Reader Laura submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
While helping my sister unclutter for her move, I came across some dolls in dresses she’d worn as a baby and a huge (unfortunately not her style) afghan a great aunt had crocheted. We both agreed that if it were just up to us, we probably wouldn’t keep these items … but instead of our own voices in our heads saying, “You can’t get rid of that!” it was our mother’s. How do you unclutter when it’s not really sentiment, but more guilt, that stands in the way?
Guilt is such a complicated emotion. We feel it when we’ve actually done something wrong we’d like to correct, and we use it as a monitor and guide to keep us from committing bad acts in the present and future. Unfortunately, it also plagues us at times that have nothing to do with right or wrong. Choosing to keep or get rid of some dolls, baby clothes, and an afghan isn’t a question of morality, yet guilt can prevent us from making a clear-conscience decision. In this situation, guilt is even plaguing you after you decided not to get rid of something. You’re feeling guilt no matter what you choose.
The first thing to do is take a break and acknowledge that this isn’t a situation where you should be feeling guilt at all. No one’s life is on the line when making decisions about processing clutter, you haven’t broken any laws, and you’re not being asked to do anything unseemly. Put things in perspective — you’re trying to decide how to unclutter for your sister’s move, not decide if you should rob a bank.
Once you can see the larger picture, you can let go of the guilt and make a more rational decision. Ask yourself:
- Does this object have utility? Can it make my life easier/save me time/save me money/fulfill an essential need? (Would you use the afghan if you kept it? Could your child wear the baby clothes?)
- Do I already own something like it that has the same function or holds a similar sentimental meaning? (Do you have other objects from your childhood you treasure more? Do you have pictures or objects from your aunt already in your home?)
- If you keep the objects, where will these objects live in your home that reflects your respect for them? (Hint: Storing them in a cardboard box in the attic or basement isn’t respectful.)
- Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life I want to live? (Do I enjoy looking at and/or using these items? Do they reflect what I value most?)
Only you and your sister will be able to answer these questions, but hopefully you’ll be able to avoid feeling guilty about your decision. Often with sentimental objects, it’s emotionally easier to get rid of the items if we know the objects will be used and appreciated by their next owners. The dolls, baby clothes, and afghan (if they’re in good shape) would be great donations to make to a women’s shelter. Children in need could find comfort from the dolls, babies could use the clothes, and a woman and her family could benefit from the warmth of the blanket. If the items aren’t in good enough shape to be donated to charity, this might help you answer the four questions listed above.
I find great inspiration and joy in the sentimental items in my home, and I think this is because our house isn’t overwhelmed with them. We’ve chosen to keep only our favorite pieces that we really treasure. We found that we saw nothing and appreciated little when we kept every sentimental object in our lives — as the saying suggests, we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. If you and your sister treasure these dolls and the afghan, keep them! If you’re keeping them only because of misplaced guilt, it’s probably time to let them go.
Thank you, Laura, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help! Check the comments for more suggestions on how to handle sentimental items from our readers.
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