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How I created breathing space in my house

Sadia Ahmad

As the daughter of a hoarder, I grew up in a house crammed with far too many things; trinkets, fabrics, furniture, crockery, electrical tools, a variety of rarely used miscellaneous items spilling out of every available nook and cranny. Displaced by immigration, my mother spent a life clinging to her belongings. I see now, her things anchor her; give her footing in an environment that often feels strange and foreign. In every sense, it’s a refusal to let go.

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I hadn’t realized its influence until adulthood. Whenever the fear I’d accumulated too much set in, I met it by gathering yet more things; the deep well of emotion contained in the impulse to collect was too much to face. It was a literal externalizing of my internal neuroses.

I expected the task of clearing out to be just that; a practical chore. What I wasn’t expecting was the surge of emotions that accompanied it. Excavating relics of another world, I found I’d held on to so much: lamps, vintage sweaters, knitting needles, schoolbooks, gifts I felt too guilty to throw out… All things that lay unused for years, yet which I’d delayed getting rid of. This time I felt relieved to donate them to people who’d give them new life. Noticing the way I now related to these objects was both enlivening and cathartic; I realized I’d the choice to live intentionally.

The things we surround ourselves with are a statement – of our habits, plans, aspirations. So often we hold onto things as conduits, ways to keep the past alive in the present. But keeping more than you need, or enjoy – those useless bargains, those just-in-case items – is simply nostalgia for the past, or anticipations for the future; anything but living in the present.

Establishing the delicate balance between holding on and letting go required an awareness not always easy to tune into. I was still a little nervous to divest. Would I feel adrift, untethered without my history of objects? Grounding myself though, in my life as it is, and not as it was, helped make that final break, and let go. I found purging the most optimistic act of all; a way of looking forward. To hold on to the past is to say the future will never be better than what you’ve already experienced.

Having finally hauled it all off for donation, the uncovered space is freeing. It still feels full, but now that’s with quiet, with stillness. And suddenly, the remaining objects feel renewed. I’d spent so long holding on to the weight of what I knew. Clearing those blockages allows me to go on a little more lightly, unburdened. Making way for change, welcoming possibility, and embracing potential is what allows life to happen. I’ve finally come to see, empty room is breathing room.

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Establishing the delicate balance between holding on and letting go required an awareness not always easy to tune into.

Sadia Ahmad

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