Since January, I have been extremely busy working with new clients fall in love with their spaces. There’s just something about starting the year off fresh. In many cases, during our time working together, the topic of ‘Sentimental Clutter’ seems to come up. Since I don’t have a degree in psychology, I try and educate myself on why individuals want to hold on to things.
Julie Holland, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, assures us that the urge for some of us to hold on to meaningful possessions is normal. “Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear,” she says.
Psychologist Clay Routledge, from North Dakota State University, provides some insight into why we accumulate so many sentimental items and have an even greater difficulty letting them go:
“Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful — to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.”
That all makes sense however it is impossible to keep every painting, every craft, every piece of schoolwork your kids have every made or brought home. When we find ourselves holding on to everything, it can quickly become a situation that needs some help and guidance.
Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, co-authors of the book Stuff pose this question:
“Are you keeping mementos, not because you’re enjoying them, but because you want there to be proof of your life? Do you equate your stuff as being an extension of you?”
We all know we will not live forever and that eventually, something is going to have to be done with our things. A really tough question to ask yourself: Will the people in your life actually value the items you’ve left behind or will they create a burden for them?
I have worked with many senior clients who often struggle with albums and albums of family photos. When they ask their children if they want the pictures, most times the kids (adult kids), don’t want them. You see, the pictures in the photo album mean nothing to the kids if there isn’t a connection to them or a story to go with them. If the kids don’t know who is in the picture, they don’t want it.
Peter Walsh has an amazing quote:
“Holding onto important items from the past is not a bad thing – unless remembering the past becomes more important than living your life today.”
According to Wiki How Community we all hold on to different types of Sentimental Clutter for various reasons:
- Someone you care/cared about very much gave the item(s) to you.
- Your children made it or brought it into the house.
- Your loved ones bought it or brought it into the house.
- It brings back awesome memories of a very special time that has long since passed.
- You made it or bought it when you were younger/going through a crisis/experiencing a life transition or epiphany, etc. or you got it when traveling overseas.
So how do you even begin to start to identify what is important for you to keep?
Separate your items into two categories: sentimental and practical. How will you know the difference? Practical items will easily have a place. Sentimental items will most likely go into a box.
Work in Short Intervals
Making those tough decisions takes a toll on our brains. It really can make your heard hurt (and yes, my head has hurt after working with clients). Working in short intervals will allow you to have a fresh, rested mind. This will hopefully allow you make decisions right away.
Confront the Difficult
We can easily convince ourselves of anything. Do any of these sound familiar:
- My daughter made that for me for Mother’s Day when she was in grade one.
- My dad gave that to me the day I moved out.
- My Grandmother really wanted me to have that.
- I got that when we were in Spain.
Confronting the difficult means you truthfully answer some tough questions:
- Have I looked at it for over a year?
- Am I embarrassed to display it?
- Do I have anger, resentment, irritation, or other negative feelings toward the person represented by this object?
- Am I using them, displaying then, enjoying them OR am I really only keeping them out of guilt?
- Am I am prepared to display it, care for it, use it, wear it, play with it, and/or read it?
Peter Walsh shares a story of working with a client who wanted to keep her mom and dad’s love letters:
Their interaction: My dad is a sweetheart. We have letters to prove it. Pages he wrote to Mom over their courtship and marriage. “I’m going to get emotional telling you this,” said Walsh, “because I’ve done this. First, remember, they’re not really yours. They are part of a romance between your parents, and were never meant for you.” Walsh, who has six siblings, gathered with family members on his parents’ anniversary. They shared their letters, told stories about them, and at midnight burned the letters. “We ritualized them, and sent the love back into the universe.”
It is easy to say, “If only I had more space.” Having more space will never combat the problem. Most people just fill that ‘more space’ with more stuff! By setting limits you are creating ‘rules’ for what you are going to keep.
Finally, it is important to give yourself permission to let go. I love this excerpt from Wiki How Community as I think it really drives home the nature of sentimental clutter:
“Remember that no matter how much magic or specialness you have imparted to the object, it isn’t the person or the moment – it is simply an object and it’s an object that is potentially holding you back. It is your way of bringing that person or moment into the present and hoping that the magic still holds now. However, that moment is a memory and the feelings, emotions, and interactions first present when that object came into your life have passed. You are always entitled to the memory but allowing such objects to create a burden on your present life is unhealthy.”
If you need help falling in love with your home or getting it ready to sell,