Experience creates perspective that can be attained no other way. For instance, how we think about our stuff. My great-grandparents had to choose carefully as they packed their belongings in a large wooden trunk (pictured above) when immigrating to the United States. Years ago, my sister-in-law had minutes to choose what to grab before her home burned in the Santa Barbara Tea Fire. Families in Mosul Iraq became instant refugees, taking only what they could carry when terrorism forced them from their homes.
“Stuff used to be rare and valuable,” says Paul Graham in a thought provoking essay called "Stuff." "Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven’t changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.”
Most of us won’t have dramatic experiences like the ones listed above. So, what shapes your perspective on stuff? How do you decide what to keep and what to let go of? Here are some Timely Tips to help you decide what not to keep.
TIMELY TIPS - what not to keep
Don’t keep things that don’t bring you joy. This is Marie Kondo’s mantra and I think it’s valid. Of course there are exceptions, like divorce papers and other things you don't like, but need to keep. Overall, it’s a good place to start.
When my mother-in-law recently passed away, the only things we quickly let go of were the items related to her cancer—pills, equipment, etc. Sometimes my clients want to hang on to everything related to a deceased loved one. Ask yourself, does this bottle of pills, or even this picture, bring happy memories or sad? Keep the things that bring you joy.
Don’t keep things you’re not using. So often drawers and cabinets are so full of stuff not being used, that you can’t find what you really need. When you look into the drawer, you're convinced you need it all. Try emptying the contents into a box. Keep the box nearby, but only return an item to the drawer if you’ve pulled it out and used it. What’s left in the box after a reasonable amount of time can go.
The same idea works with clothes by turning your hangers backwards and only turning them the right way after you’ve worn an item. At the end of the season or year, you can easily see what you haven't used. Stop crowding your wardrobe with things that are too big, too small, not comfortable, need repair, etc.
For paper files, DVDs, VHS movies (yes, I know you have them), try attaching brightly colored sticky notes after you’ve used/viewed them. After 6-12 months, you’ll clearly see which have been used and which haven’t. Let the unused go!
Don’t keep things just because you spent a lot of money on them. This is tough for a lot of people. Think about it. How do you feel every time you see that item—regret, frustration, guilt? Why torture yourself any longer? Besides, it's taking up valuable space so it’s costing you more!
Don’t keep things out of obligation. Most of us wouldn’t want our belongings to become a burden to our family members when we’re gone. If, after the passing of loved ones, your house feels more like a storage facility than a home, you have permission to let some things go. Whatever’s stashed out in the garage is probably there because it’s not a favorite or there’s simply no room. Offer it to family and what’s left can be sold and the funds donated to your loved one’s favorite charity. That’s much more honoring that letting things deteriorate in a garage or storage unit.
An exception to the obligation rule is this: If you receive a gift from someone that will look for it and be hurt if he/she doesn’t see it at your place, and you value the relationship enough to have it out whenever he/she is there, then the relationship trumps the discard. But, if it’s sitting in a closet, never to see the light of day again anyway, let it go.
My mother-in-law’s passing influenced my own perspective on stuff. Her belongings represent her tastes and interests, but I find myself most drawn to the photos and things she had written down. Above and beyond these are the memories I have of her subtle wit, her competitive spirit during our card games, her love for babies, and as my sister-in-law says, her super-power of coziness. I will miss you Mom Mac!
The most precious treasures we have in life are the images we store in the memory banks of our brains. The sum of these stored experiences is responsible for our sense of personal identity and our sense of connectedness to those arounds us. --Daniel G. Amen, M.D.