Minimalist Living: Overcoming Sentimentality

snowglobesSo you have decided that you want to live with less “stuff”. You have decided that you need to get rid of all the “stuff” in your life – in your flat, your car, your closet – everywhere. You have decided to go room by room, and you have sorted things into piles: Keep, Throw away, and Give away. The only problem is that your “keep” pile is the biggest one. It seems impossible for you to get rid of those old notes from high school, or the collection of ceramic plates your grandmother gave to you. You have a sentimental attachment to your “stuff”.

We are taught at a young age to place value on our things, and to amass as many things as we can. I remember seeing tshirts in the 80’s that said, “He Who Dies With the Most Stuff Wins”. Ugh. I myself had a fantastic sticker collection. I was careful with each and every sticker, only “using” the ones I had two of. I collected pictures of Bruce Willis and didn’t stop until I had over 350 of them. Human beings are collectors of things with no inherent value. We collect comic books, dolls, bells, action figures, exercise equipment, and even beauty products. We are a nation of horders. What we fail to realize is that all of these “things” that we have placed so much value on are pretty much worthless, and we are wasting our time, space and money to keep them.

How many of you have a treadmill or weights taking up space in your life? How about hair and beauty products that you never use? What about all of that stuff in closets or the attic? Why are you keeping it all? How do you begin to get rid of it?

We all have that “stuff” we are holding on to for some reason. It might remind us of a person or place or time in our life that was special to us. These tangible things become replacements for our memories and we start to think, “These things tell my story. These things are my life. They tell who I am.” But, they are just things. If anyone else came upon that box of high school love notes, they wouldn’t think twice before throwing them away. And you shouldn’t either. They are just pieces of paper written on by someone you used to know.

That's a lot of tea pots

That’s a lot of tea pots

Your brain is a pretty awesome piece of equipment. It can hold a lot of information, a lot of memories. In fact, the human brain is so badass it has three different stages of memory that serve as a filter to protect us from the flood of information that we’re confronted with on a daily basis. Pretty neat. This means that we have the capacity to remember what a chocolate chip cookie looks like, and tastes like without actually seeing or tasting it. You might be holding on to all these “things” in your life as a connection to the past, but you don’t need it. In fact, having these things around just to “trigger” memories might just have the opposite effect. If you see those plates that Grandma gave you day in and day out, they will stop reminding you of Grandma and just become “plates”. You have a great connection to Grandma right there in your brain.

Moving is a great way to stop being sentimental about “stuff”. I have moved so many times (with very limited luggage) that I don’t get sentimental anymore. If it doesn’t fit in my suitcase – it goes. I know not everyone is able to do that, but it comes with practice. And guess what? Some of that stuff you are holding on to is actually holding on to you. That book your High School sweetheart gave you? The one that makes you think of him every time you open it? Get rid of it. Why do you need to be reminded of him anyway? Why don’t you make room for new memories, and new books? Holding on to the past, even by holding on to a book, isn’t living your life in the “now”. It doesn’t give you permission to be present, it only holds you hostage in the past. If you are living in a house full of memories, I challenge you to start living in the present and make new memories.

Like I said, it isn’t easy. And it takes practice. When you are going through that junk drawer, or closet, or your bedroom, try to look at your “stuff” objectively and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I NEED this? Is this thing actually serving a purpose, or is it just taking up space?
  2. What is significant about this object? Does it have genuine value, or just sentimental value? Might it be valued more in someone else’s home?

Sentimental clutter is like having a security blanket. It makes us feel normal and it makes us feel safe – things we should be able to feel without the use of Grandma’s plates. If you feel like you can’t do it alone, enlist a friend to come over and help. I promise, they will help. Invite a friend who you trust and who can stand up to you when you are begging him not to sell your childhood stuffed animal collection. You’ll be glad to have someone to talk to, and glad to have someone who can cut the cord.

And remember, you don’t need to keep everything – you can save ONE and ditch the rest. I had a vast collection of Snow Globes that I had spent years collecting. I adored them. I felt they told the world who I was. But they couldn’t come to the Czech Republic with me, that would be silly. I was sad that I had to leave them behind, but at the same time I felt a sense of freedom. I no longer needed these things to show the world where I have been, and where I wanted to go. I was going. I would be the tangible proof of my own life. I would be my own Snow Globe. Shake me up!


7 thoughts on “Minimalist Living: Overcoming Sentimentality

  1. I totally agree! I have a tendency to collect stuff and am afraid to throw them away or get rid of them because “so and so gave it to me.” My grandfather used to say, “What is the value of an object? It holds value because I gave it to you. You can look at it and think, ‘Oh, my cousin, or oh my grandfather.'” In the end, I think I realized that I’m going to remember people regardless of whether they gave me anything or not. Also, I’ve been working to let go of things that “I can’t let go because it’s a part of my identity” even though I realized I really don’t need those things or should move on from those things.

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