Broken Things

Broken Ornaments

Recently I was decorating my Christmas tree and I came across a broken ornament. It was a sentimental one, and I hated to part with it, but it was beyond repair.  This got me thinking about broken things.

When it comes to broken items, I think many of us follow a similar pattern.

First, we break or otherwise encounter a broken item. Next,we stash it (and any corresponding broken pieces) somewhere “temporarily” until we can get around to fixing it. Third, we forget about it and never fix it.

This is often where I come in when I work with clients. I frequently come across a box of broken items in the garage/attic, a plastic bag of parts in a drawer or the pieces that need repair stashed on a shelf. Deciding what to do with broken things can be difficult for at least three reasons.

  1. We hate to waste. We hear the refrain, “Waste not, want not” in our heads.
  2. We think we should be able to fix things. Maybe we had a handy father or other family member who could fix anything. If they could fix things, we ought to be able to do the same, right?
  3. We are afraid that letting go of items means we will forget the memory with which they are associated. Whether it is mom’s necklace, Grandpa’s toy chair or a commemorative Christmas ornament, belongings can trigger memories that we cherish and don’t want to lose.

At the same time, surrounding ourselves with broken things can have unintended negative consequences.

  • Seeing broken things can make us feel bad. We berate ourselves either for procrastinating the repair or for being in adequate because we just don’t know how to do the repair.
  • Broken things demand something of us. We struggle to enjoy objects that are broken, even if they are connected to a nice memory.
  • Broken things take up space that could be used for things we are currently using and enjoying.
  • Broken sentimental items make us feel guilty, as if we are dishonoring the memory by allowing this special piece to sit in a state of disrepair.
  • Living with broken things can simply be difficult, such as with a door that won’t close properly, lights that are burned out or windows that are painted shut.

The obvious question becomes, how do we know what to keep and fix versus what we would be better off letting go? I think there are a couple of questions we can ask ourselves when we come across broken things to help us decide the best way to proceed:

1. Is it part of my “physical plant?”

Things like stuck windows, squeaky hinges, dead light bulbs,sticky doors, leaky faucets, chipping paint, broken furniture, torn carpets and the like should either be repaired or replaced. These things will only fall into poorer condition if left unaddressed. Make a list, consider your budget,and put together a plan to set things right. If you are a renter, fix what is within your purview, and talk to your landlord about whatever is not.

2. Do I need this?

Anything that we truly need deserves to be fixed or replaced.Whether it is a coffee pot or a computer, if being productive requires having this item in working order, it is worth the time, money and energy to either get it repaired or get a new one. Remember to be realistic about your ability and knowledge when considering whether to repair or replace it. Just because“someone” can fix it doesn’t meant that you can. In fact, you might make the problem worse if you don’t know what you are doing. Don’t feel guilty about hiring a professional to handle whatever you are not comfortable tackling yourself.Think of it as a wise investment in your future.

3. Do I love this?

Some objects we absolutely adore. They carry great sentimental, emotional or functional value, and we would be very sad not to have them. Objects like these are the ones worth fixing.

In contrast, often we feel obligated to fix broken things that we don’t even actually like. For instance, you inherit a broken chair that doesn’t fit your taste. You feel like you “should” get it fixed, but since you don’t really want to use it, you are not motivated to spend time, money or energy on it. As a result, you avoid dealing with it, and thus allow it to take up space in your life. If you really don’t like a broken item, give yourself permission to let it go.

4. Has this item’s moment passed?

This is a good question for things like children’s toys.Kids break toys all the time, and in the moment, they are devastated. We gather the pieces with a promise of repair largely to bring some peace into the sad moment. However, if we’ve had a broken toy in a plastic bag for 2 years, odds are that the child no longer remembers or cares about it.

5. Is this a financial priority?

There may be some objects that it would be nice to have fixed, but just aren’t a top priority for how we want to spend our money right now. This applies to those things we might describe as, “nice to have fixed,but not really critical.” It is important to remember that holding onto these broken things does have an associated cost, including the square footage they require,the cost of cleaning them and moving them around, the opportunity cost of space lost for more important items, etc. In addition, if you consider your hourly rate, you may realize that fixing this item is not worthwhile.

