Before I left Dubai in August 2009, I decided to store my items, thinking that I'd be back in a few months, to find another corporate job, rent a place and get back to “normal life”. The warehouse guys came to pack and told that my items would take 18 cubic meters of space. I barely had any furniture besides a sofa and a bed, so it meant that I had 18 cubic meters of stuff. Stuff of all sorts like useless kitchen gadgets, accessories, cables, notebooks, coin collections... and of course clothes, shoes and bags, heaps of them... I had closets full of t-shirts that I didn't even have time to wear even once. Shoes that still had the price tags on. I regularly had to buy extra shelves to be able to store shoes... That of course didn't change the drama of “Oh, I have nothing to wear to the office today”every morning.
I had a hole inside. I thought if I stuffed it with shoes and dresses, the hole would be mended and I would be complete. I kept buying, I spent with a vengeance, I thought it was my right to earn so much and to spend so much because it was my reward for putting up with the work life and nicely playing my role in it.
I kept shopping, I owned more stuff but it didn't help with the hole. I didn't feel complete. Quite the contrary, the discrepancy and the frustration felt bigger and bigger every day. In order not to notice the discrepancy, I shopped more. That's how I ended up with 18 cubic meters of stuff. Then for another year, I paid a really high rent to make sure that my stuff was well taken care of in an air-conditioned warehouse. Ironically, all the time that precious18 cubic meters was sitting in a warehouse, I was happily living in Bali with one bag full of clothes and books. 10 months passed that I didn't need a single thing other than what I already had with me. Slowly I started to realize that the need didn't come from the actual variety of t-shirts or the number of shoes that I had. It was a distortion of my perception.
It is difficult to turn the attention inwards, to notice and to admit an emotional hole. It is painful and the roots go way beyond a single shopping spree. So I had chosen the path of least resistance, to keep my attention outwards, and to buy stuff, assuming that they will make me a better person. Through yoga and one breath at a time, I started to realize that it all came from within, so it had to be completed also from within. To own and then to be addicted to that ownership wouldn't really solve anything.
I realized the true meaning of the quote “things you own end up owning you”. I had stuff sitting in a warehouse and costing me, as well as taking a lot of my mental energy how to best get rid of them. It's idealized a lot in self-help books, however in reality letting go is not really easy. At one level, it gives freedom, but it also makes one feel really naked.
I still managed to offload the things I owned. The crescendo of it was the Dubai Flea Market two weeks ago, where I managed to sell all my clothes, shoes, CDs, gadgets etc. All items of addiction were gone within a frame of few hours. I didn't make a lot of money, but the feeling of liberation and buoyancy at the end was worth it all. The day after the flee market, I packed the remaining bare minimum, to be shipped. The new volume? 157 kilograms and only 0.7 cubic meters!
The lesson? It's hard to pinpoint one single thing. There was a time that I owned a lot but didn't feel complete. I'm still far from feeling totally complete – whatever that may mean. At least I realized that the feeling of being whole and centered has nothing to do with the amount of stuff I gather around me. Quite the opposite, the more I can let go; be it obsessions, shoes, dysfunctional patterns or money the more I feel secure, strong and “whole”. This feeling of security and strength is far less tangible than a retirement fund or a steady income, but it comes from being able to trust myself and only myself.