We are entering the season of fall bonfires. There’s something mesmerizing about a fire…when you are seated around it, with friends, family or neighbors, watching the blue and orange hued flames dance about. These are the fun fires, the smell of the season, the time to relax…
Unplanned fires, however, can be tragedies. My heart aches when I see a house, garage, barn or business burned, erasing memories, value and leaving ashes and brokenness. I know families that have had to start from scratch and grieve the loss of not only the structure but of memories and irreplaceable contents.
These examples are two extremes – good/enjoyable and bad/devastating. Is there a fire in the middle of those two opposites, or a combination of the two? Can a fire be good and bad? Yes.
Recently I used a fire to extinguish evidence of a time filled with pain and confusion.
I had been in the process of organizing, decluttering and assessing what I could sell, donate or minimize in order to live more simply. (No, I’m not living simply yet, but there’s a will and I’m digging my way.) I came across binders of letters that my ex-husband and I had written to each other during an awful time. I had saved them all and even made copies of the letters I wrote to him. I’m not sure why I was keeping them, neatly organized by date, even. Would they make for a tell-all book someday? Sure. But these were extremely personal questions, explanations and feelings that I would never want anyone else to read, especially my children. The thought crossed my mind – what if something happened to me tomorrow and my children, friends or family had to go through my belongings and found these letters?
I made the decision that I was ready to get rid of these letters. They served no purpose anymore except to relive a nightmare, as I started to read through them. I felt the anxiety and anger rise in my body as I had forgotten some of the worst exchanges. I didn’t read them all again, but I read enough to confirm that these needed to disappear. I called a friend and asked if she wanted to join me in a “burn party,” saying goodbye to documents and letters. She agreed and gladly contributed boxes of painful paperwork from two decades prior that she, too, was ready to be rid of.
It was hard. It was hard to let go even though I knew it was the right thing to do. I felt angry and a little bitter that I had to even spend energy on a task like this. I teared up and tensed up. Little by little, I tossed the letters into the fire. I carefully watched the pages curl and brown, shrink and disappear. I gradually felt a peace pass over me as if the pain, at least some of it, was shrinking and fading with the pages. My friend felt the same about her papers. Years of tangible reminders of stress, pain, legal and financial burdens and feelings of grief were being released into the flames … soon to be nothing but meaningless ashes.
The fire can’t take away what’s in my mind. I’ll have the memories and reminders forever. But letting go of the tangible evidence of pain was the right method. I know how far I’ve come in healing and I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about my kids, friends or family finding those horrific written exchanges between two people in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy. The fire was destructive; bad for the papers but good for the healing.
Are you holding onto needless and maybe even painful clutter?
Do you have paperwork or letters in your house that you wouldn’t want anyone else to read? Maybe it’s no-longer-applicable love letters or fight letters or documents that are unnecessary. Is it time for your bonfire?
If you’re not ready to get rid of it all, consider downsizing it to a smaller box, file or lockbox. It’s ok to let go gradually. But letting go of unnecessary “stuff” is cleansing, freeing, and might just be the healing you need in order to move forward.
Disclaimer: Make sure your items to burn are strictly your property, within your authority to possess or get rid of, won’t ever be required to be presented again, and that no one else would be negatively affected by the ‘good riddance.’