Much of what your brain is telling us is programmed by your past experiences and many of those involve not just what you have come to understand as real and useful, but also whatever your family and peers have embedded in your beliefs. These beliefs could be related to what you are supposed to wear or do, how you behave ‘in polite company’, what sports you like, what books your read (or not), and so on.
There is always a chance that a certain level of guilt creeps in whenever you are not following those precepts and wonder if you should do things differently or stop behaving in a certain way. This is your individuality knocking on the little door to your subconscious, gently pointing out that things do not necessarily have to stay the way they currently are. At which point you feel a pang of guilt for even considering change and you return to the starting point.
Guilt, however, is strongest when it comes to long-held beliefs that have been internalised to a point where it becomes impossible to even see the guilt that is associated with an object. Typical examples are heirlooms from your parents’ house, presents or items your kinds have produced. Realistically speaking, many items under these categories serve no purpose other than taking up space and making you feel guilty for wanting to let them go.
At first sight you might say ‘but those are family heirlooms’, ‘my little baby made this’ or ‘my best friend gave this to me’. Think clearly: those comments are likely coming from a place of obligation rather than enjoyment of those things, especially if you have to first dig them out of a dusty box in your loft! What has happened here is that the origin of the items has clouded your judgment to a point where it feels wrong to let go!
Let’s consider these three categories from a different perspective and ask other questions that might make a decision less challenging:
“Those are family heirlooms”
That may be true but whatever bulky furniture, large picture frames and silver cutlery you may have inherited is of no use to you if you are not actively making use of them. Don’t get me wrong, ENJOYING them is enough to declare you are making use of them. But then: if you simply keep them locked away in the loft or a box in your wardrobe that doesn’t constitute ‘making use’ of them, you are simply storage these items.
My advice in these situations is to disassociate the origin of these items from their practical use and impact and finding out if they really need to remain there. Giving these things away does not mean you don’t honour the memory of whoever passed them on to you. You may even say that giving the items a practical use and making someone happy to have them is more of a testament to those owners than letting things gather dust.
“My little baby made this”
Another chestnut I often come across, especially in “Empty Nest” homes I work in. The classic situation is this: mom has kept every single work of art from age three onwards for their child (who – by the way – is happily married and has teenage kids of her own). The question here is: who do you keep this for? If it is for your child, maybe it’s time to give it to them? If it’s for yourself, maybe keep some and display them, and let the rest go. This is particularly true if we are looking at clay constructions or cardboard buildings, etc.
The important thing here is to find out the real reason why things cannot be let go: maybe you are hanging on to the olden days when there were children in the house? Or you feel guilty destroying something potentially valuable? In the former case, make sure to see the items you keep, but be courageous enough to only keep choice items. In the latter case, go ahead and ask your child if she wants them – after all: you kept it for her, right? (If that last question hit a soft spot, maybe you need to question your actual motives a little more.)
“My best friend gave this to me”
Here’s a little known concept regarding gifts: they are made for giving (and receiving), not for keeping. It’s up to you if you want to keep something in your home or not: if you believe your friend expects to see that gift each time they come and visit, maybe you have the wrong idea. If guilt/obligation is the only reason for you to keep something, it’s worth discussing this and sorting it out once and for all.
You’ll find that most likely your friend has all but forgotten having given this to you in the first place, or they agree that it has had its time, or they are completely okay with you changing things and letting go.
Taking all this into account, there is good reason to reconsider why you are keeping things at all. If there is even a hint of guilt or obligation in the mix, THAT needs to be addressed straight away. Why keep anything that makes you feel bad? It’s a bad friend to expect you to keep something that doesn’t bring you joy, right? And your child will likely agree that her artwork has seen better days (most likely they will be horrified you even kept those things).
Your home is YOUR home and shouldn’t hold anything that makes you feel bad!
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.