2 min read

Taking Out The Past

My past is part of me, for better or worse.
A picture of trash cans. The lid on the front can is askew.
This post was originally published on February 15, 2011 on andyellwood.com.

A local book store can offer a glance into popular culture's mindset. And, if I didn't know better, somewhere in a huge leather chair-filled conference room, book publishers and authors decided to wage war on the past.  It seems to me they're trying to make the past a four-letter word.  

Everywhere you look in the book store, and especially on the end caps—the prime real estate fought over by cookbooks and biographies alike—the theme of "conquering your past" is everywhere. The encouragement to get rid of your past like this weekend's garbage is inescapable. But, as seems to frequently be the case, that got me thinking. You can learn a lot from taking out the trash.  

As I pulled the plastic draw strings up this morning to carry the past few days' worth of trash down to the bin, I saw a peak into the memories of the past few eventful days.  Meals eaten, letters received, bills paid, products that served their purpose and are no longer of value.

The things that were thrown away weren't horrible, terrible things that shocked and appalled me; just stuff that had run its course and was no longer needed. Things that were no longer valuable for me keep around. And of course, living in NYC I'm very conscious of the amount of space that I actually have to keep around things that don't serve a purpose right now or in the future.

The same is true of taking out the trash of the past.  While there are obviously the true extreme pasts that are filled with felony-worthy habits and tragic decisions that marred the future, for a lot of the folks out there buying self help books, it's possible that the past they are "dealing with" is actually just a part of their history and the scars that tell the story of their past. Not all of the past, even the tough parts have to be looked at as awful or horrible things, just not things that made the cut to be carried into the future.  It's just how we think about it that matters.

While there are certainly decisions, habits, and choices in my past I'm excited to have thrown out, they are still parts of my story that have shaped the current version of me.  But, that said, there's something refreshing about the action of tossing the lid on the bin and knowing that those things are not around to stink up or clutter my world anymore. What was in my trash this morning doesn't define today or tomorrow.