I am in the midst of a (major?) change in my life. Now, I am not someone who believes our careers should define us as people, but I do believe that once our careers develop a stranglehold on our happiness, it’s time to make some moves. Without going too much into it, let’s just say I’ve decided to make some moves. Even though it’s something that’s been a long time coming, I’m not sure the gravity of the situation hit me until last night.

The Nostalgic Cleanse

I was in a weird mood, so I began browsing around my bedroom. I may have been looking for something specific when I started, but within minutes I was staring at a garbage bag full of old papers — college schoolwork, songs I could never quite finish, notes about ideas I was never proud of conceiving. After creating some much-needed space on my desk, I resolved to do the same with the rest of my room. Within an hour, I filled two bags with me.

I say me because that’s exactly what it felt like. Throwing away some of those papers and knick-knacks constituted a step forward. Filling those garbage bags was my way ofletting go of a bunch of things I didn’t feel I should worry about anymore. I wasn’t giving up on the unfinished songs and incomplete ideas; I was just acknowledging that maybe they never panned out because they weren’t that good to begin with. I was accepting the fact that I need to churn out a lot of shit to get to the good stuff.

Well, now there’s room for the good stuff.

And I made sure of that. Basically anything I couldn’t find immediate use for (or predict near-future use for) went directly into a trash bag. Anything that represented the old me — anything that symbolized thoughts or feelings I no longer care to experience — is now in the past with those thoughts and feelings.

My thought process was as follows:

I’ve gotten all I can out of these items, these notes, these concepts. I’ve learned from these experiences and can now use any of this in the future, whenever I want. And if I’m unable to recall the lessons these items have taught me without physically holding them, then the lesson was never important to me in the first place.

But while I was unflinchingly disposing of items I would’ve never even considered trashing a year or two ago, I found myself saving certain items with the same decisiveness. There were some things I just wouldn’t throw away. Or couldn’t, perhaps. Without hesitation or remorse, I distinguished the worthy from the worthless.

The ‘Leftovers’

Like the HBO series The Leftovers, I’m less interested in discovering why certain people disappeared and more interested in exploring why the others were “chosen” (if that is the case) to stay. The things I threw out — or the people who vanished, in the show’s case — are not coming back. But whatever remains is tangible; it’s real. And I bet there’s a damn good reason I chose to hang onto particular items while consciously disposing of others.

So, allow me to pose the question: Why do we hold onto things of little or no practical value?

Is it because of a sentimental value we assign to specific items based on the fondness of the memories associated with them? What makes these “leftovers” different from all of the things we decide to part ways with?

When it comes to items that belonged to loved ones we’ve lost or gifts we’ve received from these important people in our lives, the answer is relatively simple. In an article featured in the alternative Seattle newspaper The Stranger, Rebecca Brown writes:

We keep these material things because they represent the people we no longer have. We keep them to remind us we can do or be or mean something and that the people we admire can inspire us.”

[Source: “The Things We Keep: Why Do Relics of the Dead Mean So Much to Us?” by Rebecca Brown]

Brown’s notion of finding inspiration in these material possessions extends beyond “relics of the dead.” I believe this idea pertains to my situation as well. Maybe the items I purposefully trashed wound up in the garbage because I felt they could no longerinspire me. Perhaps I still find inspiration in whatever I decided to keep around.

While I originally viewed my decision to keep these things as a refusal to let go of the past, I am now beginning to consider this alternative explanation. Maybe the items that survived this “purge” of everything useless in my room aren’t just a fail-safe for when I want to return to my comfort zone — maybe they have some sort of unfinished business in my life (à la Casper the friendly ghost).