Lately, my friends have been decluttering their places and spaces. Good for them! Breaking FREE from our old stuff isn’t easy but it feels great when we do. It feels like a slice of freedom.

Everything from closets and garages to our smart phones needs to be reorganized and minimized from time to time. I have a stockpile of flash drives that makes me cringe when I think about sorting through the old photos and documents stored on them.

What Does Freedom Mean?

There’s an often quoted lyric that Kris Kristofferson wrote and Janis Joplin sings: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose.” It means that giving up our attachments to people and things would free us from the responsibilities they place on us.

I think a better description of freedom comes from Apostle Paul, “Although we’re able to have everything, we must not become slaves to anything.” I don’t think freedom comes from having nothing. It’s won when we know what to keep in our lives and what to let go of.

Freedom asks of us, “Why am I hanging on to this?” Our answer is largely about our memories. We look to our memories for the reason we first became attracted to something (or someone).

We depend on our memories to determine if we want to live with or without it going forward. This is a search through more than our belongings. It searches our hearts and souls, too.

The Power of Memories

Memories of what we’ve been through, what we’ve been taught, and what we believe determine what and why we hold on to things. Depending on what we remember, we choose things that protect us from harm or promise us happiness.

And our choices are about much more than what meets the eye. They represent what we remember about our faith, values, and our purpose in this world. They show the world if we feel worthy of love and respect. Our “stuff” even shows the world if we are sad, mad, or glad.

Good memories show up and get shared in our lives as special photos, precious jewelry, antiques, and sentimental souvenirs. It’s hard to part with things that remind us of being loved or loving another.

But when our memories spoil, we toss things out, like photos that no longer stir up a good feeling, or clothes that are no longer attached to a special occasion. Likewise, we let go of relationships when they aren’t fondly remembered.

Is There Garbage in Your Head and Heart?

I lived in Kalamazoo for 355 days. It was one of the worst years of my life. I remember tyrannical bosses, 105 days of rain and snow, a very tiny apartment, loss of family and friendships. I threw out every photo I took of that city.

I can’t even look at celery because Kalamazoo is the celery capital of America. And I switch the TV channel when the MI chamber of commerce slogan proclaims, “Say yes to Michigan.” But even when I got rid of the tangible items attached to Kalamazoo, I was still imprisoned by my memories.

Our bad memories are hard to shake. Memories of schoolyard bullies, senseless death, or painful divorce clutter up our heads and hearts with anger, hurt, or shame. Sometimes they are stored deep in the cellars of our minds and hard to access. Sometimes we don’t even want to go through them.

We take them out only to be reminded of our pain – to reinforce our vow to never be hurt again. Or we try to forget and bury them like forgotten garbage, growing more toxic every day.

But I’m learning that our memories can distort the truth. I’m clawing my way through painful memories to uncover the proverbial rest of the story. (Kalamazoo had some happy days if I’m just willing to remember them.)

Sorting through our past stuff will certainly stir up grief. Like cleaning out a closet, it gets messier first.

Freedom Is Choosing What to Hold on to, and Loving What You Choose

Uncovering our happier memories allows us to appreciate what we have in our lives, differently. We accept what seems too painful to hold on to, but too painful to let go.

If your painful past is taking up too much room in your present, try this:

Pay Attention

The word memory comes from the 13th century Latin word, mindful. No one can make you practice mindfulness – which is really just paying attention. It’s your choice. But I promise you, when you pay attention to the connection between your memories and your belongings, your life will change.

You might even begin to find the freedom that comes from rediscovering happier memories buried deep below the bad ones. You will begin to let go of your sad and bad stories and hold on, for dear life, to what makes you and the world happy.

Find a Purpose

There will be times you ask, “What do I need?” Try following up with the question, “And where am I needed?” It feels good to be needed.

Being needed isn’t a burden – it creates the kind of freedom that we will remember as purposeful and wonderful. Sort through your heart and soul and hold on to each other. That’s really why we’re here. Remember, having each other is truly having it all.

What memories are shaping your life today? Do you keep any of your belongings just because of their attachment to a specific memory? Have you thrown stuff out because of a memory? Do you think your memories burden you or free you? Please share your thoughts with our community!

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