Before we moved, we did as much as possible to get rid of things so that we would not be moving a lot of unnecessary junk across three provinces. We did as well as we could, and we cleared out boxes and boxes of books, media, kitchen stuff, and old furniture in our purge. But I still knew that by sometime after Christmas that another purge would have to come, and that it would be even more difficult in a lot of ways for several possible reasons. First of all, we would be faced with the reality that we paid money (both in a moving truck and in gas) to move these things across the country only to get rid of them a few short months later. But the fact is that the totality of all of the items we are clearing out represents no more than a few boxes, so that's probably not the core of it. There's also the possibility that there is some stress from the amount of space in our home; while that is true to some extent (our shelves are fairly full, after all), it's certainly not the entirety of the issue. No, in this case, it's largely psychological, and it reminds me of another process that I have underway.
The best analogy I can conjure is that of losing weight, which is itself more psychological (mental and emotional) than it is physical. Sure, there are the "physical" aspects to actually losing the weight - doing the exercise, eating the right foods, having the proper life habits - but so much more of weight loss is in the mind: the desire to do so; keeping habits going; persisting through challenges; setting and monitoring goals. But it's also true that weight loss is often effective as a byproduct of other habits and goals rather than an end in and of itself; some people have argued that it's even more effective incidentally than it is intentionally in that manner. I'm not sure what the "truth" is - if there is any one magic formula for weight loss, that is - but I do know how much more of it is mental than it is physical from recent experience.
Over the past three months, I have started logging my food in MyFitnessPal after some friends have had significant success with it over the past year. All I started out doing was monitoring my intake of food. I have not really changed my diet, I have not started exercising, and I have not set any goals for losing weight other than the "lose 5 pounds in 5 weeks" default goal needed by the app. I just wanted to start recording what I was taking in, and it has turned out to be really effective. I have lost weight - just how much I'm not really sure, since I didn't know exactly how much I weighed when I started - but more importantly, I'm feeling better about myself because I'm more aware of what I'm eating and I do see that it is making a difference. I hope at some point in the near future to be able to set some more concrete goals and to start exercising more regularly, but I wanted to be gentle with myself and to take one step at a time. So far, so good - at least until I encounter a more significant barrier. Maybe it might be that my progress, such as it is, stalls until I start exercising, or maybe I might hit that point at which my weight seems to level out, whether that's at the point I want it to be or not.
The last five pounds
Many people claim that in losing weight that "the last five pounds are the hardest", meaning that it is that final push over that goal that is the most psychologically challenging. Of course, I don't have that problem right now, since I don't have an ultimate target in losing weight, but this is where I return to the initial premise. I think this "settling in" and getting rid of things is getting a lot closer to those "last five pounds". My "goal weight", as it were, is to clear out all of the extra stuff in my life. There is the physical aspect of actually getting rid of things, but there's also the much more significant psychological aspect of this whole process. Part of deleting the music or getting rid of books or going through my closet or whatever manifestation this process happens to be taking is a process of defining identity. As silly as it may sound, part of the way I have defined myself (as many of us do) is through all of those things and hobbies and shows and artists, and the process of evaluating them involves grieving the thought of who I was, who I wanted to be, or who I thought I would be someday.
I've been on this journey for just over a year, and I would say that I'm halfway through the second year of a three-year transition phase. It started for a number of reasons: I entered my thirties; I started to look at moving back to Saskatchewan; I looked at leaving church leadership; and I looked at wanting to start a family at some point. But here's the thing: just like losing weight, it seems to be easier when I don't focus on the goal itself, but on the habits and the little goals along the way as well as the changes I have already made. As I track my calories on MyFitnessPal, it changes the way I see calories, but it also reflects the changes I have already made. I already did not drink a lot of soda or eat a lot of fatty snacks or eat at fast food restaurants, so I did not have to deal with those issues in addition to the calorie tracking. With the "stuff" in my life, well, I have already started moving away from certain practices and I have refined others; for example, I have already begun to monitor my intake from thrift stores much more rigorously, and I have already taken the first few steps in different areas of life to lose that "extra weight". But it's still not an easy process, and it seems like there is something more of a finality to it now than there has been in the past, which might have something to do with some of my vision for the year to come.
From "Simplify" to "Solidify"
Since 2010, I have had a word that has helped define my focus for the year to come. Sometimes I choose to set some goals or make some resolutions based on that word; sometimes I just let it sit as a guiding idea for that season of life. My words over the past few years have been "peace" (2010); "joy" (2011); "roots" (2012); "sustainability" (2013); "simplify" (2014), and now, "solidify" (2015). It often seems that it takes close to a year for me to really begin to learn what each word means, and by the time I feel like I'm starting to understand it, I'm already moving onto the next word. But here's where I find that it gets interesting: those previous words never really leave me; they remain there as a foundation for the next season. So I'm still simplifying my life, and as I'm doing so, I'm also starting to solidify things in my life.
I'm not quite sure what it means yet, but I think it's tied into the idea of "settling" (somewhat of a synonym for solidifying). I just turned 32, and it feels like this three-year transition is part of the settling process. Maybe it's about settling into adulthood or a career, or maybe it's about settling into who I am. Maybe it's about continuing to solidify those things that will be part of who I am. Of course, maybe it's not all so abstract, and there are practical pieces to this puzzle of things I will be doing over the next year to see it take form and shape. But much like my experience with losing weight, I don't have an idea of what it will actually look like in the long run. All I can do is keep the general goal in mind and focus on the steps in the meantime and wait for the big picture to take shape. For now, that means that I will focus on getting rid that extra stuff, and I will trust that as I continue to do that that I will learn just what it means to "solidify" and what that will mean in the process of uncovering and discovering who I am in this new season.