Compiling a Packing List for my Emotional Baggage

It's pretty stuffed in there...

As we begin our last week in housing limbo and the last week of my Happiness Project, I’m thinking a lot about what I want to take with me and what I want to leave behind from our past several years.

Physical items are generally easy to get rid of but it can get complicated when deciding which items to cull. I find that the de-cluttering process becomes tied up with the “emotional baggage” part.

My technique for de-cluttering material goods is to use “Give Away,” “Throw Away” and “Put Away” bins to sort stuff. I’m tempted to use a similar technique to decide what emotional goods (patterns of thought and behavior that sometimes serve me well and other times don’t) to bring with me, perhaps without the “Give Away” bin. I know I’ll be passing some of that along to my kids, whether I mean to or not. No need to decide ahead of time what to burden them with.

I’ve learned a lot of great techniques and habits in the past year of following my Happiness Project. I want to use this transition as a time to really put these to work for me to encourage the qualities I admire in myself and to gradually leave behind those I don’t like so much.

Some of my ideas for the other two bins:

Put Away:

1. Generosity. In Utah, I experienced a more intense focus on community than I’ve felt before. It’s the kind of place where neighbors bring baked goods to your house when you first move in and meals spontaneously appear when you have a baby. I want to take with me this practice of generosity, even when it’s not received well. A gift is a gift. It’s the recipient’s decision what they do with it.

2. A Make-it-From-Scratch Sensibility. I’ve had friends who kept chickens and bees. They had elaborate vegetable gardens. They canned and dehydrated and froze food. They fermented kombucha and yogurt and sourdough and beer. They knit and crocheted and sewed and spun and dyed and wove. They baked their own crackers, for crying out loud.

I don’t want to do everything from scratch, but I want to always think in that direction. There’s a sense of connectedness that comes from knowing the origins of the goods I use every day and knowing that, in a pinch, I could be at least somewhat self-sufficient.

Throw Away:

1. An Assumption of Personal Slights. The story I tell myself is that I’m a misfit and that interpersonal relationships just aren’t my thing. Then I set about finding things that support this story. I find out that I’m the person left off the invite list for casual gatherings of all sorts. I discover that three friends I’ve invited to an event at my home have chosen to go to another friend’s home together instead. I’m the only one in a group of friends who isn’t hugged. When things like this happen, I wonder what’s wrong with me. I wonder why it is that I never seem to be as important to my friends as they are to me.

Here’s what I realize: none of these things necessarily say anything about me. And if they do, maybe all they say is that I’m perpetually the new person in town, and I’m expecting closeness sooner than others are ready to offer it to me. I want to stop the “Oh, woe is me!” cycle.

I recognize that this pattern of behavior is so ingrained that it’s going to take a lot to slough it off (as I type, I can hear my mom poking fun at me as she did when I had social troubles as a child, singing, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms”). Knowing I won’t be able to talk myself out of these thoughts, I’m going to go with my new technique of focusing on the sensations in my body. I won’t fight the feelings that arise, the loneliness and confusion and sense that I’m always just in some mysterious way not good enough. But I won’t cling to them either. I’ll let them float by like clouds overhead. Or at least that’s the plan.

2. The Need to be Better Than. There’s great value to always wanting to learn and challenge oneself and expand one’s horizons. But I have a tendency to compare myself to others, especially when it comes to intellectual things, and that’s not so valuable. I had an office mate once who told me, “You’re the most relentlessly intelligent person I’ve ever met.” He’s the same guy who, when I got off the phone with someone who just was not understanding what I was trying to explain, said, “You don’t suffer fools gladly, do you?” These statements, especially taken together, make me realize that I probably hold myself apart a little too much. I do enjoy learning things, and I like being knowledgable about a broad range of subjects. But it doesn’t serve anyone if I compare myself to others. Either they come up short and I feel the bitter loneliness of superiority, or I come up short and just feel stupid. I want to have an open exchange of ideas with others, and that’s easier when I’m not constantly wondering if I measure up.

What are some of the things you’d like to take with you, and what are some of the things you’d like to leave behind?

One Reply to “Compiling a Packing List for my Emotional Baggage”

  1. I so needed to read this. I’m getting ready to do another purge and I’m skeeered. I’m going to sit down this weekend with you post and ask myself the hard questions

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