Over the past few years, I have spoken to a number of people who have shared their struggles with me about letting go of their belongings. Even though they know on a practical level they need to have a good clean up, or need to part ways with some items for whatever reason, their attachment to the item, attachment to people, and feelings of overwhelm and guilt have prevented them from taking action.
Even through my own journey, I have found myself holding on to some things because I have felt too guilty to let them go. Things I still haven’t let go of.
So what is it that makes us so attached?
- Sentimental value – we associate the item with an emotional attachment to memories of special people or moments in our lives.
- Financial value – we associate the item with having monetary value and view parting with it as a waste of financial resource.
- Practical value – we associate the item with the useful life that it has left, and view parting with it as wasteful if the item is still of good use.
- Spiritual value – we associate the item with spiritual, religious or ritualistic significance.
- Labour of Love – we associate the item with the amount of time, skill, effort or passion that has been put into it.
- Fear of what others will think – this is a tough one, because often meaningful items have come from people who have a special meaning in your life. Letting something go that someone has given you, or that may have significance to another person, can leave you with feelings of guilt. A friend recently said to me that she also felt like she was being disloyal to someone when she thought about parting with something they had given her, even though the item now belonged to her and had no association with the other person.
- Your stuff, your decision – if an item belongs to you, then you have 100% decision making power over that item. You may wish to seek advice or opinions from others, but make sure your end decision is based on your own thoughts and needs, not the thoughts and needs of someone else.
- Your things are not your memories – sometimes we fear letting go of things because we don’t want to lose the memories those things trigger for us. But our memories are not in our things, they live inside us – in our minds, in our hearts and in our souls. They will still be there with or without the physical things. I have found it helpful to take a photo of any items that I have had trouble letting go of, and storing them in my electronic photo album. Then I have that moment preserved for ever and the physical things can go on to have a new life and find new purpose some place else.
- Gifts can keep on giving – A gift doesn’t have to stop being a gift when you get it. If someone gives you something that you do not like or need, then you can gift it to someone else who will like it or need it. Most importantly, if we all applied some meaning to the end destination then that one gift could continue giving to someone else, and someone else, and someone else – making it more valuable than it was originally intended. An example is a home made teddy bear that my Aunty had given me prior to her passing a number of years ago. When I recently parted with my bear collection, I instantly thought of my cousin who had lost all of her things in a house fire. The one thing she missed the most was the teddy bear her mother had made her. So I sent my bear to her as I knew she would cherish it for many years to come. The bear stayed in the family, and my cousin was overjoyed to have something that her much loved and dearly missed mother had made.
- Communicate your preferences – when it comes to gift-giving events such as birthdays and Christmas, it can be helpful for yourself and others if you share your wishes beforehand. It could be as simple as letting people know that the gift of their presence holds more value to you than their presents, and offer to arrange a catch up over coffee, lunch or share an experience together instead of exchanging material gifts.
- Revisit your values and beliefs – the more committed you become to your values and beliefs, the more you will start to identify what belongs in your life and what doesn’t. Use these to guide your decisions and suddenly the opinions and views of others won’t matter. Revisit your values and beliefs regularly, to ensure they remain relevant to you as your needs, goals and preferences evolve.
And lastly, remember that people will always have opinions and judgements of you. You cannot control other people. But you can focus on becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. This doesn’t make you selfish or ungrateful or inconsiderate or <insert label here>.
Living a life that fills you with joy, gives you purpose and aligns with your values and beliefs makes you responsible, focused and ultimately happier. And that’s something to be exceptionally proud of.