Sunday, October 25, 2015

Closet cleaning, apartment fire and emotional contraband

The ides of October came with a call to action: let go of what no longer serves me. This is definitely not a new concept, but Mindfulness is a tease. She rubs herself against my brain, charming me with promises of present moment awareness just to fly away when the next challenge joins the table. And while the tests of the summer were not completely left behind, it was time to open space for the cooler, crispy breeze of autumn before the leaves turned yellow. Although I wish I could perform open brain surgery in my own head to remove once and for all the stuff that insists of holding on to my thoughts like bloodsucking parasites, I took the easy route and chose to clean my closet instead. The results were astonishing.

Fifteen years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I moved to small town in Kansas to work at an advertising agency. Those 11 months spent in that community marked my life in ways that only years later I was able to truly measure the impact they had in the depths of my existence. One of the episodes was a fire in my apartment. I decided to have a roommate to help me save for a lifelong dream trip around the world. The day he moved in he lit a candle in his bedroom and left the house unattended. I returned home later that evening only to find clouds of smoke, fire trucks, Red Cross workers, all of the little possessions I owned and the dream trip around the world burnt to ashes or completely lost to smoke damage.

I remember I didn’t cry. There was a small crowd of neighbors watching the freak spectacle. Somehow I was able to make my way through them, look at a firefighter in the eyes, tell him that I lived there and that I needed to enter the home immediately. My goal was simply try to salvage the only things that really made sense to me: my memories manifested in the form of photographs and journals dating back to my early college years. After a brief check of my psychological stability, a couple of firefighters and the Red Cross lady walked in with me, lanterns in hand exploring the suffocating chaos. I was calm, even making jokes.  In retrospect, the real shock was my reaction to shock. I was rational and cool throughout the whole process. I didn’t lose it completely until at least 12 hours later when I asked someone who I considered to be a friend if he could help me manage the wreck and he said he couldn’t. That was one of the few moments in life I felt the severe, cold blow of acute loneliness.

In my burnt closet I could see the pant suits I had purchased just the day before for my new job completely destroyed because the plastic hangers had melted all over them. I was sad, but deep inside I knew that those items didn’t really matter.  They were just replaceable stuff. What really mattered was that the manifestation of my memories was still intact: despite some ashes around the edges, my journals and photo albums were in perfect condition, as if a bubble of safety had protected them throughout the inferno. I was relieved beyond my imagination. I was never greatly attached to material possessions and that episode came as a violent reminder that from this life we take nothing with us other than the memories of the lives we choose to live.

Fast forward to 15 years, in my recently acquired home in a bustling Texas metropolis. I stood in front of my two closets piled with clothes and shoes. When I moved to this new house I had already performed a major cleaning, but decided to hang on to those pieces because they cost me a lot of money, had been worn just a few times or I was too attached to the sentimental value that skyrockets the price of our earthly possessions. Just like journals, I can see how clothes can also be a material testament of one’s life. And yet, being too attached can cost you some serious broken hearts (or a stuffed closet that suffocates you on a daily basis).

There were the “Jesus sandals” and the gaucho-style jeans from 2007 that along with my then short haircut turned me into a hip multinational executive, Rio de Janeiro style, almost overnight (or so I thought). There was the first purse I bought in Texas when I was still unemployed and had to be extra careful about what I chose to buy. There was the expensive dress from Anthropology that fit the version of me that was 10lbs lighter. There were the shoes that walked me all over Italy when I was living the “Eat” part of my “Eat, Pray, Love” journey. The list was long, but just as the hot, humid air that blows from the Gulf shores was now intertwining with colder winds, it was time to change the seasons of my closet. So in a matter of hours I packed over 100 pieces of clothes, several purses and 18 pairs of shoes inside seven garbage bags. I made $80 by selling some pieces and donated the rest to Goodwill. I sighed in relief. Let the past stay in the past. Hopefully, someone will find joy in those pieces that carried me to so many places.

A part of me wants to trim down my closet even more, embrace the minimalist movement of the 40-piece wardrobe, but the truth is that I’m still too attached to how I look. I like fashion and will not offer an apology for that.  But letting go of what no longer served me, even in the form of old clothes, had this profound positive effective in my mood and productivity. It shed pounds off my mind. It created a space for me to get rid of the emotional toxins can easily pile up. And of course, on a more practical level it reminded me to be mindful during future purchasing events. From now on, I pledge to only buy pieces that I know for a fact I will wear often and that will last for years to come. And because Mindfulness also helps me embrace my imperfections, including my contradictions, for now I will hold on to those ugly green leather shoes that I wore only once and cost me 90 euros in a street market in Athens, Greece. Because I was exploding in happiness that day. And because a small load of emotional contraband sparkling a few seconds of joy all over my senses and taking me on a trip around the world on a daily basis do serve me beautifully right now.


  1. 3 thoughts: 1. Shit, I had no idea you had gone through a!, 2. I want your old clothes here in Brazil...I need the joy too!, 3. Who the hell was this idiot friend who said he couldn't help you through!?! Oi?!

    1. 1. You are awesome; 2. You are REALLY awesome; 3. It's in the past and it doesn't really matter anymore. I'm sure he had his reasons. :-) Big hug, my friend.

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