With perspective, it’s normal to feel an emotional attachment to your possessions

Many years ago, a friend of mine tore her favorite jeans and cried. My friend is an extreme minimalist, and I was surprised by her disappointment regarding a physical possession. When I told my husband about the incident a few hours later, I’m ashamed to admit that the two of us had a hearty laugh about my friend’s misfortune.

“Real tears,” I mocked. “Over jeans!”

As the years passed and I went through my personal uncluttering process, I began to understand the tears my friend had shed. When you don’t own many things, and you are conscientious of all of your purchases and your budget, it’s hard not to become emotionally tied to the things you own. You’ve invested time, energy, and great thought deciding if you should let something in your life. What you’ve chosen to keep is the best of the best, and bidding it farewell isn’t always easy.

I’m not saying you should or will cry over your things when they wear out or are used up, but you certainly take notice of their parting. Saying goodbye to one of a handful of things is usually more difficult than saying goodbye to one of thousands.

Instead of beating myself up over feeling a tinge of loss about a physical possession, I simply take note of it. Acknowledging my disappointment is usually enough to keep things in perspective. My internal dialogue might be something like:

“Huh. Look at that. I’m actually sad to see [X] run out/damaged/wear out. I didn’t realize how I’d come to depend on [X]. I’ll wait a week and check back in to see how I feel. This might be something I’ll need to replace.”

I keep a list of things I’m considering purchasing (it’s similar to a grocery list), so I add the item to the list. When I’m determining my budget for the month, I’ll review the list and decide if buying it continues to be a priority. It it remains a priority, I’ll budget money for the item. Sometimes, though, after the initial sting of losing the item, I realize I don’t need to replace it. Over the course of days or weeks, the emotional attachment simply wanes. Time helps put emotional attachments to physical objects in perspective.

21 Comments for “With perspective, it’s normal to feel an emotional attachment to your possessions”

  1. posted by Aeryn on

    I actually understand how your friend feels – I’ve grown to become rather minimalistic as time passes (for the past 5 years) and take a perspective similar to yours (bouncer approach) but also different – I see myself as having a responsibility to maintain and upkeep my possessions. The need for the responsibility prevents collection of too many things – it is simply irresponsible). So having let myself down about the lack of care for a possession, I can imagine myself shedding a few tears too.

  2. posted by Simpler Living on

    I’m glad you wrote this, Erin, because I’ve noticed two things as I’ve downsized:

    1. It’s been easier than I thought it would be to give up things I didn’t really care about — basically, all of the things that cluttered up my life and space.

    2. I’m still attached to the things I’ve chosen to keep, if not more so.

    When the last Christmas card I got from my father before he died was buried in three boxes of randoms cards and letters, I didn’t treasure it as much as I do now that I’ve whittled down that collection to the ones that really matter the most. And because my wardrobe is so much smaller now, everything I own counts. I want my favorite pair of jeans to last as long as possible.

    I know it wouldn’t be the end of the world if something happened to my things (but I’m very glad I have renter’s insurance!). I haven’t shed all of my emotional attachment to my things, though, and I don’t think it’s necessary to live an uncluttered life. Caring about and valuing what adds value to your life can be a good thing.

  3. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I bought a pair of expensive leather riding boots in 1986. They finally broke last month. I just had a funeral for them on Facebook. It helped.

    I have been riding since I was 11 years old and have recently purchased my third pair of boots. They should last me until I’m too old to ride (I hope).

  4. posted by Meg on

    As hard as it is for me to find jeans that fit and that I like, I can sympathize with your friend. I don’t even like jeans. I have two pairs and they’re the same style in just slightly different shades. It’s not that I love them so much, it’s that I dread having to replace them.

    There are things that I really enjoy using that I’d miss. I have spent a lot of time and money getting just the right stuff for me. And as the quality of stuff seems to be getting worse and worse every year, I really want to hold on to what I have.

  5. posted by Molly on

    I have one pair of jeans that makes my family-no-butt look good. One. I wore them the night I met my now husband. I am going to be sad when they fall apart.

