Decluttering: are we our things?


I’m an imperfect practitioner of decluttering. I try, but it’s hard. Which today raised these questions in my mind: Are we our things? Do our possessions define us?

For some, the answer may be yes. I think that was true of me for many years.

But perhaps the “things” evoke memories and teachings that go far beyond the physical representations.

I’m much less attached to stuff than I used to be, but I still struggle with my annual decluttering extravaganza.

What does our stuff mean to us?

When people walk into my home, they can see indigenous art from all over the world. It’s clear what I love, what speaks to me.

And what would happen if I lost them all? I’d be sad, but not devastated because it’s the spiritual practices behind these things that give them their beauty in my eyes. And that is something that can stay with me.

declutteringThese items serve as reminders of cultures that preserve the planet and honor all life. Simply painted clap sticks [musical instruments] from the Australian outback remind me that two sticks can make a musical instrument.

My friend Emmy once brought me two sticks she found that had been gnawed by beavers on each end. They became beaver clap sticks during our monthly full moon drummings. Nature makes its own instruments.

I purchased four Aboriginal dot paintings from aborigines on the side of the road in the middle of the Australian desert. The dots represent energy and the paintings serve as a teaching that everything in the world is energy and is, therefore, connected.

declutteringI have quite a few drums from around the world. Drums represent the heartbeat of mother earth. The skins and frames came from animals and trees that were once alive. And their energy still resides in the drums.

Native American elders teach that, in the traditional way, gourd rattle are made by adding tiny pebbles from big ant hills. You know you have the right number of pebbles inside when the crickets chirp in time with your rattling. This truly puts you and nature in tune with one another.

It’s also taught that the sound of the rattle represents lightening, the thunder beings. What a wonderful reminder of the natural world.

My great-grandmother’s tea service: sometimes I use them in tea parties with girlfriends to just celebrate sister-hood and conversation. I feel my ancestor’s presence when we do it.

Small items from my travels around the world remind me that we are all one big community.

Yet, if I lost them all, I would still have the memories and the teachings. And that’s what’s most important.

This is the time of year when I go through my house and declutter – getting rid of things I haven’t used in over a year.

It’s tempting to hold on – to everything. Because each item has been used and has some little piece of my, and perhaps my ancestors’, energy in them.

But if I no longer use it, why keep it? These old items keep us stuck; stuck in old patterns and beliefs. The more we shed, the more room there is for new and good things to come in.

It’s important to have faith that when you let go of the old, new and good things will come in. You have to trust that the cycle of life applies to our stuff, too.

Look around your home; what do you have? What does it mean to you? Family heirlooms keep your ancestors alive in your presence. But if you lost them, you’d still have the memories, which may be the most important thing of all.

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Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes and blog at

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  1. Kristen Caporelli

    Hello Molly,
    This was a nice and warm reminder that we do have our memories. Sometimes though, the physical touch of something that I shared with my late mother helps bring the memory closer to my heart than if I am just thinking of her. I do have a lot of de-cluttering to do though. Through the years I have held onto some things that are not making room for a different path or journey. I have photos from a marriage that ended and somehow I cannot let go of them. I do keep them in a place that is out of sight though.
    Do you suggest a fire ceremony for some of the items we find hard to let go of? I have given a lot to the goodwill or friends over the years and that has been helpful knowing that someone else will have use for things I no longer do. Thanks Molly, As ever, Kristen

    • Molly Larkin

      Yes, a fire ceremony is an excellent idea for things that are hard to let go of. And if it’s something not burnable, a ceremony of gratitude for what it did mean, and then pass it on. It’s really important to leet go of the old to make room for the new. Last year there was a TV commercial [I don’t remember what it was for] where a young woman said she had a rule that before anything new could come into the house, she had to get rid of something old. Next shot was of her carrying out a disco mirror ball! 🙂

  2. Lou Ann

    Boy this hit home this week as I’m sorting what goes in a huge sale & what get’s moved. Thanks Molly

    • Molly Larkin

      Yep, a move is the perfect opportunity/inspiration! Good luck with it.

  3. Di Hay

    My whole house is a collection of family memorabilia, craft pieces, useful homemade textiles and interesting travel stuff, all amassed during 39 years of marriage, multiple house-moves and triplets growing up, and moving on. To me, it’s the same as an artist’s studio – ‘my’ life is ‘my’ artistic, creative expression in the world. Decluttering happens in a natural way – when I feel to do it, rather than as a response to social pressure or the next new fad or, perhaps, a date on the calendar. I do think the outer reflects the inner and seeing every ‘thing’ around me fills me with the delight of having completely immersed myself in the total joy of following my fascination and playing in this mysterious and magical manifestation.

    • Molly Larkin

      I LOVE your perspective, and I agree. Thank you for sharing.

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