House Cleaning: Throwing Out Your Past

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Written by Nicole Wilson

Our physical space is an outward expression of our inner life. So why do so many of us clutter it with junk from the past? Join author Nicole Wilson as she shares “House Cleaning: Throwing Out Your Past.“

Our physical space is an outward expression of our inner life. So why do so many of us clutter it with junk from the past? Join author Nicole Wilson as she shares “House Cleaning: Throwing Out Your Past.”

Our closets are repositories of trinkets that represent various chapters of our lives. The spaces we inhabit and the items placed within them are an extension of ourselves. We pick out furniture and drapes, but our space shapes us as much as we shape our space. Our physical space is an outward expression of our inner life. So why do so many of us clutter it with junk from the past?

House Cleaning: Throwing Out Your PastEvery spring, just when the dregs of the winter finally feel to be fading, I whip out a couple of black industrial-sized GLAD trash bags and go to town on my closets. In New York City, there is an unspoken rule amongst New Yorkers, that whatever you haven’t worn in 2 seasons — you chuck or donate to charity. In a large part this ceremony is due to our compact living quarters here, but perhaps in a larger sense, it’s also due to the fact that those items are no longer of use to us and are limiting our options in the present. For instance, the ship has most definitely sailed on that Lady Gaga Style Meat suit, and it will likely never return again. Thank God!

I always feel an enormous sense of relief when I have finished my Spring Cleaning. To me the more bags of stuff I no longer use that I can tie up and get out of my apartment, the better. I feel ten tons lighter. Suddenly, my life (and my closets) feel as though they have room for possibility. And suddenly my current closet selection reflects the person I am today, not when I rocked JNCO’s and rode a skateboard with my hat turned backwards like a little punk skater girl.

I’ve come to a conclusion because of this annual pastime, that getting rid of things you no longer need is actually good for the soul. It allows you to start fresh and be present in your present.

But for those of you who don’t live in apartments (lucky you!) and the many of you who do, I have a question for you: What are you hoarding in your home that is a symbol or reminder of something that is no longer of use to you? What do you keep that is a souvenir of sorrow?

I know I am not the only one who has done this or been with someone who has done this.

The first time I stayed at the L.A. home of my longtime boyfriend, Holt, I recall being horrified that he still had a framed photograph of him and his ex girlfriend holding hands in the window above the sink.  It was the stuff of a bad Cosmo advice column “What do I do if the man I love still has framed photographs of his ex girlfriend around our home?”


Immediately a red flag went up, I don’t know a single woman who wouldn’t have been alarmed! I didn’t mind knowing he HAD a past with someone else (after all, I had one too, several in fact come to mind…), I just didn’t like being reminded of it as I was washing the dinner plates of the romantic dinner I had just cooked us. Anyone who is still holding onto the mementos of a long dead relationship couldn’t possibly be ready for a new one, I thought. Immediately my mind went to self-protective mode. Maybe I should just end the relationship NOW!!!  But I held it together enough to have a somewhat civil conversation about it, after all my boyfriend had been nothing but loving and devoted to me since our first date.

When I asked my boyfriend why he kept a photo of his ex in a prominent place where not only I had to see it everyday, but they did as well, he sheepishly said “Oh, you know, Memories…”. And he quickly tucked it away in a box in the closet under a stack of junk. He then put up several framed pictures of us up in an attempt to show his commitment to me, but I couldn’t not see it. The fact that his ex lived in the closet didn’t mean she wasn’t there. In fact, in my mind, she was more there than EVER. It was a closet that for years I avoided opening, even for the vacuum cleaner (Which my boyfriend would probably say is because I hate cleaning). But truly, it was because I was afraid of running into the ghosts of girlfriends past, a life I wasn’t a part of, and every time I thought of the contents of that closet, I felt like the third wheel in my own relationship.

The closet was in the truest sense, haunted.

Years later in our relationship when I was cleaning up the house and, so too, the “haunted” closet, I stumbled upon the same picture and in a moment that can only be described as an out of body experience, I threw it out.   It went straight in the garbage can along with a slew of photos of them together. Even now, I can’t believe I had the gumption to do that but it felt damn good. I felt like I could finally breathe in our home, like it was our home, like I didn’t have to avoid a stupid closet.

Of course, explaining my profound moment of liberation to my boyfriend was another story altogether.

