“Are you sure you want to get rid of that?”
I found myself asking this question over and over again this past weekend when I helped my only daughter rummage through her childhood toys, clothes, and stuffed animals. It was a question I found myself asking more than I thought I would.
She, I noticed, wanted to keep things that I considered junk. I was surprised by what she wanted to keep as much as I found myself surprised by what she wanted to discard. It didn’t make sense to me, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was what those things meant to her.
Why do we keep stuff?
Why do we find it hard to let go of things? It’s not because we need those things; it’s because they remind us of moments of joy, happiness, comfort, sorrow, or triumph. We associate them with experiences we had. They might remind us of how we want life to continue or how we wish it were again. Sometimes, we want to remain in the past. They remind us of a different time in our lives that we imagine was easier, better, and more joyful.
It’s almost as if we believe if we let these things go, our memories go with them. Or, if we throw out that toy or trinket, the most precious part of our childhood goes away, too. Or, we think if we let that item go, it will somehow take away a part of us. All of this is not true; however, I fully understand wanting to keep stuff.
A penny saved is a penny saved.
For a long time, I kept a penny in my room taped to the side of my nightstand so I saw it when I awakened every morning. Sounds bizarre, right? Who does this? I kept it there to remind myself of a marvelous time during my high school years. You see, the only way I could go to prom was to break open a large, plastic Incredible Hulk head (Have I dated myself?) that was filled with pennies, nickels, and dimes – all change my family saved over the years. I have to admit I did not ask anyone whether I could break it open, and I suppose now, looking back, I was inconsiderate. But, what is done is done. And, no one cared anyway.
Why I didn’t have the money to buy a prom dress is a story for another article, but I am happy to report the whopping total of those coins in the “hulk” head came to about $90.00, and it was enough to buy a beautiful dress. I went to the prom my senior year – one of the best nights of my life – because of that weird piggy bank. The pennies outnumbered the other coins. A penny, even to this day, reminds me of that experience. It reminds me that I can be resourceful and tenacious despite trauma. When I see a penny, whether in my purse or a jar, I know I can make incredible things happen, that I can get through anything life throws at me.
Memories make us who we are.
Memories are all we have. Without them, we would cease to exist as we are.
Why do we hold onto our memories? According to research conducted at the University of Bath, London, we cleave on to memories because we attribute strong, positive emotional connections to particular items. This is normal.
What is not normal and a problem is if we cannot let go of stuff and become hoarders. An item can become an extension of a given memory, making it difficult to declutter and let go. The solution, if you have this problem, is behavioral therapy to help learn to respond differently to those memories.
Our stuff, which might be junk to anyone else, is a recap of our life. It is a reminder that we are alive, that we feel, we emote, we cry, we love, that our experiences matter. If we are lucky, we have lots to rummage through. Sometimes, all it takes is one insignificant item to bring back a flood of emotion, whether elation, comfort, or sadness. If we are healthy, we can let go once we acknowledge the sweetness of the memory.
And, it’s all the human experience.
“To keep or not to keep?” That is the question.
I am not a hoarder nor a minimalist. I find myself somewhere in the middle with aspirations to become more minimalist. I understand wanting to keep it all, but it’s not practical. So, how do we keep what matters so we can have those comforting memories flood our lives without filling our homes with so much stuff?
I only have one answer to this conundrum right now, and that is to take pictures of some items and keep other things. Always keep several copies of images. You can also add the pictures to a scrapbook if you are creative like I am. You can choose what to keep and what to keep only as an image.
I fall into the trap, too. I still have my mother’s wine and champagne glasses from Argentina. I use them maybe once or twice a year, but I can’t seem to let them go. Having had both of my parents pass away, I want to remember them, and these glasses bring back childhood memories. I have carried them through dozens of local and cross-country moves, and they are still intact, which astounds me.
That is a commitment to never forget, I suppose. But most importantly, that is life. We all keep things to remember.
While searching through thirty-two containers of possessions, I said to my daughter, “It’s okay to keep whatever you want.” I noticed it was hard for her to let go of some things. Others, I figured, she wanted to discard because they brought back bad memories, or they did not represent who she is now. That is okay, too. We ended the long day with only eight plastic containers of memories to keep – an incredible accomplishment. We both learned life is precious, every moment counts, and periods of life are important to remember, to embrace, to cherish, to learn from, to share, or to let go.
What do you need to keep or remove from your life?
Are you hoarding things that if you let go would allow personal growth and acceptance of what once was? Or, what do you have in boxes or plastic containers in the basement or attic that you are afraid to review? Take a step today and filter, remove, let go, and heal. Keep what still matters, what comforts, and what makes you who you are. Keep your penny. Put things in their place and your life will fall in place.