Traveling Light Through Life

By Marilyn L. Pinsky

‘Traveling light emotionally really comes down to lightening up on our expectations of ourselves.’

old photographsI’ve been thinking about what it means to “travel light through life,” and if that is something I can achieve.

Obviously, it will mean having less “stuff,” and for me, that’s easier said than done. As I look around, I realize it is the emotional connection to these possessions that will make it so difficult to let them go.

Many people used the COVID home confinement time to do the cleanups they have been putting off for years. If you were one of them, was it easier or tougher than you thought it was going to be to pare down?

I had a conversation with my favorite licensed clinical therapist, Linda Land, based in Syracuse, about making emotional as well as physical space in our lives. As she and her husband Jay had just moved within the year, I also asked about her personal experience.

Marilyn Pinsky: For me, the toughest part of paring down will be sorting through the photographs, even knowing that it is not practical to keep hundreds of similar pictures. But how will my children feel about my throwing out the pictures of their childhood?

Linda Land: I knew that would be tough so I started the paring down process with the photographs. After spreading them out on my living room floor, I spent a whole weekend crying my way through them. My son stopped by and didn’t understand what I was making such a big deal about. That reaction inspired me to get on with the rest of my cleanup, as I was really saving them for my children and if they didn’t want them all, what was I keeping them for?

However, I did discover a solution — “fragments.” Keep just enough of each experience depicted in the photographs so you remember that time of their lives.

MP: I have pictures of my mother’s family who died in the Holocaust. How can I just toss them out? I have candlesticks my grandmother brought with her from the old country; but can I expect my children to have the same desire to keep them as I do? I don’t want to burden them with artifacts that mean nothing to them, but how do you just put things like that in the garbage? (I think I’ll just keep them and accept the fact that my children will ditch them.)

LL: Living means having to tolerate and accept loss and the toughest part of giving up our possessions is that it is truly a feeling of loss.

MP: What did you personally learn from the process of paring down?

LL: After I thought I was done throwing out anything and everything and was ready to move, my daughter-in-law arrived in town. She took a “scorched earth” approach and got rid of things I didn’t even know I had saved. Except for my egg whisker, I haven’t missed a thing.

These are three lessons I learned:

1) Keep only what you love and/or can use.

2) Use black bags to throw things out in, as you can’t see through them and change your mind.

3) Life is much easier with limited clothing options. Get rid of the clothes that only fit you for about 10 minutes five years ago.

MP: From this confinement and cleaning out experience, might there be lessons about “traveling light” emotionally as well? Is there also a way of making space in our heads to get rid of the worries and hurts that have accumulated over the years?

LL: Absolutely. Getting rid of old notions of who we told ourselves we were supposed to be, and ditching the old demands we made on ourselves, will definitely make us lighter emotionally.

Traveling light means saying, “OK, this part of my life is over, maybe it’s time to reinvent myself.” Do I have to be perfect at everything? Isn’t good enough, good enough? Do I have to finish that book I started reading but don’t really love? Is it OK to drop projects I’ve lost interest in? It it OK to eat cold cereal for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking? Is it OK to wear my pajama bottoms all day and binge watch old movies? Do I have to be beautiful? Do I have to be skinny? Do I have to call my mother twice a day or is once enough?

What other rules can you think of that hold you to a standard that might not fit you anymore? Can you see yourself feeling a sense of relief in breaking those rules?

There are so many real demands that require our attention at this stage of life, older parents, our own health issues, our grandchildren’s needs. So traveling light emotionally really comes down to lightening up on our expectations of ourselves.