During the process of purging and organizing I have been playing game show host with my thoughts and my stuff. Some truth or dare, if you will.
There is a lot of ‘what iffing’ going on as well.
- What if I only had 10 minutes to gather everything dear to me – assuming all the sentient beings were already taken care of – what would I grab?
- What if I lost all this stuff? What would I miss? Any of it?
- What if I gave all of this away to people I knew – as opposed to strangers at a thrift store – would that feel good? Would there be attachment to their appreciation or lack thereof?
- What if I gave everything away and regretted it?
My internal self queries have gone beyond the pragmatic ‘do I need this?’ line of questioning into the psychological realm of judgment and self-worth.
Somehow there is a sense of self that is attached to everything we own. (I’m gonna go ahead and say we, I think that’s safe.) The degree to which this is debilitating or harmful will be markedly different for everyone, dependent solely on belief systems.
A few of the attachments I’ve stumbled across for myself, and those reflected back to me when I’ve shared my year-long madness with others, include:
Status. “Owning this means I’ve made it to some magical level of achievement.”
Value. “This cost a lot of money. Maybe I’ll sell it, I’m sure it’s gone way up in value.” It has not, unless it’s jewelry or a Van Gogh.
Respect. “This was a gift and what if so-and-so comes over and it’s not displayed? Isn’t that just rude?”
Emotion. “All my feelings for that person are wrapped up in this ___fill in the blank___. If I let it go I am basically disregarding the very existence of this person in my life and therefore their value as a human being.” (Hint: you do not have that kind of power, it’s up to them what sort of value they place on their existence.)
Memories. Similar to emotion but more wistful and much more powerful. “Every time I look at or touch this it makes me feel ____fill in the blank_____. I don’t want to forget this memory, therefore I can never let go of this thing.”
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about that very topic: memory. It went something like this:
Me: Letting go of stuff is getting easier and easier.
Them: Yeah? What about the things that have really great memories attached to them?
Me: Even that stuff isn’t so hard to part with any more. The memories aren’t in the thing.
Them: But what if it’s a memory that makes you feel good and once you get rid of the thing you don’t have that touchstone to look back on that good memory.
Me: Hopefully you’ll have new memories and that memory will have served its purpose. Or it will still surface once in a while on its own.
Them: Yeah… I guess.
Neither one of us was firmly convinced of our own argument, nor did we adopt the other’s line of thinking. It was a kindly philosophical debate that we allowed to hover in the air around us as we moved on to other topics.
Out of these types of conversations and my own game show fantasies, I have developed a sure-fire way to determine the fate of my individual things. Sure-fire is a fancy way of saying it mostly works.
It’s the yard sale technique.
Literally, if you can, place all your items up for consideration and maybe some you were for sure you were going to keep or toss onto table(s) much like you would find at a yard sale. Don’t spend a lot of time arranging them or grouping them, just place them safely. Then take a few minutes to walk around the table and decide if you would purchase them all over again, if they were for sale – even for a buck or two. If the answer is a resounding internal “yes” with fireworks and heart emoticons rising like balloons, then pick that item up and place it in your ‘basket’. If it’s a “nah, don’t know why I’ve been holding onto that for so long anyway,” leave it on the table. If it’s riding the fence and keeps calling you back to be considered, find a holding area in which to place it.
This can also be done in small batches, by the room let’s say. Or in stages; everything out, grab what you love, leave the rest and come back later.
I am a fan of just letting go, but I also understand the delicate threads that link us to our pasts. I feel that should be honored. When the decision is made thoughtfully there can be little room for regret.
Go shopping in your own home. Maybe you’ll find something nice to pick up for someone else!