Ok, so I’m going to admit something that often gets me in trouble with clients and my family (mostly my mom).
I have a couple of very specific opinions about
“family heirlooms” stuff and they go something like this:
I see people placing FAR too much emotional weight onto stuff – I call this “incorrect emotional attachment.” And I see too many people drowning under clutter for two reasons: they feel that gifts (given in a will or otherwise) are obligations, or they fear getting rid of stuff will force them to stop living in the past and own up to who they really are today.
So many people believe that keeping
“family heirlooms” stuff is an obligation — something they cannot refuse. Gifts are not obligations. Items that have been given to us by way of a will or passed down through generations are not an obligation. Admitting you do not like a particular piece of stuff is not rejecting the PERSON that gave it to you – it is simply you saying, “This is where I am today. Accepting this stuff will not enhance my life. No thank you.”
And stuff is just stuff. At the end of our lives, it will do us no good to have accumulated anything except love and memories. And even those we may not be able to take with us.
“But that sideboard was passed down through generations. My grandmother gave me that sideboard – it was written in her will that she wanted me to have it.”
My question ALWAYS is: And do you love it? Does it bring you joy? And are you delighted to add it to the things already in your house?
If there is any measure of hesitation in the answer, or if I begin to hear a story about keeping the piece out of family responsibility, I know we have an issue of incorrect emotional attachment.
Consider how easily the emotional attachment can be severed from stuff:
1. An episode of a popular appraisal show: a family is clearly excited to display their prized family heirloom for the host to appraise. They launch into a story about the history, charm, beauty, and worth of the object that had been passed down through generations. However, upon examination, the host regretfully informs the family that the piece they have a fake. Watching the family literally step back from the formerly treasured object, they are totally deflated. Their parting comment, “Guess we don’t need to keep that old thing around anymore.”
2. A family keeps a box of tea pots and mugs in a hall closet. When Nana comes to visit, they prominently display the mugs and pots on the living room table. The minute Nana is out the door, the mugs and pots are swept back into the closet until the next visit. Nana dies a year later. During spring cleaning, both the husband and wife feel genuine relief donating those pots and mugs to Goodwill.
3. The chic California couple has a modern home, filled with fabulous art, retro furniture, and gorgeous white rugs. Neither the children nor the two fluffy Persian kittens are allowed in the living room, dining room, or library. Entertaining is a popular past time for the couple, and they take enormous pride in giving their guests a tour of the home. They are careful to drop artists’ names and sometimes even prices they paid for the pieces. However, very early one morning, California wildfires begin to rage. Police drive their cars up and down the street, shouting into the bullhorn, “Your neighborhood is being evacuated immediately. Gather your family and GET OUT NOW.” As this chic California couple faces the prospect of leaving their home, their only thoughts are to gather the children and the kittens. Everything else is left behind with barely a second glance. As they drive away, the fire advances and their home and belongings burn to the ground.
Consider the post I wrote a few weeks ago: imagine you have to leave your house and can only take one or two objects from each room. Really, are you going to grab the shell mirror that great aunt Bertha made and left you in her will? The one that has never matched your decor or style and that is a bitch to dust anyway?
I didn’t think so.
When I’m working with clients to clean out their homes and offices, our biggest struggle comes when they are holding onto something that they are falsely or incorrectly attached to.
They think by holding onto the art supplies, maybe they will take up being artist again. Never mind that they haven’t touch the stuff in over 20 years, the space it is cluttering up could be make more available for something more life affirming, or more practically, that ALL the paint is dried up and unusable.
By throwing this stuff out, they have to admit:
1. I don’t use this stuff anymore.
2. I feel that by throwing it out, I’m being wasteful. I feel regret for not using this stuff when it was good.
3. By getting rid of this stuff, I will be admitting to myself that my art is not as big a piece of my life as I’ve been telling myself (and everyone else?) that it was.
It’s really all just stuff. Who you are today is FAR more important that who you used to be. And having things in your home that are appropriately functional, bring you joy, and provide beauty are FAR more important than living with stuff from your parents’ or grandparents’ homes simply because you have incorrectly attached the emotion of the story or the people to their stuff.
If you can begin to look at STUFF as simply objects made of different materials; if you can begin to view stuff from the perspective of who you are today; if you can look at stuff with a mentality of abundance (I am enough, I have enough), rather than lack; then and only then does the process of cleaning out clutter become easier.
If you’re stuck clearing out clutter from your home or office, let me know. Let’s get to the root of your emotional attachment to something that is essentially bits of wood, plastic or metal. Let’s get clear on why you’re saving something – and if in the end, the real reason isn’t good enough for YOU, then you’ll have made great strides in clearing out the clutter.