The thing of it is, as we used to say, you can’t be certain of the future. You can collect nest eggs, design intricate failsafes, pile up a glittering horde and it may all be stolen by magpies.
Once upon a time I had a musical career. I was a cellist. I played in a symphony. I taught music theory and private cello lessons. I chaired a division of an after school arts program. I even held a part-time instructorship at the local university.
But one day while en route between a music lesson and a rehearsal, an old Cadillac ran into the passenger side of my Nissan, my left hand caught in the steering wheel and broke. After it healed I had a slightly twisted finger and a lot of decisions to make.
You see, I could still play pretty well although the bum finger limited what I could do. The question was whether I could live contentedly as a cellist knowing that I would always have physical limitations.
I spent a couple of years collecting a bagful of options. I could keep the jobs that I had. I could get a graduate degree in music theory and become an academic. Or I could leave music and pursue something completely different. But I could not pursue all of them. I would have to choose just one direction, pursue it with all my heart and let the other dreams go.
It seems to me that this kind of choosing is at the heart of decluttering. If we can commit to a path and turn away from others, a side benefit is that we will be able to sort things we will keep from things we must let go.
During the next year, I decided to let go of my web of part-time musical jobs. Also, I decided that I could never be a musical academic so I let go of the graduate program in music theory. I took a few auditions and applied to a performance track but these doors didn’t open.
So I decided to train as a high school math teacher. Two years later, having gone to work as an adjunct tutor for the city schools while I studied, I decided against teaching high school and took my degree in pure mathematics. A year later I was accepted for post-graduate work and never looked back. This is the ideal: decluttering without regret.
It was a very long time before I could let my cello go. After a few years during which I never played it, I compromised by parking it with my parents, much as my mother had given her piano to me many years earlier. But many many years passed before I became free enough to send it off to a dealer.