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Cast This

September 17, 2013

This past weekend was Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, whose spiritual meaning is about reflection and asking forgiveness of sins. For me it’s also about looking to new beginnings, shedding past demons and, quite simply, shedding stuff.


One tradition done during this holiday is tashlikh which means “casting off.” And while it’s custom to cast off the previous year’s sins using a stone as a symbolic gesture and tossing it into a large natural body of water (which I did with my family from the shore of a Cape Cod beach), as an organizer who’s always on the lookout for incentives to downsize, I like to think of tashlikh as casting away something else: excess.

Fall is prime time for apple picking, leaf peeping and yard sales. Weekends can find many a driveway covered with unwanted wares pulled from dank basements, musty attics, and hidden in the back of closets; items long forgotten and most importantly, unneeded or never used. These items – books, sweaters, chairs, weed wackers, turntables, and Jello molds – all take up valuable real estate, not just physically, but mentally. Clutter around us can seep into our minds and add, among the other unneeded items, unneeded stress. A visually calming atmosphere is sure to make you happier and might possibly leave you with less to cast off (and regret) next year.

While I don’t need a holiday or a certain time of year to rummage through my own inventory (it’s an ongoing task), this is one I enjoy. Growth comes from letting go, whether it’s letting go of stuff or letting go of the edge of the pool and trying to swim for the first time. There’s freedom in it. Friends and family are always emailing when they’ve cleaned out a closet, their garage, or the trunk of their cars. They know I’ll understand the accomplishment and appreciate their effort. Life is about collecting experiences, and sure, along the way, we collect T-shirts and shot glasses and gigantic copper plates from Mexico to commemorate those experiences, but those moments are not contingent upon things, they’re dependent on memories. We don’t need trinkets to bring them back.

If there are items or thoughts or feelings you want to unload, while Yom Kippur and New Year’s Eve are great motivators, you really don’t need a holiday to do it. Anytime of the year is the right time to cast off!


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  1. Richard Cohen permalink

    What about slightly altering the “eliminate surplus” doctrine to “donate surplus”? People in general will pay lip service to the notion excess accumulation (in extreme case: hoarding), but some problems exist which produce reluctance for many “accumulators” to dis-accumulate; some of these have perfectly sound rationales: (a) one result of eliminating “surplus” is to gain space. For apartment dwellers, this is an obvious advantage, and many will confront the urgency to free up space – even at an emotional cost of getting rid of the Barbie dolls or Atari computer games which have lain dormant for years but which—let’s be honest—have an emotional attachment to us – like the pressed flower that Grandpa gave his fiancé (Grandma) . While she is deceased these many years, Grandpa’s reverence for that flower, now dried and wan, and the sense of pure loving tenderness for his bride of 60 years, has fascinated and impressed numberless children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and that old book of cards is brought out once a year and the rustle of its ancient pages is still a song sung by marriages stabilized by Grandpa’s pressed flower. Thus, not every non-functional and unnecessary item is equal to every other non-functional item.

    And suppose there is, in fact, plenty of space. Automatically saying “Bye-bye” to the vinyl Mommas and the Papas is satisfying whose goals here?

    But I digress; what about substituting the cast-off with the donate-off. A lot of people do not have enough furniture, clothing, (yes, and Mantovani record albums) and would really appreciate these items. Twenty-Two % of Americans live at or near the poverty level. Can we not organize a collection drive for these items and transport them in each state or county to an “accumulation center” a recycling center where nothing would be waster. The savings in buying Chinese exports alone would help our unbalanced budget and leave more US Dollars in this country. Plus, consider how much money would be saved (let alone taxes spent burdened onto the price of items)

    That way, a person who is reluctant to see the funds they put into that jade-green ashtray ($19.95 in Pawtucket RI in 2002) would have a tax reduction benefit and as they excumulated (the opposite of accumulated) they would unsharpen the regret at wasting the money they spent.

    So, if space is not problem, is there any reason to eliminate infrequently used items? Yes ,of course there is. Most people living either large or small, could keep much better track of the items they now hold and there is a critical need for organizers professionals like Felice as well as retail sellers of plastic totes, can be immeasurably helpful in demonstrating more efficiently organizing techniques. This is a tremendously helpful function; only sometimes is the “organizing” principle solvable by just thinning out closets and drawers. Highly competent organizers like Felice have a world view (I almost said “weltanschauung), a philosophy that analyzes and then de-clutters her clients. Hers is an art, but the wholesale minimizing of stuff is not always “organizing”. Let me keep my Atari in the man-cave in the basement room I built to play my 1970’s vinyls and my 1975 4K Sears black and white Pac-man game.

  2. marilyn permalink


  3. Another wonderful, thoughtful post. Reading your blog is like doing an hour of yoga…I feel so calm and peaceful after. Chag Sameach!

  4. Auntie M permalink

    Thank God for the Ahavath Torah Rummage Sale twice each year where you can buy an empty bag for $5. & fill it with as much stuff as you can. They are lined up around the block for this for this event & I got to say “Buh Bye!

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