Starting a new life meant closing down the old one. It meant allowing oneself to be free of any burdens that may hinder one from being able to make free choices. My burdens which held me captive in Munich were my job, my flat and all my material possessions in that flat. I knew I did not want to stay in Munich any longer, I knew I wanted to go back home or wherever else, which meant I had to get rid of my burdens.
My sabbatical started at the end of 2015. I went to Buenos Aires and spent there almost two months. When I returned to Munich, I did not feel like spending days any more than necessary in my flat, not in my neighborhood, not in the city. Even my once favorite spots did not give me joy anymore. Looking at all my furniture and my clothes were choking me as if they were chains that tied me to that spot and I could not break away.
A month later I went to Seattle to visit my mentor and friend at work, who in the meantime had moved there and wanted me to come over and explore the local options. He suggested if I was going to change my life anyway, why not to Seattle?Thank you, Jonas, you and your family have been wonderful. I will always be grateful for the times we spent there together.
After almost a month in Seattle, my heart did not feel at home there. It is a beautiful city with lovely, kind and respectful people. Maybe it was simply not the right timing. I did not stay in Seattle. I went back to Munich and started to pack.
Releasing myself from my life in Munich was much more difficult than I had initially thought. I had naively believed that I would simply cancel my rental contract, sell or give away my furniture, get rid of my unnecessary clothes, de-register as a resident and off I’d go. And these were the things that I did after all. Yet, I had not thought about the emotional process they implied.
Canceling the rental contract was the easiest of all. Freeing myself of my furniture was the toughest. I had had that furniture for more than a decade. It looked still new and it had its life stories. Goran and I had picked each one piece together, mantled and dismantled them one by one, days and nights long. We had been sitting with our friends at that table, we had carefully brought beautiful Swedish glassware that gave us joy. I came to realize my past life was in that furniture. It was hard to let go. Even more difficult was to see that my furniture, in fact, and of course, did not mean the same to the others who wanted to acquire it. They came by and looked at my furniture, they criticized, they tried to artificially find flaws to take the price down. Sometimes they did not even show up. They treated my furniture just like a piece of furniture, which it was. To me though, it has been the story of my thus far life.
Of all this soul-draining experience, there is only one about a lady that still fills my heart with warmth. She had three children, she was a single mother. Her boy was very sick, he needed close attention, so she could not have a regular job. They had no money to buy furniture but integrity not to beg for it. So, there was the mom standing in my hallway one afternoon dismantling my library to take it with her and still wanting to pay. I gave it to her as many other things, just so. She started to cry and told me more about her family. What touched me the most was when she told me that she hardly cries because she cannot afford it. At home she has to be strong for her children, looking happy and energetic. But here and now, where she just could be herself for a moment, she couldn’t help but cry.
I am grateful to her that she entered my life that afternoon, even if it was only for a few hours. It made a difference. I cannot even describe the feeling of happiness, contentment, and peace I felt with each little piece of stuff I was able to place in her bag for her to take away. I am hoping and wishing that their lives are easier today.
Trying to fit my whole past life into two pieces of luggage and a bag was a mix of fear, joy, freedom, relief, helplessness. Everything together.
Everything I could give away brought me closer to my personal freedom. Everything I decided to take with me meant I could not take something else, so I had to judge carefully. Since I didn’t know what expected me, I wanted to take the things that would be useful anytime, anywhere, would be sustainable and light to carry. This was my main selection criteria. However, it was hard to apply this to the things I was emotionally attached to. Like the paintings on my wall that we had brought from places we or I had visited in the world. I took their pictures and let them go…I only held on to a few books, the porcelains that my grandma had gifted me before she passed away and some Swedish glassware from my past with Goran. A dear friend of mine kept them for me so that I could get them later from him when I knew my place, wherever that may be.
After this experience, I learned to buy things in a different way. I ask myself each time why I want to buy this one piece of stuff and if I would take it with me if I again only had two pieces of luggage of space. I ask myself, instead of buying this if I could give away something else to someone else, who is in need more than myself. I learned that material possessions give me joy only on seldom occasions and only if they come alongside emotions.
Closing my apartment and letting go of my things took about two months. A life-changing two months for me.
I now know what it means to let go of a home and ‘my things’ to become free. I feel powerful and I know I could do it again even though I hope not to have to. I also know the toll it takes physically and emotionally, and that I can recover from it in time. That eventually I am a happier, stronger person.
I learned that giving fulfills me a lot more than receiving and that the lovingkindness experienced in one lady’s grateful crying can heal many wounds.
We make a living with what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Sir Winston Churchill