  6. posted by Pammyfay on

    Yeah, maybe a pair of jeans isn’t the best example! There are probably books written about the quest for THE PERFECT pair of jeans! (and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”)

    But I must admit, I thought I had a hole in my everyday sneakers and I immediately started to dread having to go shopping…

    Some other things, well, I try to have the same “internal dialogue” about replacing them as Erin does. My house is still full of stuff, but I’m trying…

  7. posted by WilliamB on

    I expect that someone who chooses to keep a lot of things would agree with the first few paragraphs, even though s/he has many things and you have few.

    Did your friend have a particular reason for crying: her beloved grandparent made the jeans (I admit this one is a stretch) or couldn’t afford another pair? You don’t say so I guess she didn’t.

    I felt this way over a rolling carry-on bag. Contributing factors were
    - the breakage was someone else’s fault (overpacked bag led to ripped zipper),
    - the break happened during final packing, right before I was supposed to leave, and
    - it’s very hard to find a bag that meets my requirements; replacing it meant much time and money finding the right bag.

    I got off lightly: I used a strap to hold the bag together on that trip and the zipper was not only repairable but a cheap repair – $18. Even if the luggage man remarked that the bag was an antique.

  8. posted by Meredith on

    I can honestly say that I totally get it, even if I haven’t quite managed to declutter my life and home.

    We have been unpacking those perpetually boxed items from a move 5 years ago in anticipation of our first yard sale. (I loathe yard sales but my husband wants to do it so I am in!) In doing so, I have unearthed things that were once so important to me, that I have held on to years and years simply because I loved them a long time ago, etc.

    This weekend I held in my hand a small ceramic elephant that I have had since I can remember and shed a few tears as I added into the donation bin. I held a jacket, which didn’t fit me anymore and cried as I remembered how much it meant to me at 16, how much it cost my mom to buy and how special I felt while wearing it. Then I put it on my 7 year old, took a photo and added to the donation bag. It was hard but I am glad its gone. Even I was taken back by the emotion behind getting rid of things that I don’t necessary need anymore but loved once.

  9. posted by Lynda on

    The story made perfect sense to me; once you do find the perfect item, the idea of having to replace it for whatever reason is so overwhelming… especially when it comes to garments that fit and flatter and probably have memories attached.

  10. posted by infmom on

    I think I’m overly attached to my things because my parents had such a casual attitude toward destroying and discarding other people’s things when I was growing up. If it didn’t matter to them, it couldn’t possibly matter to anyone else, right?

    My dad was also an obsessive neat freak (something he inherited from his mother, who was worse) and his first reaction if my brothers or I should soil or spill something was to yell at us for being slobs. It got to the point where if my klutziest brother should happen to spill something he’d burst into tears immediately and sit there helplessly crying instead of trying to clean it up.

    Needless to say, I didn’t pass any of that along to MY kids.

  11. posted by Anita on

    I do find it a little ironic that being an unclutterer is about letting go of sentimental attachment to things — but at the same time the more you get rid of, the more attached you become to what you keep year after year. For my part, I see uncluttering less as letting go of sentimentality and more as redirecting it towards what really has a special place in my life.

    And I tell ya, really good jeans are up there! I still occasionally mourn a pair I had to throw out 3 years ago when they finally became unsalvageably worn out. I never actually cried over them, but I haven’t been able to find anything that looks as good either.

  12. posted by Annie on

    I can sympathize with your friend: My favorite pair of jeans (the pair that actually flattered me the most and were the most comfy) got a tear in a place where a repair would have looked horrible.

    I was sad and kept them for a couple more days to debate whether I wanted to attempt a repair regardless of the location.

    I ended up tossing them but I was still sad. I have other jeans but none I liked so much. They will not be replaced until I am totally out of jeans, however.

    Great post!

  13. posted by finallygettingtoeven.com on

    It is true when you have less in your life you are more acutely aware of it and try to care for it a little better than if you have 2 or 3 of the same item. I have definitely noticed this in the past few years how I am caring so much more for my clothing and other items.

