Friday, August 20, 2010
Saying Goodbye to Sentimental Clutter
I've had the good fortune to inherit some truly lovely sentimental stuff, but eventually I had to acknowledge that many of the most meaningful items were no longer appropriate to have in my daily life. Redefining them was the only way that I could let them go and, logically, I knew that I needed to do that. (Specific stories are in my book.) When I did let them go -- thoughtfully and, a few times, tearfully -- I was both liberated and challenged in ways I hadn't expected. Yes, there was room for things that were more functional, but there was also a void. Who was I if I wasn't the caretaker of the antique family furniture and dishes? Who was I if I was no longer the girl who grew up playing the piano and continued to do so for all of her life? Did that mean I was disconnected from my heritage in some way? Was I supposed to abandon my love of music?
Of course not. But it's surprising how much our individual identities are connected with our possessions and how when we change, as we inevitably do, those objects that surround us can become anchors to a past that we need to carry more lightly or sometimes shed altogether. I had to realize that my connection to my family history was just as intact as it had ever been, even though I had fewer tangible mementos. My relationship with music was still solid, too, even though it was expressed in a different way. For some of us, or for some aspects of each of our lives, simply letting go of the past completely by letting go of the things we have that are associated with it allows us to be more comfortable with who we are now. However, anyone who's ever parted with something that signifies an important relationship with a person or a time of life that has ended knows that there's a feeling of finality and acceptance that allows us to move forward, yet we often find intermingled with that feeling a bit of insecurity about who we are now that we're no longer a part of that relationship. I think that's okay. In fact, I think that mixed feelings are what we really need to get comfortable with in order to navigate life with less stress and anxiety.
Too much sentiment can be a dangerous condition. There's a difference between feeling rooted or connected and feeling weighted down or burdened by obligation. There's also a difference between embracing our history and how it shaped who we are now versus clinging to our past and, perhaps, our youth, because we're afraid of change. Maybe we need to work on understanding and accepting ourselves as much as we need to work on understanding and accepting that the things we own are not truly what define us.
Of course, life is unpredictable, so even if we've resolved these issues, sometimes forces outside of our control will continue to make choices for us. For a dramatic example of imposed choices, read Anatomy of a Tornado, Tornado Chronicles and Nature is a Moody Muse, blog posts by Debbie Kaspari, an Oklahoma fine artist who survived the devastating effects of extreme spring weather that she refers to as The Event. She explains how her relationship with "stuff" and "STUFF" was clarified in a way no one wants to experience. Fortunately, not all was lost for her.
How sentimental are you? Are you clear about what's just "stuff" in your life and what is "STUFF" that has real meaning? Would it take a tornado to make you figure it out?
© 2010 Cynthia Friedlob
Image credit: Joel Messner at stock.xchng