Breakup Stuff Homeless Heirlooms

Getting rid of our things can cause one to pause, reflect and agonize over that decision. When we breakup with our stuff, we are getting rid of a piece of ourselves. Our stuff, ourselves.

So many of our physical objects are transformed into pixels. We no longer need bookshelves and CD towers.

At the same time, wages have stagnated and boundaries between office and home have loosened. Families don’t have the mental resources or bandwidth to deal with dust collectors. Spare surfaces and unadorned furnishings are easier to maintain. As a result, many of us breakup with our stuff on a regular basis.

Being seen as ourselves is more important that being seen positively

Our stuff tells the world who we are, says gosling, the author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. Whether the message is sent via a priceless oil painting or a bumper sticker, it’s important to us that others receive the message. “People tend to be happier and more productive when they are able to persuade others to see them as they see themselves.” Gosling says. He cites his Texas Colleague William Swann’s work on self-verification theory, which finds that being seen as we see ourselves is even more important to most people than is being seen positively.

Sustainability has become a popular buzzword, but it turns out that people who gravitate to eco-friendly products don’t necessarily do so out of environmental concerns. But as a way to make themselves stand out.

If people think we are more athletic or intellectual than we really are, we feel misunderstood. This misunderstanding sets up stressful situations. We know that they may eventually be disappointed. “When you don’t feel understood, the world is not a predictable place, Gosling says.

The biography of Harriet Tubman gets an eye-level spot on the living room bookshelf; the dating self-help book is tucked in a nightstand drawer.  “It’s complicated,” says Gosling. “We understand that it’s part of the social norm to present yourself in a good light.”

The desire to broadcast our personalities through our possessions is one reason they can be so hard to toss out. “A great deal of attachment to objects is about a personal identification,’ says Gail Steketee, Dean of Boston University’s school of Social Work, who counsels people living with hoarding issues.

Minimalism and breakup with your stuff

Those who do manage to shed excess clutter often speak glowingly of the experience. My girlfriend and I were visiting Florence Italy and ran into a missionary couple in the coffee shop in the lobby of our hotel.  We struck up a conversation with them. The couple had glowing remarks about living in a hotel.  The hotel room consisted of a bedroom and bathroom, which was dramatic downsizing for them.

By the minimalist of their surroundings, the couple was forced into the community on a daily basis.  Research after research shows the high correlation with longevity and good health with those that have a strong social life.

After speaking with the couple, that small little voice inside my head said, “That sounds like a life I would enjoy. To me, minimalism is freedom to move around easily.”

As anyone who has ever hauled bulging garbage bags to the local Salvation Army knows, clearing out clutter feels good. A study co-authored by University of Arizona marketing professor Catherine Roster found that physical clutter “has a direct negative relationship to one’s sense of well-being, safety, and self-identity in one’s own space.”

Cozy with family heirlooms or minimalism, which do you choose?

Of course, clutter is in the eye of the beholder. Bookshelves crammed with mementos and books can feel cozy and comforting to one person and claustrophobic to another. At the same time, a room that lacks all evidence of human presence may seem blissfully pure to one and painfully antiseptic to someone else.  The key questions: Is your stuff-or lack of it-interfering in your life? Does it make you overwhelmed?

We have emotional relationships with many of our things. We call these “family heirlooms.” A child’s baby blanket can transport us back in time, which is why it can be so difficult to part with it, says Smith College psychology professor Randy Frost.

The problem comes when every ticket stub and baby blanket evokes a memory, and so we keep them all for fear of losing the moments-or dishonoring their former owners.

Stekette says, “People think that if they throw away their mother’s special teapot, they’re being disrespectful to her. But if she is gone, she doesn’t care, and if you have an important place in your heart for your mother, then the object doesn’t matter. Guilt is a useful emotion if you’ve done something wrong. If you haven’t, then it’s just in your way.”

How not to cling to objects that don’t serve you well

When sentimentality keeps clients clinging to objects that don’t serve them, Frost encourages them to tell each possession’s story-how they got the item. Then, what does the item mean to you-and then consider how it fits into your life now. While time consuming, this process can foster decision-making skills. “Eventually you’ll be able to make those decisions on a grander scale,” he says.

For a client of mine, recognizing why he’d kept a sentimental textbook, enabled him to let it go. “An economics textbook is not a fitting memorial to my mother, so at that point he was able to say, “This thing was part of a moment in my life, thanks.” Then he donated it with absolutely no regrets.”

How can we tell if we need to change our habits? Only a small slice of the population is ready to practice extreme minimalism. “Clutter is normal,” says Roster, a member of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.  The point at which it becomes unhealthy is more defined by the individual.

I say there’s a simpler answer. I say you ask yourself, “What gives you the greatest joy? A minimal lifestyle or a cozy bookshelves crammed with mementos kind of lifestyle.  You know exactly which one gives you the greatest joy.

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