6. If it is repaired, will I be happy with it?

While a repair may be possible, it may not restore the item to the condition we would like. For instance, a broken vase can be glued back together, but may no longer be watertight, and therefore unable to hold a bouquet of flowers. Or perhaps we are able to mend a garment, but the repair may remain visible, making us no longer want to wear it. If you will look at the fixed item and see it is flawed, as opposed to restored, then it is wiser to simply release it.

7. Do I care about the memory more than the object?

Many times we own things that we don’t want to use, but they have sentimental value, reminding us of people or experiences. In these cases, keeping the broken item is not a way to honor the memory. Instead, take a photo of it, and then write (or record an audio of) the item’s story. For instance, “Here is a photo of Grandma setting her table with her Austrian china. She only brought these dishes out for the holidays,and told us each year about why she selected this to be her wedding pattern.She often commented about how looking at the tiny roses on the edge made her think of her bridal bouquet. I remember eating from these dishes and wondering whom I would marry.”

If after asking these questions, you decide that fixing your broken item is justified, the next step is to make it happen. As with all tasks, this requires identifying the steps that need to be taken, and then scheduling the first step on your calendar. Set yourself a deadline for taking action to avoid letting the repair lapse once again into oblivion.

*     *     *     *     *

One final thought: sometimes, breaks are endings. A beak may actually be a sort of “permission” to finally an item go.  If we kept everything we ever acquired, we would literally be unable to move.

Have you struggled to let go of a broken item? Do you have broken items in your space?

20 thoughts on “Broken Things”

  1. What great advice. I am not one for clutter. But still, I have had issues letting certain things (even broken) go more likely because of sentimental reasons. But I do appreciate the breakdown here in deciding whether it is worth it to keep and also fix. Very logical and helps to see the reasoning here in black and white in all honesty.

    1. Some are worth the investment to repair and save, many end up broken for life. Talking with some older clients has made me love the idea of “telling the story” of an item more and more. This is a way to really enjoy and pass on a memory.

  2. Although, I’m a sentimental fool, I don’t usually hold onto broken items. I may sit it on my dresser or a table for a few days of unofficial mourning, but then out it goes. I hold onto the memories, of course. 🙂

    1. I think this is very smart, Susan. It doesn’t honor the person, the memory or the item to have it sitting there in pieces on the dresser. I think organizers are pretty good about moving the broken things along… we realize that we don’t need the item to keep the memory.

  3. Some of my clients really think they can fix the item, that they have not had time to do so. Letting it go would be not be eco-friendly to them and fill a landfill. It’s interesting to think about all the reasons that broken items remain in our homes.

    1. The eco-friendly issue is valid, but we have so many good options now. More than ever! I think it takes a bit of thought to consider what positive value the broken items have to help understand whether they should be kept. I also have clients who have “great plans” to repair things. Ultimately, these items belong to the client, so if they want to keep it around in a state of disrepair, that is their choice. I think my role is to notice and talk about these items, especially those that have been sitting for a long time.

  4. You’ve covered this important topic of “broken things” so beautifully and sensitively. I completely relate to this, and I know most of my clients do too. What do we do with those broken parts, pieces, things that we love or don’t love? How do we recognize the emotional aspects around knowing when to let go and when to hold on? I mind having broken things around. That’s just me. Although, I do have a husband who is very good at fixing things. However, he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend doing that. So when something breaks, I have to decide if it’s worth the time, the wait, the investment in keeping a broken thing around. There have been some favorite things that in the course of life have broken, like a special coffee mug, dish, or piece of jewelry. If they’ve been fixable, I’ve fixed them. If not, I like to say, “Everything has a life. Nothing lives forever. Its time has come.” That helps me recognize the impermanence of life both for humans and inanimate objects. It helps me to let go.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v21My Profile

    1. I love your phrase “the impermanence of life, both for humans and objects.” This is so true! This is a mindset that frees us from feeling that we need to make everything last forever. It isn’t possible, and it isn’t necessary. A few items are worth the investment, and lucky you to have a handy husband (I have one too!) Still, some items (e.g. those made of plastic) don’t typically repair well, so why surround myself with things that aren’t working?

