The Great Clutter Challenge: Overcoming Attachments
Walk past my cubicle, and you’ll be greeted by quite the tableau:
an empty bootlegger’s jug topped by a hand-knit, mohawked ski hat; a misshapen elephant mug; a San Francisco Giants gnome; a Snoopy calendar; a sparkly fake bird; three plants (one living, two dead); and not one, but two signature-covered casts—a memorial of that time last year when I broke my wrist.
I suppose some might say that I have a “problem.” But, the thing is, each tchotchke is special! Each object occupies a place in my heart and so, accordingly, I want to allot it space on my desk. And this has all worked fine here in Menlo Park, where my desk is 14 feet long and 3 feet deep. Somehow, I suspect that it will work less well at my desk in Oakland, which will be 6 feet by 2 feet.
And so, when Kyle and Cary came to tutor us in New Minimalism, I paid attention. With my epic tchotchke collection in mind, I listened especially carefully when they shared tips on dealing with emotional attachments to objects. Here, my favorite ideas:
1. Forgive yourself for letting things go
Perhaps you spent a lot of money, time, or effort acquiring an object. (I think, here, of my shoe-shaped landline phone, the phone that I earned selling gift wrap about twenty years ago.)
Or perhaps the object you’re thinking of letting go was one of the many well-intentioned gifts you’ve gotten from friends, family members, or colleagues.
No matter why you’re hesitating about getting rid of something, remember that letting go is okay. Give yourself permission to let go of the things you don’t really need.
2. Donate, donate, donate
You’ll feel better about getting rid of things if you donate them. For instance, our Garden Editor, Kathy, hated the idea of parting with some of the beautiful books at her desk.
“If you donate those books, think how much joy they’ll bring the person who finds them at the library,” Kyle and Cary reminded her.
Kathy agreed. You see, a donation is a win-win: as the donor, you’ll gain space and sanity, while you’ll be connecting someone else with something they need.
3. Separate the gift from the giver
When someone gives you a gift—be it a book, a toy, a sweater—the object is just that: a gift. That means that it’s up to you, the recipient, to decide what you want to do with it. So if someone gives you, say, a pair of earrings that aren’t really your style, that’s okay. You can snap a photo of yourself wearing them, thank the gift giver, and then donate the earrings to someone who can’t wait to wear them. Win, win.
On the other side of the coin, as a gift giver, be truly generous—give gifts free of expectations.
With a finite amount of space, it’s often simply not possible to keep every sentimental object that you’ve ever owned. And that’s okay! As you sort through your objects, evaluate.
When you pick something up, think: Do I really need this object to make me happy? Or would a picture be just as good?
If a photo would suffice, snap the photo and regift or donate the object.
5. Let one stand for many
As Cary, Kyle, and I reviewed my sizable tchotchke collection, I came to a sad conclusion: not all of my prized trinkets would be able to come live on my new desk, in Oakland. (But that doesn’t mean that none can!)
Cary and Kyle suggested that I think minimal, and choose one object to stand for many. So, perhaps, much as it pains me, I will need to choose my favorite cast, snap a photo of the other, and let the one stand for many (and serve as a talisman against future casts).
6. It’s okay to let go slow
My colleague Margo, our Food Editor, keeps menus. Lots and lots and lots of menus. Each reminds her of the meal, the place in time, the food she ate, the person that she ate with. When Margo mentioned her difficulties in sorting through and paring down, Cary and Kyle reassured her.
“Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once,” they said. “You can walk up to the edge, look over, take a step back, and do what feels right.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day; your office doesn’t need to be cleaned in a day either.