Detach yourself from stuff

One of the major reasons people hold on to stuff is the emotional attachment they assign to an object. I have a t-shirt that I’ve had since 1992. It is a Baylor University t-shirt and I purchased it when I was in high school for 50 cents. I still have it and it has survived many moves and donations to Goodwill.

I never attended Baylor University and I don’t have any association with Baylor. It was just a purchase I made because I liked the colors of the shirt. So why do I still own this shirt? Well, I guess because it has been with me so long and it conjures up memories for me. The t-shirt didn’t play a pivotal role in anything I did it just happened to be on my body here and there. The memories were not created by my Baylor t-shirt they were created by myself and the people around me.

The shirt itself is barely holding together and I only wear it when I’m doing work around the house or kayaking down the river. It has a giant bleach mark on the front of it and holes have started to widen on the shoulder areas. I’ve decided to throw it out even though I should have trashed this thing years ago. Yeah, it doesn’t take up much space, but the fact that I’ve held on to this shirt for so long is an example of how I assigned emotions to a clothing item. I am not throwing away the memories that I associate with this shirt, I’m just throwing away a shirt.

Goodbye, Baylor shirt. You won’t be missed because you’re just a shirt.

33 Comments for “Detach yourself from stuff”

  1. posted by Joshua on

    I know precisely what you mean about the sentimental value of ‘stuff’. I recently donated a huge chunk of my wardrobe of t-shirts to goodwill. However, as an alternative to just doing away with it and what I perceived to be the memories associated with each item, I just took a quick digital photo of many of them and put them in a picasa web album labeled ‘mementos’. Anyone else take pictures of stuff they don’t want to part with before decluttering?

  2. posted by H20 on

    geez…..i thought it was a nice splash-effect,or perhaps maps…….but actually the bleach mark…

  3. posted by Matt on

    Joshua, we posted something about photographing mementos a while back:

  4. posted by Rhea on

    Totally! I found that when I could downplay my emotional attachment I could get rid of stuff. I love getting rid of stuff now. (Not to say there aren’t a few things I still can’t manage to let go of, but that’s OK.)

  5. posted by Kris on

    Thank you for this post! It immediately made me think of a situation a few weeks ago. I was going through my dining room and getting rid of placemats (we don’t use them) and mismatched napkins (we use bandanas) and old table clothes. I asked a friend if she wanted some placemats in particular. My grandmother, who used to have a loom, used to make placemats to practice her designs. I had dozens of them and, to be blunt, they were ugly. Or at least not my style. So I offered them to my friend who told me she’d ‘keep’ them for me so when I was done with my purging frenzy, she could give them back. As if I’d ‘lost my mind’ in giving things away and would come to my senses.

    Um, no. I have so many wonderful memories of my Grandmother. I have a beautiful ring she gave me. I have tons of photographs. I have tape recordings we made together of her telling me the family history.

    I don’t placemats in a cabinet to remind me of her. They’re just placemats. It doens’t matter who made them.

  6. posted by sharon on

    But you HAVE created a memory of this by photographing and blogging about. And both take up way less space.

  7. posted by tom on

    Geez, a few things in our lives last and we do grow close to them, partially because they last. Don’t feel bad for embracing the few material things that stand the test of time, when most other crap breaks after a year or less.

    A minimal life is not necessarily the life of an ascetic, it should be the middle road of simplicity which is only notable because many people have become materialistic extremists.

  8. posted by Glen Stansberry on

    Excellent post Matt. It’s funny how our minds like to attach memories to inanimate objects almost more than people. O

  9. posted by Monika on

    If the shirt isn’t in condition to be worn, you could cut it up and use it as rags. I’ve done this with some shirts I was “attached” to. I get a weird sense of pride when I use it as a rag, knowing that it now is much more useful than when it just sat in the drawer.

  10. posted by Danny on

    For some reason, old t-shirts are especially hard for me to let go of, too. I think that’s partially because of the memories involved with them, like you wrote about. It’s also because when I put on that Second City shirt that I got during a college roadtrip to Chicago, it kind of feels like I could still be that guy, instead of the mortgage-holding, wife and two kids guy that I am now. Not that I don’t like where I am now, but you do feel the cement hardening sometimes, eh?

    When I found your site a few months ago, though, it really encouraged me to take an unsentimental look at the clutter in my home and do something about it. My mother-in-law quilts, and she’s going to make me a quilt from a bunch of my old shirts. Keep the memories, and have something useful, too!

  11. posted by Richard Lee on

    What is it with sirts? They do have such a strong draw to them. I have a ratty old Harley Davidson shirt that has the sleeves cut out of it. I’ve never been a HD fan or even a bike fan. It was given to me by my friend “Ace”. It was one of his most prized possessions. He gave it to me for “extreme acts of bravery” for a “particular circumstance” that will never make the lite of day. So… in my case that shirt has very specific emotions attached to it. Someone suggested I take it and other old shirts and have them quilted into a blanket. That’s a no-go because I don’t need another quilt. I’ve decided to take it way out in the desert with me this Winter and build a bonfire, relive the event and emotions associted with it one more time then toss the shirt into the bonfire and give it a fitting send off to Valhalla to be reunited with it when I die.

