Letting go is hard to do, just ask anyone who has moved (or even cleaned a closet). Our stuff holds memories. My memories tend to fall into two categories: the ones I never want to forget and the ones I wish I could forget.
I’m not alone in that regard. One of the women I’ll be working with in the next Widow’s Recovery System program is in the process of selling the home she shared with her husband and children. She said to me the other day, “I know it’s just a house and it’s just stuff but I didn’t think it would be so hard! Why is it so hard?!”
Let’s be real here. A lot of our stuff has meaning. So of course letting go of our stuff when we need to relocate or downsize is hard. Packing is the easy part. Revisiting the memories those objects hold is the hard, joyous, painful, tearful, and even infuriating part. By the time you reach a, uh, certain age, you realize that life is always asking you to let go of something (Or worse yet, as we all have, someone).
Between the ages of 21 and 24, I made two cross-county, coast-to-coast moves and each move required that I let go of anything that wouldn’t fit into a shipping trunk. I still have that trunk (of course). It sits in the attic, filled with memorabilia from my acting career and the improvisational comedy company I founded when I was a pissed-off, disillusioned 27-year-old who weighed 105 pounds. But I digress.
On my last move (which only took 9 hours by moving van, which explains why the trunk is still here), I left behind an exquisite example of the finest in hand-painted British bone china, a large antique water pitcher that I kept carefully turned to one side due to the sizeable hole my very first cat Twinky put in it when he knocked it off the mantle for one of those reasons only cats understand (You probably remember Twinky as the author of a 12-step, self-help book for cats entitled “How to Own a Human.”).
The pitcher went into my “thrift store” pile because it was what organizational specialist Peter Walsh calls a malignant item. When I lifted it from the mantle and saw the hold in its side, memories flooded back. Memories of my first mother-in-law, who gave it to me as a “welcome-to-the-family” gift; the painful divorce that followed 7 years later when I realized I had married a serial-adulterer; and the insidious death Twinky suffered from a brain tumor. He was the only continuity in my life for almost a decade and his loss was as devastating as my divorce.
In his book, “Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” Peter Walsh says that while some things are easy to let go of (that old coffeepot without a cord and the 3 legged couch), others are “Memory Items.” He suggests that as you sort and pack for the next adventure in your life it’s best to divide memory items into these four categories: The Treasures, Trinkets, Forgotten and Malignant.
His sorting system is really helpful because it helps you think your way through the sorting. Walsh says treasures are those truly irreplaceable items that usually represent 5% or less of the objects you own. These are things like your mother’s wedding ring or the childhood teddy bear that still shares your pillow. Trinkets on the other hand are things you collected on family trips or vacations, like that key-chain from Yellowstone or the shot-glass from the casino. Forgotten items are things that have attached themselves to your life but you don’t remember how or why. If you don’t remember why now, you probably won’t remember next year either, so they go in the trash or donate pile. And that brings us to the malignant items. These are things (like my gorgeous bone china pitcher) that remind you of dark or painful moments. If you’re like me, you probably don’t need any more dark and painful moments to complete your life so just GET RID OF THEM no matter how “valuable” they are. In fact, if they’re valuable, sell them so they can help fund your new adventures!
The good news about letting go of your “stuff” is that it is very freeing! Yes, it’s a pain to sort through our things and make piles and then take those piles to the trash or the charity resale shop but in the end, it’s worth it. After you let go of all the stuff you really don’t need or want anymore, your life can move into new spaces much more easily. Plus, the memories you really want to keep are safe and sound, deep inside your heart!