  5. Great questions to ask! I once had a client who had pieces of a broken concrete Buddha taking up space – it couldn’t be repaired for various reasons, but they were afraid to get rid of the pieces because they thought it might somehow be disrespectful. We actually took time to Google something along the lines of “What to do with a broken Buddha?” and discovered that it was perfectly acceptable to discard them. A huge relief all around. Sometimes we just need someone to give us permission, don’t we (even if it’s the Internet!)?

    1. I’ve had similar experiences with clients and religious objects. In some cases, I have offered to return them to places of worship. In others, it has been emotionally “easier” for me to take them and discard them. Acknowledging the clients’ hesitation about the buddha was very respectful not only to the buddha, but to your client. We need to have our feelings affirmed, and I bet that doing that Google search together really built trust between the two of you! (And good to know, should I ever run across a buddha!)

  6. I used to have a beautiful ceramic dish which my mother made for me when I was a teenager. The lid got chipped but I kept it because it was still functional and it meant a lot to me. Then a cleaner accidentally broke the lid. She offered to replace it, but of course it wasn’t really replaceable. I kept intending to repair it, but when I finally got around to it, I discovered my crazy glue had dried out. I finally realized that I didn’t need to keep the dish to remember my mother or the love she showed by making it for me. I still think of it often, even though it’s been gone for a few years now (and she’s been gone for 22 years this week).
    Janet Barclay recently posted…How to save time bloggingMy Profile

    1. It is hard to break and lose something that has such deep meaning, Janet. I’m sorry that the lid got broken. I think looking at the broken dish might make me sad, even though I had a good memory of my Mom wrapped up with it. The sad truth is that all things here on earth are vulnerable to decay, decline and breakage. Physical things don’t last forever, but as you said, the love your Mom gave you with the dish is still with you, as is the memory of her. Ultimately, that means more than anything!

  7. I can relate, as so many of us do, to this article. Many clients hang on to items that need repair in one way or another. My dogs were playing one day last year and crashed into a very large pot (picture a small round table size) with a glass top. The glass didn’t break but the pot did. I picked up the pieces and painstakingly put it back together with crazy glue. The side that was puzzle pieced together is towards a wall so, unless you look closely, you would not know it was broken. It took some time to get this pot back together. It was worth the effort.

    1. I love this story! It is about taking the time (and clearly the painstaking effort) to repair the things you love… and then letting the other items go. It isn’t always easy to discern how much we love an item that needs repair, but hopefully these questions will help walk people to the right decision. I’m so glad you were able to repair this special piece and are still enjoying it!

  8. Thank you for reminding me that broken things can take energy from us. Spending time thinking about them, seeing the pieces that we haven’t dealt with, another thing to procrastinate over. Moving on can be difficult and by dealing with broken things maybe it is a way to move on to a new place and gain new energy in our lives.

    1. I love that idea: “gain new energy.” I do think that seeing the bits and pieces can weigh us down. If we love the items, we should go ahead and prioritize the repair. Otherwise, clear them away so we can be seeing and enjoy the things that are working for us now!

  9. Oh my, I always love your metaphors. I think that broken things can be damaging – to hold onto something that no longer gives us joy or no longer provides use. We break a lot of things around here. Cassidy is quick to throw them out and I’m quick to hold onto them, and as usual – the truth or “right answer” is somewhere in the middle.
    As you know!

    1. Sounds like you and Cassidy balance each other out so well! Each broken situation is different, so being open to different approaches is probably the way to go. Also, there is reality, as with my ornament. No amount of work could fix it, and keeping the broken pieces was just going to make me sad. So, I let it go and move on!

  10. The part where you mentioned that we often feel bad when we see broken things reminded me of my shower door. I see the crack in it every morning as I take a bath but I still haven’t gotten it repaired yet. Maybe I should start looking for professionals who specialize in custom glass repair and have it fixed before it’s too late.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.