In the documentary film, The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard examines our national obsession with stuff and how it all began. She attributes our consumption addiction to the post-World War III economic policies that propagandized the notion of buying stuff. Our insatiable appetites haven’t been able to stop since.
After 50 years of consumption, we are beginning to take inventory of just how much stuff we have accumulated. Even more so, we are beginning to feel taken over by all of our stuff, which is why so many of us are having the urge to purge or declutter our homes.
But is it as easy as making some runs to Goodwill?
Of course not.
We have become addicted, or emotionally attached, to our stuff.
Buying and accumulating stuff is just another way to distract ourselves from our present lives. Like cigarettes or alcohol, our stuff is a quick fix to feeling good. But when the high wears off, we are left with an icky feeling. But we need the icky feeling so that we can punish ourselves and perpetuate our guilt. And then we need the high again so that we don’t feel the pain, and the circle continues.
Is this an overreaction to buying a new shirt?
Maybe. But consumption can be an addiction (or at the least an emotional attachment) that, unlike cigarettes and alcohol, is hard to recognize because it is so affirmed by our friends, family, media, and government.
So how do we detach from our stuff?
Awareness is power. Knowing what and why we are attached to our stuff or certain items will oftentimes break the emotional attachment with our stuff. For some of us, having a lot of stuff is simply a distraction from our everyday life.
A cluttered space results in a cluttered mind, which is exactly what some of us want, at least subconsciously. In the same way alcohol makes things fuzzy, having a lot of things in your space will do the same. And on some level, that is the desired outcome.
For many of us, it is certain items that are difficult to part with. It may be books and magazines for some or old pictures, clothes, gifts, collections, etc. for others. Either way, if you don’t love an item or don’t use it, then it is time to part with it.
If you are still having resistance, then it’s time to acknowledge an emotional attachment to the item(s). Here’s what to do….
Start asking yourself questions.
What am I feeling right now?
What memories does this item bring up?
Who gave it to me?
Why did I originally buy it?
Who does it remind me of?
Do I feel guilty getting rid of this item? If so, why?
Be your own detective… or therapist.
It’s never just about the item, it’s about the emotion the item holds.
Get to the root of why you are hanging on to an item that you know would be in your best interest to get rid of. You may be surprised. What you thought was just an old hairbrush may actually be a reservoir of past emotions that you and your sister shared when she helped you get ready for prom. Or maybe the green gingham shirt with the price tag on it conjures up guilt for buying things that are on sale and never wearing them. Until acknowledged, the shirt will hang in your closet serving only to attract the pattern for more guilt.
And so it’s not about detaching from the item, per se. It’s about acknowledging and FEELING THE EMOTION that you have stored away in this item. MAKING PEACE WITH IT in the form of crying, forgiving, remembering, resolving, etc. AND THEN MOVING ON.
Once you have awareness around an item, you will be amazed at how easy it will be to let go of it. If you have the awareness but still don’t want to get rid of the item, then it may simply be too early. See how you feel the next round of decluttering.
To start the process of decluttering, I recommend working in baby steps with attainable goals as I set out in my book, Feng Shui Your Life. You will build up the confidence that will keep you going through the long haul. Once you realize that life will go on with fewer items, you will not only want to clear out more stuff, but will start to feel free.
And when you feel this sense of freedom you know you have mastered the art of detaching from your stuff.