The last few weeks have been spent clearing a family home full of more than 60 years of parental memories. I have been effectively clearing out the past. Unsurprisingly this has triggered lots of thinking on the subject of our possessions and the way so many of us use “things” to help us hold our place in the world. But these “things” can become a burden.
Often the things we have mark an event or trigger a memory. Obviously the stuff can relate to practical things like hobbies, learning and everyday living too.
The reality is that these things are so often useless when you, as their owner, are no longer there to give them this value.
Other people rarely value these things as highly as we do ourselves. It is most often the sentimental connection that we have to the things that give them worth. The items themselves can be difficult to dispose of and, sadly, often end up in a rubbish tip.
The “Just in case” philosophy
Lots of us hold on to things because we feel that we may need the item in the future. We keep it “just in case”. Just in case we might need the jumper that we wore as student when we didn’t have a coat. Or just in case we put on weight again. The Minimalists’ theory is that most of the things we hold on to could be bought for $20 within 20 minutes of your home. This makes holding onto many of the possessions we keep “just in case” unnecessary. If you use this 20/20 idea as a guideline, it certainly helps to prioritise things. You can find it here.
A place for Death Cleaning?
I’d heard of the Swedish concept of Dödstӓdning, death cleaning, and thought it sounded awful. That was until I was left with the clearing out my parents’ possessions. There were things they valued – predominantly books, photos, mementos of their family lives. Of course, there were many things that they used on a daily basis too. I doubt they really needed quite so much stationery for example and I know that I’ll never be able to use it all either. I don’t want to turn my home into an overflow of excess.
The “death cleaning” concept is that as you age, you simplify your possessions to leave you only the items you value. You can then enjoy these prized items and save yourself having to look after possessions that are no longer of use. In addition, further down the line, you leave behind a much simpler task for your loved ones when you are gone. The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning, covers the subject in more detail.
The biggest stumbling block to this principle is that we have to confront the idea of no longer being alive. The emotions this brings about will trigger the sentiment of wanting to hold on to every memory so it won’t work for people who hold on to “stuff”.
However, can you really think of an item that you would want to leave as a legacy? Unless its happy family photographs, I can’t.
While it is your choice to live with lots of stuff, leaving it behind you is a burden. In the middle of dealing with the loss of a loved one, having to make decisions about possessions is a guilt trip waiting to happen.
Why do we do it?
It’s not really rocket science to accept that our need to hold on to things is because we have an insecurity about something. This can be the potential of not having enough money to replace a physical item or not wanting to let go of the memory of the time. Either way, the need to hold on puts out a message that you are fearful about a lack of money, security or happiness. This puts you at risk of being too full of fear to allow room for new life experiences to create new memories, or the energy to move forward.
The bigger picture
If we accept that our essence is energy, then being fixed and set and “stuck” within our possessions means that we can’t move, take in new energy and get rid of the old. By default we aren’t making the most of the time or potential we have.
How to start
For many people who worry out not having enough money or want to hold tight to things that represent happy memories, the process of letting go is a difficult one. There have been fortunes made on books about the subject. The problem here is that often we end up organising items or curating them rather than removing what isn’t necessary.
In the past I have suggested clients start by filling just one bag with things you don’t need. Clothes are an easy starting point as there are usually old and worn or ill-fitting items in cupboards. (How many pairs of painting trousers do you need if you decorate once every 3 years?) Once you have filled one bag you can start another bag and so on.
The Minimalists have a 30 day challenge that will create focus and really make you assess your needs.
Marie Kondo suggests that you only keep items that bring you joy. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying is the place to start with her method.
My personal favourite and I think the easiest comes from a list I found on Pinterest: “60 things to toss out in 60 days”. It almost seems too easy but for that very reason, it’s a good place to start. We can all find some things on the list without too much heart searching!
Any one of these methods is great ways to start.
It is a leap of trust that if you let go, you will receive “enough” in whatever form you need. However it is well worth the risk to remove the burden of too many possessions. It also brings the reward that you can appreciate the remaining items that you value most. Oh, it will reduce the dusting too!