Early in February, sick as a dog, confined to my bed, I became keenly aware of the overwhelming glut of stuff I owned, much of which I could see from where I lay. I made a promise to myself to lighten the load as soon as I was able. I didn't know it would take more than a month to be well enough to do so.

Gradually, I began by going through a drawer here or a cupboard there and really taking a hard look at what I might be holding on to. Did I really need a 1950s electric china teapot, which my husband pointed out, I had never used in some 30 years of owning it—I just thought it was pretty. . . pretty enough to keep out of sight in an unreachable upper cupboard. Yeah, time to release that to someone who would appreciate it, chips and all.

I'm not sure why we become attached to things, but we do. Whether for sentimentality or fear of offending a giver or worry about wasting money well spent, we often cling to things we no longer need, use, or even care about. And all these things begin to encroach upon our living space and our freedom. It can also affect our ability to have a clean and safe environment in which to live—believe me, I know from experience.

We must learn to release what no longer serves us, allowing these "things" to pass to others who can appreciate them and get use out of them. Regardless of whether we toss, sell, or donate, we are freeing ourselves—and in turn our souls—giving ourselves the space we need for new things and experiences to come into our lives. If you really want to initiate change, start by releasing what no longer serves you. It's often the one way you can initiate change when change feels impossible.

The act of releasing what no longer serves comes upon us in many ways. I think my first might have been moving from my childhood home in Pittsburgh to our new house in Ohio. I would have been seven. I remember my parents sneakily spending Christmas with my older brother and his young family, hiding from me their ploy to keep me out of the moving fray. I didn't realize until later that I'd never see that home again.

Winter Queen DP 331470778 XL

Our new residence would be temporary since my parents were waiting for a new house to be built. Much of what they unpacked consisted of the more vital, day-to-day items. All else went into storage. My other things, including my bike, would come later, my mother promised. I wouldn't know until the storage van arrived at our new home some seven months later that many of my childhood toys didn't make the move. Where they had gone, I never was to know. My mother chose for me what would stay and what would go.

It's funny the things we remember. Did I miss not keeping my 1960s Mr. Potato Head kit? (In those days, a real potato was the head.) Mine had once grown out of the box and out from under the bed to offer me a "good morning" surprise. Yikes! What about my child-sized kitchenette, complete with stove, "working" sink, and fridge? (Maybe not.) And I had this funny Flintstones Circus thing—a silly toy, really—made up of one color, non-decorated plastic characters with upward extended arms that could clip onto rings, ladders, and other implements to imitate circus acrobats. Why my memory attached to that particular toy? I'll never know, but it did. (I see them from time to time on eBay, but haven't purchased one.) I think Mother probably guessed right about releasing that one too.

My cousin, Kerry, lost most everything in a fire. He left the building with the clothes on his back and his dog. His sister later said how it might be wonderful to have only four pairs of pants and four shirts to pick from each morning. Clothing, above all, can become one of the worst gluts and space hogs in our lives. Most home remodel shows I watch highlight building and creating space to accommodate these. Ladies especially know how we hold on to those smaller sizes (and sometimes the larger ones) because we believe we will drop a few pounds and get back into them. My brother discovered his deceased wife owned 70 pairs of pants. He had no idea why.

During the years I homeschooled my sons, I found a book of photos about homes across the world. (Material World by Peter Menzel) Menzel had gone to different cities, chosen a family home, carried all their possessions out into the yard, and took a photo. I remember one gal fit all her possessions on a small European balcony. Of course, the American home had the most, and the photographer had chosen a family with a very small house. Even then they had so much, including two cars. Marie Kondo compared the sparse and compact Japanese homes to the Americans in her book on tidying. We Americans really like collecting stuff. Flintstones Circus

In keeping with my February promise to release some of mine, I began the task of really looking at what hung in my closet and lingered in my drawers. I discovered I had some beautiful blouses. Bright colors, pretty prints, short-sleeved, long-sleeved, 3/4 sleeves. . . but here's the honest part. Many of them were two sizes too small and not likely something I'd get back into anytime soon. And as I released them, I accepted that—should I become that size again, I might prefer new things that not only flattered my shape but were more in keeping with my age and who I am becoming rather than who I have been. (Let's face it, I'm no longer a young, thirty-something chick.)

Think about that for a moment. Do the clothes you own reflect who you are and who you want to be? Or are they a reflection of a past you? Are you ready to release and grow beyond what they currently represent?

In the back upper reaches of my closet, I found three long skirts and two beautiful dresses, one in rich brown velvet (with purse and shoes to match) and another in deep blue, accented with thousands of sequins—perfect for very special occasions. I'm pretty sure I wore a skirt to a friend's wedding. . . eleven years ago. As for the dresses. . . yeah, I don't even know.

It's difficult to acknowledge the truth of these things at times. It's hard to accept that my weight distribution has shifted, some of my older clothes—even if they fit—are no longer becoming. I don't like to accept that I may be getting older. Wearing certain styles just doesn't feel right anymore. 

Whether me or society as a whole, I've accepted that dressing up isn't as popular or important as it once was. We joke about Zoomers wearing shorts or sleep pants under their visible blazers, and "business casual" has become more of the norm in the workplace. Dressing up to go out to dinner seems more like a date night or big-city thing than what ma-and-pa wear to go to the local Applebees.

Messy DP 418604026 sm

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my urge to purge is discovering that it is cyclical. One of the books I pulled off my shelf recently was Christine DeLorey's Life Cycles. It turns out I'm in a "nine" year. For those of you into numerology, you already know what I mean. If not—finding out your personal year is as simple as adding together your birth day and birth month with the current year. You add together all numbers until you reach a single digit. I'm February 26th, so, 2 + 2 + 6 = 10 = 1. Then I add to that, this current year, which is 2024, or reduced down, it's 2 + 0 + 2 + 4 = 8. Adding my birth number to the current year, ta-da, it's a 9. And nine years are about clearing out the old to make room for the new. They are about finishing what has yet to be finished so you can move on. (This is a dumbed-down summary, consult Google or DeLorey's book to learn more.)

At first, I thought, poppycock! But then I remembered 2015 (my last "9" year) when I went through a similar act of cleaning, clearing, and purging. (You can read more about that in my Hatch book.)

Releasing what no longer serves you isn't just about cleaning your closet. (You already know that.) But it's a good place to start. What you'll find hidden in that closet or drawer are pieces of your past that will spark memories of days gone by. It's not just a sweater, it's the sweater you wore on the day that. . . or the shoe that the heel broke when. . . It's in those memories you'll find what you're really releasing. 

What year are you in? Are you ready to "look back to leap forward?" Let's go!