Letting go before we are swamped


One of my dearest friends is a hoarder. He is gentle, kind, thoughtful, funny, and very unable to let go of his junk. For him, of course, that is because it is not junk. We tried to do a yard sale of all his stuff earlier this year and after weeks of work involving a small army of his loved ones, we raised all of $300. This to my mind proved that his big house-load of stuff was junk, but that reasoning does not work on him. This is because for him it could all come in useful one day, either for himself or for someone who really needs a toy plastic truck or box of expired cereal.

And I know that feeling. I have also found it hard to let go of things that have no earthly value, let alone spiritual value. Last Christmas my boyfriend and I had to move out of our apartment in the space of a week as we were both jobless and suddenly rootless.

I was dreading packing up the house and finding homes for all our stuff. But he has always liked the idea of traveling light, preferably with just two suitcases, and found it liberating to just let it all go… That attitude was infectious and we had one of the nicest Christmas days choosing and packing up about 70 gifts for our friends from amongst our possessions.

Hoarders feel a sense of loss parting with insignificant possessions, such as old newspapers or deceptively glossy magazines. But it is a question of degree. I realized that a lot of my possessions are yesterday’s news too, I don’t really need them today, someone else could get a lot more out of them. Attachment is a mind that believes happiness inheres in external objects (or people). But one man’s treasure is another man’s junk. I would gladly pay someone to cart away my friend’s stuff so that he could actually move around in his house again (but dealing with strong attachment is clearly not as easy as that, as any hoarder or their family will tell you.)

Attachment and clinging are painful states of mind, but an effective way to counteract them is to practice giving things away. Just doing it, starting small as needs be. What I discovered about even some of my more “precious” objects is that once the object was given, any pain evaporated, partly as it is hard to miss something you were not using! It is sometimes more the idea of the object that enthralls us than the object itself. Get rid of the object, hopefully the idea quickly fades…

But attachment and clinging are strong habits, so unless we do give a little regularly to counteract these, we might find ourself with a little bit of a hoarder’s mentality ourself…

Still, as for my loyal friend, when I needed somewhere to stay for a few months, he accomplished the remarkable task of clearing out half his house for me to live in. His unselfish love overcame his hoarding instincts, and was an inspiration. Someone else needs a place to stay now, and he is in the process of clearing a space for him. The trick will be, I can see, to make sure there is always someone in his life who needs a place to stay!

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 36 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

8 thoughts on “Letting go before we are swamped”

  1. Thanks, great article!! The beautifful thing about buddhism is that it constantly reminds us of impermanence. It takes us away from the consumer mentality and gives meaning to life beyond materialistic possesions. We can not take anything with us when we die, therefore share what we have with those who need it. The joy from giving is the a beautiful way of breaking our attachments and supports our spiritual path 🙂

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  2. I realized people are more precious than possessions when i got divorced & had to leave my home & belongings of 37 years behind….they meant nothing to me, my dear friends were there for me every step of the way… the freedom to be my self without the burden of possessions was liberating…

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  3. Thanks for this article, Sad to say, i’m a hoarder, too – my tiny flat is cluttered up with junk that someone might need, or i might find a use for… one day.

    Things that help me:

    * I regularly invite the Holy Beings into my room. It’s an on-going process to keep it clean n’clear – good job they only perceive purity.
    * A cluttered environment isn’t exactly conducive to the clear mind i’m trying to achieve… a clear living space is!
    *In the Miserliness chapter in Understanding the Mind (p244 in my book) Geshe-la says “due to miserliness we sometimes wish to hold onto our possessions… Miserliness is the opposite of the mind of giving.”
    * I’m ashamed to invite folks ’round. I choose to live a quiet life; but having a pleasing place for the odd visitor would be a way of cherishing them.

    * BUT i don’t wish to be disrespectful to the Holy Ones, miserly, self-cherishing or keep this cluttered mind. So i’m paying a lovely de-cluttering lady to help me clear out the piles of ‘treasure’ i’ve not touched for years. Sacks of it are going to charity, recycling or the dustbin – which feels just sooo good! She has the energy and dynamism i lack; so i can recommend getting some professional help in if you’re struggling. If you live light anyway – i rejoice!

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    1. Dear Jas, so kind of you to share this, thank you, thank you. Wouldn’t it be good if we all had a “lovely de-cluttering lady” in our lives 🙂 Do you think Tara might also fit the bill?!

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      1. My de-cluttering lady IS Tara. I’m sure of it. She breezes thru my flat with spring energy; somehow letting me take th lead, while organising and clearing th visible chaos i’ve taken years to create. I’m living in a bigger, more spacious flat already, and we’re not nearly done yet.

        I’m happier inviting folk in for tea, and one friend even remarked how nice it was to see some floor to walk on :$

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