Is there anything more cathartic than a yard sale? So often we talk about lightening our heavy loads in an emotional way, but there’s no need for metaphor when we physically disencumber 1500 pounds of impulse buys from our attics and basements. The purge is deeply connected to an emotional unraveling that is both healing and heartbreaking.
I hosted a neighborhood yard sale over the weekend. On Saturday morning, my front lawn became a graveyard for misfit decor, obsolete electronics, outgrown toys, and battered sports equipment. We amateur vendors watched with relief as our old treasures were released from purgatory by folks who promised to breathe life back into them.
I confess, I struggled with the purge. I specifically struggled with several large Rubbermaid bins full of clothing samples, ghosts of a profession past. I spent much of my 20s and 30s as a serial entrepreneur, birthing small businesses that fizzled and died before maturity. My boldest endeavor was a golf apparel line for women and children. It survived three years, until my last child came into the world; when I realized I didn’t want to “do it all” anymore. So I packed up my trade show booth, fell out of touch with customers, and watched from the nursing rocker as a thick layer of dust settled on my sewing machine.
I hadn’t ventured into business since.
Though the golf business had been peacefully resting six feet under for many years, I still felt pangs of guilt, shame, and regret when I saw those bins full of clothes, when I thought about what I spent on that start-up, what others might think of me for giving it up, and, of course, what I could’ve been. I felt stuck, unable to go forward or backward, in a purgatory of my own.
Those Rubbermaid bins were my hair shirt. They held me back, haunting me, quietly murmuring, “You never finish anything, Vanessa. Good ideas. No follow through. Why bother starting anything new when you’re born to fail?”
They whispered mean things to me, but I kept them anyway. Because there’s something beautifully painful about suffering, about knowing we’re inadequate.
Shortcomings and insufficiencies are ghost stories we know so well. We can recite every line by heart. And we are strangely comfortable with them. If our dark tales weren’t here, if our lack, our suffering wasn’t holding us back, we’d have to step fully into that bright loving light that forces us to live fully. Living fully can be scary. There’s risk in the fullness. What if we fail? What if we disappoint?
But the scariest thing for me is always this: What if I succeed? What if I do so well that I need to be responsible for one more thing? Can I carry the weight of accountability? Am I disciplined enough to manage a new endeavor? Am I good enough? Am I worthy?
Oh my God.
Am I worthy?
So I stared down those Rubbermaid bins last week, which just so happened to be the same week I took on my first paying meditation students. I looked at those bins and I threatened: “It’s you or me.”
And I chose me. (I’m bawling typing this right now, by the way.)
I dragged the bins onto my lawn last Saturday, but I didn’t take the covers off. Maybe I was only half ready to let them go.
Two hours into the sale, an old lady started poking around at my ghosts and said, “I’ll give you $10 for everything in this box.”
“TEN DOLLARS?” I said, “You could start a whole business with what’s in this box. There’s thousands of dollars worth of retail merchandise in this b–“
The lady looked at me in a way that I can only describe as neutral.
I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, “Okay, it’s yours for twenty.”
“I’m not buying it for me,” said the old lady. “I’m bringing it to Haiti for mission.”
I suddenly had a visual of a Haitian woman walking slowly down a bustling tropical street, wearing my light, breathable golf clothes, looking crisp and cool in the hot, hot sun. I hauled out every bin I had, transferred their contents into white Glad bags, and recruited a friend to carry my ghosts into the old lady’s station wagon. I hugged her 35 times then accepted her ten bucks gratefully.
And then I sobbed.
Please share this with your favorite entrepreneur… or yard saler.
My Rubbermaid bins looking sweet and innocent, now empty and stacked in a closet.