  12. posted by Eric Anderson on

    Oh man! You threw that out!?!? Thats the exact kind of thing people are paying 30-40 dollars for right now. That bleach effect is kinda cool. How’d you do it?

  13. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    I also like the theoretical idea of designing my own t-shirt, uploading it to Cafe Press, and having it printed. Then, whenever the shirt needs to be replaced, I will do it without hesitation because I know I can get an exact duplicate. I won’t ever do this, but I like the idea of it.

    @Richard — I love your bonfire idea. Sweet.

  14. posted by Jasi on

    Good attitude. I’m a minimalist, but I grew up in a house where every ‘thing’ was assigned a memory (and therefore a false value). They weren’t even good memories (or real, half the time), but it was how having, buying and keeping things was rationalized.

    I really like the way you keep pulling this value back into your site. Memories are memories, things are things. People and quality of life are so much more important.

  15. posted by Joshua on

    Matt, I knew I read it somewhere on here! πŸ˜€ That was an incredibly useful tip for me, I’ve been able to get rid of SO much extra clutter using this method!

  16. posted by Mike Hester on

    I’m thrilled someone else wrote about photographing the items. I just gave away ten shirts and threw away two pairs of shoes, but I could only convince myself to do it once I had a digital record. Now I’m going to create a folder on my harddrive to keep them, and my closet is much cleaner. Next I have to face the t-shirt drawer, though, which is full of strange memories…

  17. posted by Kris Obertas on

    Another option for donating excess Tees in good shape-your local emergency room! I’ve been in a situation where they had to cut me out of the shirt I was in. Then they dug into their stash to give me something to wear when they sent me home.

  18. posted by asrai on

    reuse as a rag for extra value. πŸ™‚

  19. posted by Andamom on

    How about some other things from the house with memories; keep the memories (photograph if necessary) and discard/donate:
    -Post cards
    -Ratty blankets
    -Greeting cards
    -Some of your childrens’ artwork (keep the best ones — but not everything)
    -Those jeans that you haven’t worn since you were 17.
    -The arm chair and other ‘memory’ furniture that you don’t actually use but have had forever…
    -Your 8-tracks and tapes
    -Band posters
    -Mugs with various sayings on them that you don’t actually use
    -Your maternity clothes if you’ll never use them again

    I could go on… but will wait for another posting.

  20. posted by Guido from Boston on

    I have a series of ratty old orange sweatshirts… I am inspired to toss them all. But, I will miss them.

  21. posted by Carolyn on

    Geez, I like the shirt! Can I have it?

  22. posted by Jasi on

    I’ll probably keep all of my childrens artworks zipped up in a vac seal bag and stowed in the attic “memory space” (a 3’x4′ chest of ‘free space’ for things of sentimental value. if it doesn’t fit-it can’t stay).

  23. posted by Anonymous on

    …you won’t be missed because I took a picture of you and posted it to be preserved forever!

  24. posted by Mathieu Tozer on

    I took three bags full of clothes to the op shop today, and constantly had to keep telling myself “Someone else will love it”. I’m traveling overseas shortly.

    Anyway I did this today (and many times in the last few weeks) and while it’s tough ultimately I feel better about having let go! Spooky that you said “you’re not throwing away the memories of the shirt, only the shirt itself” which I thought precisely. Incidentally, I also posted photos of a lot of stuff to flickr πŸ™‚

    Clearly I didn’t need that stuff anymore!!!!

  25. posted by Michael on

    What a wonderful post–life-affirming, moving, yet very pragmatic and rational.

  26. posted by Andrew on

    I’m turning a much loved old shirt into a journal by using the cotton fabric of the shirt to wrap the boards I’ll use in the binding of the book. I get to keep a reminder of the shirt and keep hold of something useful.

  27. posted by Doug on

    They’ll have to pry my Grateful Dead Fall Tour ’94 shirt out of my cold dead hands because… Jerry.

    Otherwise, yes. You’re absolutely correct and I applaud you.

  28. posted by Kris10 on

    Weird – I too had a Baylor shirt that I held onto for about twenty years. Never went to Baylor, never rooted for Baylor athletics…like you, just liked the colors. I miss it, it was so soft…..

  29. posted by Maria on

    Hey, I did the same thing that Joshua did with my old t-shirts…too. I used to go to fairs and sports events and had a ton of them…but once I took the photos it was easier to let most of them go…plus I like some of the designs so I even took close ups of them…but I haven’t done anything with the digital photos except store them….Looks like you got a nice photo so hey there’s your memory…I was thinking of writing a book about all the stories associated with my t-shirts….places and event…or just a photo collection..something like: Maria’s t-shirt Galleria…hmmm that has a catchy sound..:)

  30. posted by anthony on

    I’m a Baylor alumni(and current graduate student) that is a pretty regular reader. I would have loved to have had that shirt. πŸ™‚

  31. posted by Ron on

    That shirt is (was?) sweet. Eric Anderson was right about people paying good money for shirts like that. Throwing it away was wasteful.

  32. posted by Suma valluru on

    Hey, thats a very great t-shirt…very sweet and cute…

    suma valluru

  33. posted by Decluttering My Childhood - You 2.0 on

    […] stopped attaching sentimental value to things. My room is full of years of build-up of childhood and teenage artifacts. But I realized […]

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