As a teenager I spent several months with a family in northern Italy. After we had shared a wonderful Christmas (much like what I was used to in the United States), I was confused to see all the townspeople stacking everything from old brooms to outgrown clothes, shoes, and even furniture in front of their homes.
My host family explained that in that part of Italy, families start cleaning out their homes the day after Christmas. First, they put out the stuff that was still usable. The villagers then toured the streets and took from the piles of discards what they could use.
After that, the residents placed outside everything else that they needed to get rid of. All the things that were left were carted to the center of a field where they were laid on a pile ... which grew and grew and grew.
That New Year's Eve, everyone gathered around the pile, and the bonfire was lit. People sang and danced around the fire, and everyone hugged and kissed one another. Even the children were there. There was such a warm feeling of peace and togetherness. If there were any grudges between villagers, they were quickly forgotten.
I asked my host about this custom. He explained that the Italians in that area celebrated New Year's this way every year. It was a good way for the villagers to share items that they were no longer using, and so everyone's standard of living was raised. It also was a time of forgiveness. If anyone had a disagreement with anyone else, they were supposed to settle their argument peaceably and then let it go.
"In our village, we like to start the new year by letting go of all the things in the past year so that we can move forward without any baggage," my host explained.
I loved the idea of getting rid of the clutter in my life (emotional and material). Now, every year I make an attempt to clear out my closets, cupboards, and - most of all - my heart of things that I no longer need.
It gives me a fresh perspective, and I don't find myself dragging useless things into the next year. It also provides a great sense of renewal. In addition, I enjoy the feeling that I get from sharing. It's amazing that no matter how little we think we might have, we can always find something to share.