Your items do not define you (Downsizing: Part 5)

Give yourself time to let your emotions about objects come to the surface so you can learn what those objects have to tell you about your life.

Travel pictures on map

Sentimental objects make our house a home. These items filled with special memories are good things to have. They foster connection and bring comfort. The challenge comes when 1. we don't have space and/or 2. We are holding onto things out of guilt, long after their actual sentimental value is gone.


We tend to identify very strongly with our sentimental objects – we feel like they're a part of us. That attachment can become so powerful that we think we're going to actually lose a part of ourselves by letting go.


As you are downsizing, the most important thing to remember is:


Our items do not define us. Our items are a representation of something that is already living within us.


Recognizing this helps loosen the idea that the item is essential to keep.


If you are feeling sentimental about something, don't throw it away immediately. Give yourself some time to process the emotional aspect of letting items go. You might open a box of memorabilia that you haven't seen in a long time and be filled with emotions and memories. At the moment it feels really big and important, and so you think, “Oh, I need to keep those forever.”


What I recommend is that you set them out on a table or windowsill. Leave them there for a couple of weeks or days and notice what happens to your emotions.


Usually, over a couple of weeks, the big emotions settle. The emotions and memories come in and out of your awareness. You think about the sentimental objects, and about the precious experiences associated with them. The simple act of bringing awareness to the items often loosens the attachment to keeping all of them. When you are ready, you can pick out a couple of things from that box that represent what’s especially meaningful, and the rest can go.


A powerful example of how deep this work can be.


I had a client who had a collection of trinkets – little porcelain animals that had belonged to her mother. These trinkets provided a lot of comfort to my client. She displayed them on a little shelf and they helped her feel connected to her mom.


Even though, over the years, their impact had naturally faded, she felt guilt about getting rid of them.


She didn't really want the trinkets – she didn't even like them anymore. But she kept them because she felt guilty- they had been her mother’s.


We reflected together on these trinkets, and little animals, and my client realized that the collection was actually in the way of her having positive associations with her mom. The items were blocking her connection with her! After our short conversation, she was so clear. She told me, “Oh, I don't want that feeling around my relationship with my mom.”


Then it was easy to pass them along, and allow room for positive memories of her mom.