Reality Check: Attachment to Things

Did you resolve to get more organized this year? You’re not alone. You can take control of your space, and the sales flyers that feature plastic totes and pretty boxes imply that they can help.

But whether it’s elegant bamboo bins or a bunch of cardboard boxes, empty containers seem to take on a life of their own—they instantly fill up.

That’s kind of anti-choice theory, isn’t it? Boxes don’t fill themselves. It’s not them; it’s us. Our choices fill up our lives and our spaces with things.

If we want to change, we could start by reading numerous articles about organization. I’ve read those for you. Apparently it’s easy to declutter—you just get rid of stuff. Who knew?

If disposing of things is difficult for you, try perceiving “attachment to things” as a habit.

Dr. Joel Wade in The Virtue of Happiness suggests that we need three things to change an old habit. Briefly, they are: 1. Reflection on the beliefs that hold us back. 2. A plan 3. Persistence

If you share my attachment to things, perhaps reflecting on our beliefs is worthwhile. What beliefs keep us hanging on to things that others easily discard? Here are some of mine.

There’s frugality. We hate waste. If you’ve lived through times of little money and few possessions, it’s hard to toss something that’s perfectly good. Even though we have no conceivable need right now, we keep it “just in case.”

Another belief is sentimental value. We hold on to things with little or no monetary worth that remind us of people we love, places we’ve been, good times we’ve had. How could we possibly discard those?

There’s also a reflection of culture. My perception is that rural south shore culture in the olden days (my childhood) included a widespread interest in antiques and collecting. Old things were valued. Now, not so much. Prevailing culture seems immune to both frugality and sentimentality.

When we do finally conclude that we can get rid of something, it’s difficult to honour that no-waste belief. Few people appreciate getting still-functional but not state-of-the-art cast-offs. It’s even harder finding someone who would love and value our treasured heirlooms.

But having an uncluttered space is important too. If you can’t find what you need when you need it, you may as well not have it. More significantly, open space gives us room to think.

So what kind of plan could we make? If your struggle is with finding items you’ve saved “just in case,” keep a list. When you put something away, write down where you put it so you’ll know where to find it again. If you write your list in a nice dollar store notebook that you always keep in the same place, you’ll be able to find your list, too!

If your struggle is sentimental, try asking for each object, “What feeling does this bring to me? Joy? Nostalgia? Warmth? Sadness? Anger?…” If it is a feeling that you want, then keep the object. If not, then perhaps now is the time to let it go. How helpful is it to keep reminders for feelings that we don’t want?

Not sure? Put it in “limbo:” a temporary holding area. There’s no need to get rid of it permanently and then fret about having made a mistake. Look at your limbo area in a few months. Did you miss anything in it?

We can also rotate our precious items. Put some away; display the rest. What’s displayed will have room to breathe and when you want a change, put out different things. They’ll serve their purpose again—you’ll notice them.

What are your beliefs about things? Do they help you? Or are they a challenge for you?

This entry was posted in Choosing Behaviour and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.