kicking the guilt habit



I was doing some research yesterday for a series of workshops I am planning on learning to live with less when I came across this piece of advice for identifying clutter.

“Does this item lift my energy?  Does this item give me joy?”

In a sense it is not very different from the quote by William Morris I mentioned yesterday.  However, I like it because it extends the concept of beauty.  My copy of The Poisonwood Bible is not physically beautiful and I doubt it is of any practical use unless I was transported back fifty years and sent to live with a mad missionary father in the then Belgian Congo.  However, it lifts my energy and gives  me great joy.  It is one of the last books with which I would ever part.

This criterion allows you to keep items of genuine sentimental value.  I am not advocating you keep that box full of every piece of artwork your child brought home from school.  Because, that would, certainly in my case fail this test completely.  I would hold it, and feel weighed down by the knowledge that most of it will never see the light of day again.  Hardly uplifting for my soul.  In my case I got around that by keeping a few pieces by each child, framing them and putting them up in my study.  I bought display folder (the kind sales reps use) for each child and put about 20 pieces of artwork in there.

Likewise those gifts, “heirlooms”, family knick knacks that you are keeping for sentimental reasons.  Hold them in your hands.  How do they make you feel?  In our experience we were keeping a lot of those things out of guilt, and guilt and a heavy heart was what we felt whenever we saw them (which was rarely).  By all means offer them back to your family if you are afraid that somebody will feel offended if you offload them.  But I suspect the chances are nobody else wants them either.  Something that might have been of sentimental value to one person years ago does not have to be of sentimental value to you.

Also, please don’t follow what I think is terrible advice, take a photograph of the object and then let it go. Why on earth would you substitute one piece of clutter (the item) for another piece (the photograph) which is inevitably going to remind you (should you ever look at it which I am sure you will not) that you let go of something that you found, at the time, quite hard to do?

I long gave up feeling guilty about putting gifts I did not want aside for charity or passing on to somebody I know (and you must KNOW) would want them.  Today most people know I don’t want stuff, I would rather have time, plants, a voucher, a day out so the situation doesn’t arise as often.

However, if you pick up a cracked porcelain figurine that reminds you of a loved one, that brings back wonderful memories then keep it.  By the time you have got rid of all the stuff that failed the test, that figurine will have plenty of space to shine on your mantelpiece and lift your soul on a daily basis.  Right now I would hazard a guess that you can hardly see it behind all the clutter in the way.

The egg cup at the top?  It was mine as a child and it is still in regular use.  But not only that, it makes me smile when I see it, when I use it. It passes the soul lifting test with flying colours.

8 thoughts on “kicking the guilt habit

  1. Haha, I love your point on how taking a picture of the object creates a new piece of clutter!

    By taking focus away from stuff we refocus on the important things in life. Who would have thought. 🙂

  2. I never understood the suggestion to take a picture of an item before letting it go. If it meant that much to you why are you letting it go in the first place, I am sure other things in the home could go first and then come back to that item. By keeping a photograph of a material thing we are not growing and evolving, we are living in the past.

  3. Great post Gillie. This past week my husband (tech guy) has spent many hours scanning and editing all my old photos, starting with some of my baby photos. 50 years ago! Anyway, I was tired of dragging these around move after move. They weren’t in an album but in a case designed to hold multiple prints. In no particular order either. I hadn’t looked at them in many years. So after they were scanned and backed up I started shredding all of them. Love my shredder. You just never know who’s going through the trash. Husband couldn’t believe I was shredding them instead of keeping them! Said he thought I was more sentimental than that. I explained that they’re now just clutter to me and what’s the point of keeping them if they were now on my computer. I don’t think he gets it. 😦 I, however, feel like a giant weight has lifted.

  4. Gillie, you channeled my thoughts exactly with the part about holding something and seeing how it makes you feel. I really believe we need to live more intuitively and intentionally, and think about everything and everyone entering our lives, reflecting on how they make us feel. In fact, I’ve got a post in the works about that–I’d forgotten about it, so thanks for the reminder!

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