Letting go can be hard. Letting go of ‘stuff’ can be particularly difficult for many. We surround ourselves with stuff that often simultaneously seems both important and useless. Sometimes we hold onto unnecessary items with the rationalisation that we might need them one day. Monetary valuables, such as furniture and clothing, as well as emotionally valuable items such as greeting cards, dried flowers, and letters, never seem to stop accumulating. Often times, purging our lives of clutter is a conscious choice, while on other occasions, we are forced to confront the process of letting go of a lifetime of possessions through the death of a relative or a move to a new home. And the task can be both physically and emotionally daunting for many.
Most people are aware that living with the barest essential is absolutely possible and yet we still hold on to those least important items. But why is that so many of us hold onto so much stuff?
Nostalgia seems to have a strong pull. Holding onto keepsakes provides a tangible container for memories. But it can distract us from letting go of feelings. Attaching emotional meanings to things – associating the tangible with intangible, arouses complicated and often conflicted feelings about letting go of mementos.
Feelings, both those we associate with items and the actual deeper emotional issues, some of which we may not be consciously aware, can make clearing out a space seem nearly impossible. It can mean coming to terms with the unthinkable or confronting feelings of loss and pain, and that is easier to avoid. So ironically, holding onto a great deal of sentimental objects can be a source of both pain and pleasure for many.
One way for us to quit hanging onto these objects, is to assess its utility. According to Jeremy Bentham: ‘By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the community in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular individual, then the happiness of that individual.’
While there is no question letting go of clutter can be difficult, the benefits of letting go far outweigh the negatives for most people. Baggage can weigh us down. Clutter takes up not only physical space in our lives, but mental space too, and this clutter can keep us from feeling productive and happy. Hanging onto more objects than we need, rather than motivating us, can hold us back. Letting go of material things can free up space for healthy habits and can help many people find increased purpose, clarity, and focus.
Getting rid of stuff frees up space, both mentally and physically. So while we may be initially reluctant to let go of our stuff, not only for its potential material worth, but for its emotional value, as well as understanding what keeps us tied to our possessions can be liberating. It can help you not only to view your external world in a clearer light, but may also help you also understand the connection between your emotions and your possessions, finally allowing you the freedom to let go (literally and figuratively) of all that ‘stuff’.
Shelley Bonanno, MA has been a practising limited licensed psychologist in the metropolitan Detroit, Michigan area since 1987. She has a breadth of experience in working with adults, children, and families. In addition to being a psychotherapist, she performs consultative services including mediation and comprehensive psychological evaluations for state and forensic agencies. Shelley writes a featured relationship column for Macomb Now Magazine, and her work has appeared in various online and print publications. An advocate for mental health, you can follow Shelley on Twitter @ShelleyBonanno