  14. posted by Mel on

    While I’m just in the starting stages of uncluttering (I will finally drop off my last three garbage bags of donation to Goodwill tomorrow) after years of trying to make the things around me more meaningful and less mysterious (in boxes), what I noticed about this post that intrigued me the most was your List of Things to Buy. I need that! Although I’m starting to declutter, I still have that tendency to buy what I want to buy, without more than a few hour’s or day’s consideration. I think that’s what got me here. And with my new outlook for life, my purchasing has become more mindful, but steps and examples are helpful. So:

    What do you put on this list of things for consideration at the end of the month? Only big ticket items (new desk, new curtains)? How small is the smallest thing you put on this list? In your budget do you keep space for a purchase or two off this list, or do you buy only if there seems to me ‘extra’ money floating that month?

    So often we think of budgets that are strict and tidy but they often leave little room for incidentals that can overflow our budget and our closets. An example budget that considers perhaps more trifling things we feel might make our lives and environments a little sweeter would certainly help! Examples please – or send me to the post if you’ve already written on it :) Thanks in advance!

  15. posted by Maggie on

    I’m glad you wrote about this, because it made me stop and think about my own reaction to my belongings. I try to be as callous as possible when getting rid of things, but the truth is, there ARE some things I care about. At the same time, I focus a lot on the fact that we came into this world with absolutely nothing, and we’re going to leave it with absolutely nothing. As much as I care about some of my possessions, I’m pretty sure I could live without even them. I will never let my possessions define me, even if they do make me happy sometimes! :)

  16. posted by Laurie on

    This is exactly why it is so hard for me to declutter at all. I have an emotional attachment to just about everything I own. I have realized that I have to be very careful about what I acquire, because it is so hard for me to let go of anything!

  17. posted by Louise on

    My experience has been that the more I get rid of, the less invested I am in any possession.

    I live in a 300 square foot RV, and have very, very few articles of clothing, kitchen utensils, books, etc. While those few items were kept because they met my needs the best and I do like them, I am not emotionally attached to them. When something breaks or wears out, I know how easily it can be replaced.

    The less I truly live with, the less I need. For me, attachment to an object was an attachment to the part of my life it represented: these books represent my being an educated person. These jeans represent my being a well-dressed/stylish person. This pan represents my good taste in food. This ceramic animal represents how well loved I am by the person who gave it to me as a gift.

    But really, internally, I remain who I am whether I own those things or not. While I may not look styling in ugly jeans, inside I am the same person.

  18. posted by Lisa on

    As a sentimentalist, I have a tendency to anthropomorphize pretty much everything I own. After my husband died and I had to re-do my life and our living space I got rid of a ton of stuff, but made sure to give each piece one last pat and thank it all for the years of enjoyment I got out of it before passing it on to someone else. Stupid, I know, but it helped me let go of a lot of things I didn’t think I could live without.

  19. posted by Mletta on

    As someone who has always had a “less is more” approach to dressing, I’ve had lots of clothing items (and a few accessories) that I literally loved loved loved–and wore–to death. (Example: I had a raincoat that I took in for some alterations. The beloved woman who does them for me took one look and said: No. No way. Take it off and give it to me and she chucked it. I guess I had not really noticed that it was the worse for wear.)

    I’ve always purchased good quality (sometimes designer) and it was difficult to let the pieces go when they were no longer in style (If I had space, I wished I had kept some which are now classics.) and/or they wore out.

    But the hardest things to give up were the pieces that I not only looked good in (fit, design, quality), but had been worn to many important and significant events in my life. Those pieces of clothing were part of my personal history. To this day, I can remember exactly what I wore at certain major moments in my life. They were connectors. And reminders and I wish I’d made a quilt or bed cover from pieces of them. (I love in families when these are made of pieces from various members of many generations.)

    I totally understand your friends’ reaction and I’m glad to hear that later, on reflection, you did too. (You laughed at your friend’s dismay? Oh, my. Even if you didn’t agree, a bit more compassion would have been expected. And less judging. Glad you’ve expanded your consciousness on this subject.)

  20. posted by Rachel on

    I’m with Louise: the more I get rid of, the less attached I seem to get. But I may be unusual: as I’ve gotten rid of things this year, much of my purpose has been to get rid of things that have emotion attached to them. So the things I’m down to are (mostly) things that I like but that don’t have a lot of emotion left.

  21. posted by Mark Harrison on

    The best advice I ever got was “never fall in love with anything that can’t love you back.”

    Wife, children, cat – yes.

    Car, Phone, Computer – no.

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