Another miraculous part of being human is how we give sentimental value to things, but if we take it too far, we just get mental–irrational about letting go. This applies to the stuff in our homes, but also to the stuff in our hearts. You know these things–the things that have more meaning than actual value. When what something meant to you in the past keeps you trapped in a false reality, you end up disconnected from who you really are now.
The need to hang onto our things begins very early in life. From the time you were a toddler clinging to your stuffed bear or Tonka truck as some well-meaning caretaker was trying to pry it from your clenched fingers telling you it was time to share, you’ve wrestled with the conflicting emotions of wanting and letting go. Some Freudian childrearing experts will tell you that even potty training is a struggle, because at that stage of our budding lives we don’t want to be forced to let go of anything! Yuk.
But whether you’ve grown up anal-retentive or anal-explosive (real psychological terms, by the way–again, yuk), as we age we hang onto things because of what they mean to us. This explains why you won’t trash that old thread-bare concert T-shirt, dust-encrusted lamp from your first apartment, deformed clay pencil cup your kid made in 3rd grade art class, smelly rusty fishing tackle box you used on countless outings with your father, buddies, kids or even just alone on your own, or anything else in those boxes in the basement and closet filled with, well, let’s call it what it is to everyone else in the world but you—junk. What the world thinks is worthless clutter to you is a memory, a psychic transporter to another happier time, or the echo of an aspiration you strived for but never quite achieved. To rid yourself of such things can feel as if you’re peeling away layers of who you are, as if to do that will leave you somehow less than who you are.
Then, there are those things you hang onto not because the thing, itself, has meaning, but because owning it has meaning. That junked classic car you’re going to restore someday, the 75 pairs of shoes, 50% of which you’ve only worn once and 10% you’ve never worn at all, the piles of out-of-date magazines, stacks of DVDs (some still with the wrapper on), sheets that only fit beds you no longer own, every little figurine, stuffed animal, pocket knife, car part, excess cable wire, or broken down vacuum, and the list goes on. This stuff is emotional filler. Perhaps you had an austere, modest, even dirt poor childhood, or hit hard times after a layoff or recession, and, even though you’re financially secure now and have been for years, you still can’t bear to let anything go. Maybe you had many siblings and resented having to share or get hand-me-downs, so now, without realizing it, you never give anything up because you’re protecting yourself from triggering those old buried feelings of being cheated. Maybe you look to the things you own to give you a sense of identity, to make you feel like the person you wanted to become, but didn’t? Or you’re trying to give your life a sense of having substance, at least by volume if not by any genuine sense of self-worth? You may find yourself indulging in an obsessive need to not “waste” anything, yet the only thing really getting wasted is storage space in your home, but also in your heart.
What is it you’re not letting go? What is it really? What feelings, memories, fears, injustices, broken dreams, lost ambitions, or even happier times are you hanging onto that are stopping you from facing who you are now and what your life is today? Let go of what’s not really there. Sort the meaning out from the things, themselves, and treasure what empowers you, re-purpose what used to make you feel good about yourself, and just plain trash what’s keeping you trapped in patterns from the past that stop you from enjoying the best you can be in your life today.