The Power of Precious

Recently, I heard a speaker talk about her childhood living in South Sudan. Her family often hosted guests during this time, and the toys that she owned were shared with the visitors. As often happens with communal objects, many of her toys became a bit worse for the wear. To ease the pain of sharing toys, her mother always allowed her to select one toy– her most precious toy – to be hidden away in a safe place whenever company came. Being quite young, she initially struggled to pronounce the word precious. Instead, she called her selected plaything her “behbish” toy… a term which stuck in the family.

In my years helping clients to de-clutter, I’ve come to realize that most people have a hard time figuring out what to keep and what to release. A pile of belongings can be overwhelming, and we delay the discomfort of decision-making. It is common to be anxious about making a wrong choice, and to fear making a determination we will regret in the future. Nevertheless, as I reflected on the speaker’s story, I was struck by the fact that this girl did not seem to share this same struggle. She was easily able to identify her “behbish”; she knew what was precious.

There are a variety of reasons why the average home today is suffering under the weight of possessions. The combination of historically increasing disposable income and decreasing price of purchased goods has rendered items more affordable. In addition, the average size of the American home has nearly doubled in size over the past 50 years (NPR), making it easier for us to stockpile. According to the LA Times, the average American home now contains 300,000 items. Furthermore, one out of every ten Americans rent offsite storage (Selfstorage.com), extending the problem beyond the walls of our homes.

The point is, we may be losing our ability to discern what is precious.

The process of consciously deciding what to keep and what to shed is all about prioritization. We need to be constantly circulating belongings with the goal of freeing space to enjoy what is important to our current life. Contrary to the anxious voice that taunts us, not everything we own is of equal importance. In fact, if we believe everything is important, we are basically saying that nothing is important. In addition, we need to acknowledge that life is ever-changing. Our needs and desires are not static, meaning that we need to be regularly adapting our environment.

For example:

  • An activity we enjoyed at one time may no longer be of interest
  • The clothing we used to wear may no longer fit or flatter
  • The toys one child enjoyed may be of little interest to a younger sibling
  • Books we loved may never warrant a second reading
  • Power tools may be rendered useless due to a new physical limitation
  • Décor/furnishings from a parent’s home may not suit our space or taste

Identifying what is precious – and correspondingly what is not – is empowering. Instead of asking, “Can I figure out a use for this?” the question becomes, “Is this precious to me in its function or in the way it makes me feel?”

Ultimately, focusing on the precious helps us create a space that is both efficient and satisfying. Can you look around and identify what is precious? How might the concept of precious help you face a de-cluttering task that you have been procrastinating?

33 thoughts on “The Power of Precious”

  1. I love the way you think with the concept of what may be precious to us, because you are right so often it is hard to figure out what to keep and then still what to get rid of, but this way you are allowing yourself to decide what has value or meaning to you before making that ultimate decision. Going to keep this in mind the next time I am decluttering here for sure now.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…Set Your Winter Reading On FireMy Profile

    1. I hope it is a helpful concept, Janine. Most people struggle with some type of belonging, whether it be items from a deceased loved one, “valuable” furniture, or something else. This is a way to help us manage that potentially tough process.

  2. I love this post! Just looking at things from a slightly different angle calms me down when thinking about those decisions. I should refer back to this one often!

    1. I’m so pleased to hear you identify with this, Carolyn. This perspective has helped many people I know as they sort through piles of belongings. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

    1. It is something of a muscle we need to use and strengthen I think. Back in the day when people could afford so little, this skill was less important. But now, much of what we actually love is not being enjoyed to its full potential.

    1. Thanks, Jill. I found it a compelling concept, and I hope it will give people permission to value their most precious items, AND let go of those things which are not!

    1. Thank you for reading, Nacho! The whole point is to make space for what we love, instead of losing the precious to the burden of all that is not. I appreciate your kind affirmation:)

  3. This is a great way to describe what I’ve had on my mind a few times. I think about a closet of clothes, like a big one celebrities have. And I think how sad it is that these items aren’t precious to them because they’re so disposable. Whereas a tinier closet feels better because you’re more proud of them and can genuinely call it a collection of items you love.

