I love this time of year! Not only is spring right around the corner but as a Catholic, it is the liturgical season of Lent–a time to reflect on what gets in the way of our relationship with God. But it also causes me to reflect on the material things in my life that take up space and hinder me from focusing on my relationships and responsibilities which are most important.
In our culture, we really do have a love affair with things. We collect and store and pile up until we don’t even know what we have. It’s too easy to hunt something down online and have it at our door a few days later. We keep bringing more in!
People ask me all the time if my house is perfectly organized. Honestly, after raising 4 children (and homeschooling them), I have become comfortable with a level of clutter which might cause some of my professional organizer colleagues to raise an eyebrow. I’m in the trenches with you! I know the struggle of trying to gain order—and maintain it—in the midst of non-stop schedules. I learned long ago to view my possessions as things I will use for a season in my life—and then it’s time to let them go.
Let’s consider why we hold onto things and what steps we might take to give our things a second look.
“I spent good money on those!”
A major reason people don’t want to get rid of unused things is that they paid for them and need to receive some sort of value in return before letting them go. Can you relate to that? You don’t want to feel like you wasted hard-earned dollars on something you didn’t use! On the other hand, the money is spent. Assuming you can’t return it, there’s no getting the funds back.
Challenge yourself to get real. It may have been an impulse purchase or an item you thought about diligently and really believed you would use. At this point, it’s OK to admit to yourself that the plan failed. You didn’t need it or couldn’t make use of it the way you envisioned.
To determine if an item is worth keeping, ask yourself:
- Will I really use this item? When? How?
- Do I still like it?
- Does it still fit?
- Is the space I will gain by letting this go now more valuable to me?
Hopes and dreams and great ideas
Do you have a project waiting to happen? You purchased the materials but never found the time. Every time you open that cabinet, a wave of guilt quietly rushes over you as you see your project waiting. You have three choices: leave it alone and face the regret that it still isn’t completed; schedule a time to get it done, or make peace with yourself that “this was a really great idea, but that ship has sailed and I can allow myself to let it go.”
Are there clothing items in your closet that don’t fit—but you’re hopeful? Growing into and out of clothes can be a real trial. Again, be realistic. It’s fine to keep a few pieces in your closet as “incentive wear,” but be sure they’re pieces you truly love and serve as a motivator to reach a goal. If you’re not wearing one-third of your wardrobe, that’s a lot of clothes taking up valuable space and making it harder to access the clothes you enjoy.
A great goal is to only keep clothes you love and feel fabulous wearing. They’re comfortable, flattering, and help you to express yourself with confidence. Being more intentional about the way you dress means you will only buy clothes that meet your criteria and, with each purchase, you commit to clearing out items that don’t.
I confess I have a box of cookie cutters and candy molds in my basement that I still hesitate to part with. Why? Just in case this will be the year my daughters and I actually use them to make cookies. How many items do we store because there just might come a day when we need them?A good tactic is to set up a rule with specific criteria for yourself such as the following: If an item 1) hasn’t been used in at least three years, and 2) is replaceable for under $25, you will let it go. A second strategy is to decide to use it by a designated date (i.e. by this Christmas or by May 30th). Put a sticky note on the item with the target date and, if it doesn’t get used or worn by then, it’s time to go.So many memories
By far, the hardest possessions for us to part with are those which hold memories. The process of letting go of sentimental items is its own topic, but let’s look at two ways you can feel more resolved about letting go of things that have more than a material value.
Take photos of sentimental items, collections, children’s clothes that no longer fit, etc. and put the photos into a keepsake book. For example, if a loved one passed away, but you don’t have room for the estate belongings, you could choose the most prized items to keep and take photos of everything else before sending them to a new home. Make a photo book and include narratives about the items and why they were special.
Spread the love. Perhaps there are family members and friends who would appreciate receiving an item or two. You will enjoy knowing those things are valued by people you care about. I heard a lovely example recently about a family who collected all of Grandma’s hand-crocheted doilies and made them available to those attending her funeral.
It’s not mine to decide
OK, stop here. If they’re not your belongings, then they’re not your decisions to keep or get rid of. I know it requires a great deal of patience if your family member holds onto things you don’t consider with the same value. I recommend finding a happy medium, agreeing to keep the items until the owner decides otherwise, but storing them in a location that appeases the rest of the household.
We are all incredibly blessed to have so many material possessions. But in this case, you can have too much of a good thing. The things we own are meant to be used. Their purpose is to serve us, not the other way around. The ideal is that our homes are filled with only those things we love and truly use. Getting rid of excess helps us feel lighter, freer, and focused on what’s most important.