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By: Madeleine Forbes
I lost my phone last week. It was there, charging in the car. We visited friends and stocked up on groceries, and then it was gone.
I searched for it, at first casually and then frantically. Retraced my steps. Asked the friends to search their house; eventually went back to do the same, convinced my sense of need and willingness to upturn the sofa would be more effective at locating it. It was not.
There was a week of slightly awkward communication, as I directed people to my husband’s number, explaining mine was out of action. I felt a thrum of anxiety that I had not been able to check Instagram, that I would be unable to take part in family Whatsapp groups.
And then something strange happened. My immediate circle got used to contacting me via other people, or email. The anxiety subsided and was replaced with a feeling I couldn’t place at first.
Eventually, I identified it as this: indifference.
“You don’t care?” asked my friend as we Skyped that Friday. “You know that sounds crazy, right?”
I’d explained to her that there were some things I likely wouldn’t be able to get back. I’d deleted the backups from my laptop in an effort to save space on my beleaguered harddrive. So the photos on my phone – many from my first year of my son’s life – were gone.
“That’s right”. By then I’d stopped reaching for my phone. It was kind of freeing. I’d drive to the supermarket with no way of anyone reaching me. It felt transgressive, somehow. I was getting lazy about ordering the replacement handset.
Most significantly, I’d stopped feeling angry with myself for losing the damn thing and stressed about the prospect of replacing it. It just… was.
Letting go is becoming something of a hobby of mine these days. After all, 2017 was the year I lost my home to wildfires. I wasn’t the only one; in California alone, around 10,000 “structures” were consumed.
Our little family was lucky. The house that burned was a temporary stop for us, and our belongings, though treasured, were mostly secondhand. The financial hit we took was minimal.
It’s the little things I miss now. The kitchen utensils. The summer clothes I think instinctively about unpacking, before remembering they are gone.
The items we’d carefully stored and selected to make our new home are vanished. We forget, even now. “What about that blue and orange rug?” my husband insisted, as we debated floor coverings last week. “That’s perfect”. There was a beat, while I let him remember. “Oh. Right.”
I’ve mourned the loss of my childhood journals, years of photographs, books. The necklace of beads gifted by our loved ones before our son’s birth, almost all my clothes.
A phone with a few snapshots on it? I’m already over it.
Organizing and letting go are two sides of the same coin, it seems to me. We organize our possessions so we won’t lose them. Won’t have to let them go. But the fire didn’t care that I’d carefully stowed in labeled boxes the bedding to be used in our “forever home”. It reminded me: everything in our lives is temporary, even the things we can’t bear to let go of.
The year before the fires, I had a miscarriage. It was early on, not that it really matters. There was a potential there. We’d told my parents, counted months on our fingers. I’d given up wine. Begun to talk and sing and whisper secrets to the little cluster in my belly. Until it wasn’t there any more.
The miscarriage was the beginning of my education in the reality that what I value most is not given special dispensation by the universe. When I finally did give birth, that was confirmed. My identity, my time, my body. Sleep. None of these, it turned out, were invincible.
I joked after the fire that of the two big events of that year, it was birth that was the most challenging to deal with. It helped that we’d been out of the country when the fires struck our region, escaping the direct trauma of those terrifying days.
But I do believe that the more and more I recognize loss as a part of life, the better I become at letting go.
And organizing takes on a different flavor. In our new place, I place things where I can find them, use them. I do not have boxes of the “best” things that will be saved for the right time. I wear the clothes I love most, never mind that they grow threadbare and muddy. I wish I’d worn the clothes I once had more.
It’s seductive, isn’t it, to pretend that everything’s within our control. That by having a tidy house, labeled drawers, and a capsule wardrobe, we can fend off the chaos of existence. But I’m starting to see being organized as a way to cultivate mindfulness of the present, not ward off what’s to come; to ensure we are fully present in each moment, able to commit ourselves most effectively to the tasks at hand using the tools we need in that instant.
We can make ourselves more resilient when the storms hit us, if our boats are well-kept and our cupboards stocked and tidy. But we cannot avoid the storms.
Everything goes, eventually. And at the same time, in the midst of all this loss are goofy baby smiles, and sunny Sunday mornings. Coffee, salted caramel, new books to read, warm blankets to snuggle under. Beautiful ceramics that fit into my hand just so, new dresses, new boots.
Letting go of the other clutter makes space for what matters to exist right now, in the only moment we can ever savor it in.
Soak it up, my loves. It’s all we have.