    1. Such a great example, Nina. I wonder what happens to those clothes. Often celebrities get criticized if they “re-wear” objects. Not exactly my situation:) But I can say that my closet is mostly full of items that I feel good in, for which I am thankful!

  4. Was your post influenced at all by Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” concept? Everything we keep can’t be decided by answering her question, “Does it spark joy?” But there’s something to be said for figuring out why we opt to keep certain things…especially when they might have overstayed their welcome or are no longer are useful or treasured as they once were.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v9My Profile

    1. I wasn’t actually thinking about sparking joy until I finished, and realized I had struck on a similar concept. I agree that not everything sparks joy…my plunger doesn’t really spark joy! BUT, when I need the plunger, I sure am happy to have it:)

  5. What a wonderful story and what an interesting perspective! It’s true that we have become overwhelmed by our belongings. It’s so many decisions to make!

    Often I offer clients the option to do a treasure hunt instead. In finding first what is most important, it’s sometimes easier for them to know what to let go of.

    1. Nice idea, a treasure hunt! Seems we need to find a way to connect with what means the most, and find a way to make space for those things… both physical and mental. I love the simplicity of a child who hasn’t been overwhelmed, and knows exactly what she loves.

    1. Liberating to you and it sounds like (in some cases) beneficial to others. I’ve had the same experience… and it is perfectly ok for us to choose new interests!

  6. This is so timely for me—I just wrote on article about spring cleaning—especially on my cluttered closet. The thing is, there are so many items in there that are not worth anything money-wise, but are gold to me for sentimental reasons. I won’t throw them away, but I DO need to organize them better. ***I tried to leave a comment on your mail post but the comment section never popped up**

  7. I actually practice the same thing with my son before we have guests come over. He has is two favorite things that he hides. Sometimes he doesn’t hide them but he politely asks the other kids not to play with them (they are matching stuffed bears). Everyone knows these are his most special toys and they respect that.

    As an adult I simply say to myself if I had just a few minutes to grab a few things from the house before it was destroyed what would I grab. It’s always my photo albums!
    Autumn Leopold recently posted…7 Comprehensive Resources for Organizing Adults With ADHDMy Profile

    1. I’m smiling just thinking of your sons matching stuffed bears. Ultimately our relationships (and memories) are often the most precious things to us.. that little “before the house is destroyed” exercise can bring clarity to the question of what matters most!

  8. What a great way to look at things – what is so special to you that you wouldn’t want it to be damaged or lost. Read somewhere recently about clearing out your closet. The question that was asked was what would you save (from your closet) if there was a fire. I actually stood in my closet and looked around. The only thing I really care about is a shirt that belonged to my father that I rescued from the donation bag after his death. It is truly precious to me. It really brought things into perspective.
    Andi Willis recently posted…Get Those Pictures Off Of Your PhoneMy Profile

    1. I think I would feel the same about my closet as clothing isn’t my passion. I might salvage my shoes because I have small feet and finding shoe that fit is difficult! But agreed, most of us treasure things that bring us closer to the people we love.

  9. I think people sometimes feel everything is precious because they can’t come to terms with their anger at the money they’ve wasted on things that were not at all precious – I hear them say, “But I spent good money on that!!”. Admitting that you’ve spent too much on things you don’t enjoy or use is tough. Interesting when you consider one definition of “precious” is “costly or of high value.”

    1. Yes, that is something I also frequently hear. Of course, nobody has perfect purchasing wisdom. It is normal that we will make a mistake or two when buying things. But holding onto something won’t bring the money back, and might just make us feel guilty about having wasted money on something that we didn’t actually end up enjoying. Let’s keep what is precious at a heart level, right?

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I’ve heard other organizers share this same sentiment, so I can’t take credit. But I think it is so true… we do have priorities, we sometimes simply struggle to identify them!

    1. I think it is sort of an “ongoing” thing for me, as my interests and tastes are constantly changing. It feels great to periodically make some for what I am loving right now – both physically and mentally!

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