Letting go can be difficult. Our relationships with belongings can be complicated. Often, possessions set down emotional roots, becoming entangled with our identity, self-worth, and purpose. This is one reason why I never pressure clients to get rid of things. Instead, I ask questions to facilitate the processing of discernment and prioritization.
When decluttering, clients often struggle with objects that are associated with a previous stage of life. Common examples include:
- Clothing and equipment from sports we used to play
- Tools and materials for crafts we previously pursued
- Baby and scrapbooking supplies for books we planned on making
- Paperwork and digital records from previous jobs or committee work
- Lawn care tools we used in a previous residence
- Trays and dishes we used for entertaining during another stage of life
- Food we bought for a diet or nutritional program we used to follow
- Record albums, tapes and CDs we listened to in the pre-digital era
It is natural for us to accumulate stuff like this. Life is always changing, as are our desires, interests and proclivities. For instance:
- We downsize from a large home to a condo
- We develop a new interest or hobby
- We experience a medical event, leaving us with physical limitations
- We add to our family
- We realign our priorities and how we spend our time
- We establish a new eating regimen
- We quit a bad habit
- We shift from paper and analog media to digital media
- We grow older and and/or become physically limited
- Our family members move away, changing our entertaining patterns
- We pursue a new career or retire
- We relocate to a new climate
- We move from an academic into a professional environment
Some of the changes we experience are voluntary, planned and joyful. Others are unexpected, painful and difficult. Regardless of the cause, shifts like these often leave us with belongings that no longer fit our lifestyle. On the one hand, we can acknowledge that we don’t really need to keep them. At the same time, we struggle to part with them because they are part of our “story” or have sentimental value. Some of the reasons frequently voiced for holding on are:
… “I used to love this.”
… “I plan on getting back into this someday.”
… “I know I’m not using this now, but I might at some point in the future.”
… “It makes me sad to think of getting rid of this. It will feel like an ending.”
… “I invested so much money and/or time into these.”
Here is the reality: while any or even all of these statements may be true, they often do not justify an object’s real estate in our space. We may think it is “free” to hold onto things, but it really isn’t. We rent or pay for living space, so each square foot costs us something. Even if we own our home, possessions can still take up space that might be better used in another way. Often I find that the most convenient and accessible locations are full of these “”idle” pieces, while the active items get stuffed or stacked in less accessible or unpleasantly visible places. If we can’t accommodate the objects we are most frequently using because our storage locations are packed with pieces from the past, it is probably time to start letting go.
If you struggle to release pieces tied to your past, keep the following in mind:
You never lose past experiences. You don’t need to keep the paraphernalia to keep the experience in your mind, heart and soul.
You don’t have to complete voluntary projects. If you children are teenagers and you haven’t made their baby books, it is perfectly acceptable to just give those books away. Don’t feel guilty about not doing things you don’t really have to do.
You probably won’t refer back to it. Ask yourself, “If I needed the information in these papers or books, would I look for them to find it, or just Google it?”
Moving from one life phase into another is neither a bad thing nor a sign of failure. True, you may never get back into cycling or softball, but so what? For whatever reason, you are engaged in other pursuits at the moment. Good for you!
You probably won’t use it in the future if you haven’t touched it in years. Technology changes, fashions morph, and pieces deteriorate. Like it or not, progress often means that the stuff we’ve stored for years never gets touched.
You are unlikely to get your money back. Markets are fickle, and we rarely know what will end up being valuable in a future marketplace.
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Do you own any items that you haven’t used for a long time but resist shedding?