Before the busyness of the holiday season hit, I had made up my mind: I was going to leave Toronto. I had booked a plane ticket to Colombia and on the first week of December, I gave my landlord his two months notice. I had moved in as a university student in the summer of 2012 and after five-and-a-half good years, I was leaving.
I planned my year of work-travel abroad on the sly for some time but in the weeks that followed, I was putting my plan in action. My dream quickly became a reality and so, with two months to leave the city, I learned how to pack up my life, tie up loose strings and leave.
It was a steep learning curve for me. And, as it turned out, a lesson in ruthlessness both in getting rid of old things and also in slicing out the unnecessary schedule demands. When faced with a deadline to leave the city, I simply didn’t have time or physical space to accommodate the excess I had allowed into my life for years. Thinking back on that time, I see there were a lot of lessons that shook out of the clutter.
When I said my move was a lesson in being ruthless, I meant it. In the weeks of downsizing, I’d regularly block off short sections of time to toss out anything I didn’t see myself using in the future. That whole “If it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it,” piece of advice from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is true. I know because I put it to the test. When packing up your whole life and leaving, I learned, there are some items you just can’t take with you: old university papers, doodles from five years ago, unused and unflattering makeup, the dozen t-shirts that are used only as pajamas, highlighter pens.
As I started to declutter, my ruthlessness gained momentum. The high-waisted short shorts that were just that bit too small became history. Those wedges I always regretted buying? Goodbye. The hand-me-downs I had half-heartedly accepted also went straight into my bag of to-be-donated goods. Know those desk drawers that seems to just collect unwanted junk? I tossed it all. Old bathing suits? Gone. Mismatched socks? Gone. The magazines I would one day read? The stationery from an ex-boyfriend? Non-functional pens? I ditched them all.
Slowly, I could breathe again. And my decluttering sessions became cathartic. I loved my apartment but now that I was abandoning so many of my things, I came to like it even more. So, I started to apply this attitude to more than just the material.
Like my apartment bedroom, my schedule was filled up with things I didn’t need – or want. I did to the flakes and the shouldvitation (read: a non-genuine invitation) culprits what I had done to my junk: I cut them out. We all have the folks who always, to no avail, suggest perhaps getting a drink or a coffee because “we should catch up!” Well, when left with eight weeks in a city that was my home for nearly eight years, the patience wears thin. It’s funny how once under pressure, I did the thing I always should have done: I stopped letting it all in.
Of course, I kept the clothes, the shoes and the books that I adored. I kept race medals that had special memories attached. I made one-on-one time for the people I am closest to whose friendships I value and I had a going away party where I invited all of my favourite people. I had less but I was happier. In Colombia, my possessions are the tip of the iceberg compared to before. It’s for the better. I knew I’d learn a lot from my year away, but as it turned out, that started before I even left.