In the year of 2011 I saw my city inundated with flooding waters. The worlds news covered stories about total home losses and fatalities. Peoples lives were ‘washed away’ in the blink of an eye. I was lucky to be effected in only a minor way but this close to home experience made me reevaluate my ‘stuff.’ While there were people who escaped with only the clothes they were wearing, I was filling bags of clothes and linen to donate. I spotted a few things around the house that I could easily live without. The thought of passing them on to people who will actually use them rather than these things wasting away sitting around my place, Was much more fulfilling.
The one thing that seems to be a constant hurdle is the attachment we have to ‘objects’. While my major career principal is form and function, I often come across clients that have a strong attachment to items around the house which have no use or are broken or they don’t even like but feel compelled to hang onto. (unwanted gifts)
I meet with a psychologist to help me understand peoples healthy attachment to objects. For example someone who holds onto an item and interprets that item to be a part of the person that it used to belong to (or came from). In a sentimental context, That item become proof of that memory. A truth of its existence. The other end of the spectrum is what the TV show hoarders is built on. But I’m not here to talk about the obvious hoarders. I’m talking about the subjective collection of ‘stuff’ that is hidden away.
I’ve helped family members downsize and found it to be even more of a emotional struggle. With me wanting to get the job done and possessing the ability to be frank, while for them its a walk down memory lane under a time restraint. I took on a speculative role, repeating; “will you use it?”, “can it be fixed”,”do you even like it?”
My relatives were defeated and stressed, the things were thrown out or donated one by one. Each discarded item having a life story of its own, marking milestones and gift giving/receiving, but they all had to go. Knowing this was the case was worst part and there was a sort of mourning for each item. What I came to realise is that those things were a part of someones childhood or life and now it was time to say goodbye to that time or person. I’m not talking ashes here, but things like linen that was silverfish ridden or wall plaques from when the child now in its 20’s was a baby.
In conversation with a family member we reflected on the de-clutter stage and this is their response, “I agree that after the de-cluttering and mourning stages have passed, there is a definite sense of a ‘weight lifted’ and a feeling of liberation. The difference is whether the memory surrounds a living person or one who has passed on. It is much, much harder to throw out something that your deceased Mother or Father cherished than it is to throw out an unwanted gift. I think it is the fear of forgetting your loved ones and how they were – the bits and pieces belonging to them that are left behind spark and keep the memory alive. They are your heritage.”
After thinking long and hard about the whole issue, I further believe that the bigger the house and the more storage space available, the easier it is to fill it with unnecessary things. New motto: live lean!
There is also the issue of waste. When you come from a relatively meagre background you think twice about throwing something away if it could potentially be used again or re-refashioned to save money. Today, we live in a throw-away society!
Months followed and before long it was time they moved house. Still having the other half of what was not thrown out was still a mountain to move and then the entire weight of this ‘history’ that was preserved in those cupboards HAD to be sold or repacked. Again the items (physical proof) of those memories surfaced and begrudgingly items we being tossed out or sold under pressure. As hurtful as this can be to people that are truly attached to items in a sentimental way, when I ask that family member how do they feel about it now the answer is “amazing!”
I feel the amount of all those items can become over whelming and heavy on your mind. Having to constantly find room for things in already full storage areas can be a handful for the entire house. Once all the excess items are cleared away, the truly beautiful items you have in your home will have a chance to sing and before too long you’ll be surrounded with the things you love as opposed to the things that are chocking up your storage spaces.
Its easy to say be ruthless, but its important to be empathetic to the situation. Some people are more attached to objects more than others and its subjective to them (not you). If you’re there to help don’t forget to appreciate what they are going through in the way separation and loss. Consider it to be like a child separating from his or her comfort blanket, its the same degree of loss. Once the hard part is done, its then time to appreciate whats left over and maximise the character and taste of that person and the things they have chosen to keep.