Let’s talk about baggage. No, not emotional baggage. Physical baggage. When my grandmother died, all of her belongings and her mother’s belongings, including several rooms’ worth of large pieces of furniture and boxes and boxes of glass and china, went to my mother. When my mother died and my father moved, all of that stuff, along with many of my mother’s belongings, were divvied out between my sister and me, which meant that I ended up with half of four generations of belongings.
What I’ve discovered about myself is that I am the master of manipulating myself into keeping things that I don’t want or need, much of which have no emotional or monetary value for me (insert dramatic Hoarders soundtrack here). Here is my logic: “Oh, but there is a label on this handkerchief that says it came from my grandmother’s friend’s mother; I can’t get rid of that!” Or “Well, I don’t actually like this sweater, but my mom wore it at some point in time so I should keep it,” or “This doesn’t hold any fond memories for me, but I feel like I need to keep it anyway.”
I have gotten rid of things here and there, so it never felt like this was a serious emotional problem deeply affecting my quality of life, but at some point I looked around my home and realized that almost none of my belongings were actually things that I picked out. Truthfully, I have accumulated the type of belongings that many people don’t have until their late fifties, and even then have had much more time and emotional space to cull through them. Most of my furniture was willed to me. Most of my clothes to this day are hand-me-downs from someone.
On the one hand, my gratefulness for having been given these items far overpowers any frustration that I have with it, and truly, there are many things that I have that I absolutely love. Still, the strange thing is that at it has taken me until my late twenties to stop and ask what my personal style truly is, and what I want my belongings to look like, or even what kinds of belongings I want and need in my life. I used to believe that having these items was saving me money as well, and I’m sure the smaller items were, but the thing is, items that take up physical space mean more cost in moving and storing those items, especially for someone who has moved several times like I have.
I recently read a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I won’t go into everything the book says (you can read it if you want to) but there were four pieces that I took away that were the most helpful for this type of baggage:
1. Only keep things in your life if they “spark joy” in you.
2. When you get rid of belongings, thank them for the place they have had in your life and the things they have taught you. Sometimes an item’s purpose is to teach you what you don’t like.
3. A gift’s purpose is to show the gratitude and love of the giver. Once the gift has been given, it’s purpose has been filled.
4. If you are keeping something purely for sentimental reasons, consider taking a picture of the item instead.
I am now immersed in a deep process of tidying up. And here is where I have created a method that Marie Kondo may possibly hate: the guilt box. It’s label literally says “Stuff I Feel Guilty Getting Rid Of.” Everything in that box are things I am keeping not because I love them, or because I find them to be useful, or because they have great sentimental value, but simply because I feel guilty getting rid of them.
What’s the point, you say? Well, the point is that everything outside of that 2x3x1 box in my life brings me joy. I’m allowing myself that much baggage, that much guilt, that much “but what if I need thing X?” or “but so-and-so really loved thing Y.” In allowing just a little bit, I can quell any anxiety, guilt, or fear I have about getting rid of other belongings; if I can fit it in the guilt box, I can keep it. And, I’m hoping that by being brutally honest about the reason I’m keeping things, I can become more discerning about what I keep and what I discard.
What I have found through this is that I have a true love for many of the things I have in my life that were given to me, like my grandma’s beautiful quilts, much of my mom’s jewelry, and some absolutely beautiful dresses and cardigans that I was given by my in-laws. I hadn’t noticed how much I appreciated those things before because I hadn’t had the physical and emotional space to savor their beautiful history and fine craftsmanship. Now that I am starting to identify the types of things that bring me joy in life, I am hoping to truly savor my home, and to discerningly bring only things into my space that truly enchant me.