donate, give away, sell that item. Get it out of your life — and with it, that outdated version of yourself.
How does t make you feel?