When I told my him,  he was understandably pissed that I had thrown away his past, his things, but later, when he was calm he confessed that he felt lighter not to have those things around anymore and  he understood why I did that.

But my story isn’t unusual.

Most of us hold onto things that symbolize something that we have outgrown. In effect, by doing this we make a shrine to our unhappy past the way many of us hold onto old love letters, text messages, divorce papers, presents, clothing items, mementos, diaries, e-mails, and photos of doomed relationships, friendships and ultimately unhappy times in our life. Perhaps we hold onto these items to have proof that it happened, like a badge of honor to demonstrate how we survived a war in which the other guy won. We served. We were wounded. We held onto the memory of it and placed it in a box in the closet for safe-keeping.

The family historian in me cringes at the suggestion of getting rid of items from the past, but I am not talking about items such as family photos or things that make you feel happy, warm, and loved. I am suggesting that we get rid of the things that make us feel weighed down, held captive, and tied to an unhappy past.

So one night several months ago I decided it was time….

I went through my own “haunted” closet. Rather I CLEANSED my closet I should say. I came upon sad breakup letters, angry E-mails from jilted lovers, and photos of people I no longer talk with or want to.   I found items that seemed to chronicle unbelievable lows and times of complete and utter depression. For instance, I found a pile of plane ticket to visit someone who wound up told me that they had been dating their “ex” the entire time we were together and that they were getting married. Knife in the heart.

Why had I kept these things? Why, why, why?

Was I that much of a masochist that I thought I would one day look fondly back on the memory of a person who had lied, deceived and betrayed me?

I didn’t care, I took ALL OF IT! EVERY LAST BAD MEMORY and stuffed it into a   ginormous black trash bag.

What I put back into the closet were items that made me smile and feel happy about my life. A photo of my Dad and me at my Off-Broadway play debut. The letter my Grandfather had written to me every week while I was in college. And there were  countless others.

I didn’t feel sad that I gave up those things, I felt better and I don’t miss them one bit.

So I ask you, what are you hording in your closet that is no longer of use?

Is it your sadness, your depression, your failures, your most lost and desperate moments?

I have one suggestion. Chuck it. Put it in the garbage and don’t look back. Trust me you will thank me when you finally have enough room for your NOW!

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?

A few years ago I was diagnosed with cystic ovaries. A condition many women have, but few really put a voice to. It’s sort of the ugly stepsister known as women’s health. I have had to undergo several surgeries to remove them as they are recurrent. I changed my diet, my lifestyle, and underwent fertility preservation in the form of freezing my eggs as preventative insurance. It was incredibly traumatic when I was first dealing with it and freaking out about the prospect of perhaps not being able to have children. But I was proactive and I have turned my health issue into a passion by helping other women change and improve their health with diet and lifestyle change.

What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?

I appreciate that I am a fun loving broad who really speaks her mind. Perhaps it’s the brassy Native New Yorker in me, but I have never been afraid to put it out there. Sass and all.

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?

Oh gosh, TONS! I sometimes feel like that Carpenters medley “We’ve only just begun.” I am extremely proud of my work as an artist and actress and the fact that I was able to make my sparkly girlhood dream a bonafide reality. I would very much like to land bigger parts in film and TV as well as write and produce a film at some point.

What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?

As Rogers and Hammerstein would say, “I am a cockeyed optimist.” In regards to nearly everything but especially when it comes to the people I love. It takes a special sort to get in my door, but once you’re in, you’re in for life. I’m sort of like the Mafia. I love HARD and sometimes allow people to stay in my life far longer than they actually deserve to be there. It takes a lot for me to want to give someone the boot from my life. More often I relegate them to a smaller role in my life, when perhaps it’s better I just say “too-dah-lou” sucker!

How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”

Family. They are literally the best bunch of crazy apples on this planet. They have supported me through every phase of my life, empowered me, and encouraged my dreams from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper. Love them!!

About the author

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Nicole Wilson

Nicole Wilson is a writer, blogger, Life / Health Coach and is a graduate of The School for Integrative Nutrition. She is owner of Sprouted in the City [] a health and life coaching practice that empowers women to transform their bodies and lives into SEXY & HEALTHY works of art! Additionally Nicole works successfully as a painter as well as a TV & Film actress appearing on such shows as “The Good Wife” ,“All My Children” and “Law & Order”.

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