Dealing with emotional clutter over 'things'

jeanimFebruary 29, 2008

I've been reading the thread on being "liberated" from things and realized there's quite a bit left that I could get rid off but haven't......because of memories or guilt or whatever. I'm sure this topic has been addressed before in these forums, just haven't found it yet!

The background is my husband passed away a little over 3 yrs. ago, then my mother 2 weeks later, then 9 months after that Katrina destroyed my home and almost everything I owned. Fast forward to now.....I rebuilt my home, moved back in and then got remarried 4 months ago.

These are my issues:

Most everything I have was given/ donated to me to replace my furnishings lost in the storm. I'm beginning to replace that with new items and don't have a problem re-donating most of it to be used by someone else in need. I really began to enjoy living with just a few things and realized that most "things" are replaceable and don't matter in the long run. SO....why do I feel guilty about getting rid of some of the items given to me?

Second, there's all the stuff that did survive the storm. Christmas things that were in late husband loved Christmas and I have about 8 large boxes of decorations and ornaments plus a huge village collection complete with ice skating rink and train! I have downsized my home so much that I don't have room to use all this stuff. The village hasn't been put out in several years because it got too big! I hate to get rid of the things he loved, I guess maybe I feel guilty because I don't have that much left of his things.....and I'm remarried....

Then, all the knick knacks that survived the storm! I dug through the mud and muck to rescue everything that could possibly be saved, then spent days cleaning and packing it up, put it in storage until I moved back in my house...and now what? It survived Katrina, it was important to me because it was all I had left and now I don't need or want most of it anymore. GUILT!!!!!

I realize I have some issues! LOL Writing this out has helped me a lot, I think and if you've read this far...Thank you for listening! Any words of wisdom out there?

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Do you have storage space for the Christmas stuff and knick knacks, like a basement or attic? It's clear you don't want to part with this stuff, at least not now,not yet. Box it up and store it so it's out of your way. Some day you may want to donate it. It will be ready if it's neatly boxed. Best wishes to you!

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 7:23PM
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Anyone who went through Katrina (never mind your personal losses - different altogether of course) will have issues about getting rid of things. You can let go of your own older stuff because it's your 'choice', but because people gave you the other things, it's going to feel funny letting go of them, but don't, because no one necessarily expects you to keep them forever, and it's not like you're just throwing them out... plus you have a right to now begin to choose what you like again (congrats on your marriage!).

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 8:49PM
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Do you have any children that may want some of the items?
How about setting the Village up one more time and get some really nice photographs of it- maybe have a photographer come by and take some nice shots for you. You can frame the pic, turn into a cross-stitch, quilt it, send it out as Christmas cards- there is so much you can do to keep the visual without the bulk.
That can be done for any of the items you feel you are ready to part with and still have a small reminder of the past.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 8:55PM
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Thanks for the responses! I've really been giving this issue a lot of thought and your words gave me some ideas. I am going to sort through all the Christmas tubs and keep the things I most treasure and the items that were the most important to my late husband. Groomingal....that's a fantastic idea to take pics of the village! Jannie, I can store some things in a small shed until I can "let them go."

Most of the Katrina'd stuff is worthless, with paint peeled off from the nasty floodwaters and a lot of chips and dings. At the time I rescued it I was desperately trying to salvage anything possible. Since then, I'm beginning to realize some stuff is just not worth the effort involved to fix it and I should just trash it! Yes, it is a memory of good times, but also a reminder of a horrible time in my life...does that make sense? Maybe I'll just take a day to go through it again, toss it and shed a few tears, then let it go.

I'm really trying to be brave dealing with this. I know how fortunate I am to have my home back and a wonderful new husband that I love dearly. I have a completely new life ahead of me and I want to make the most of it. Just have to figure out how to get rid of this guilt thing over what "once was". Lucy, thank you for the wedding congrats. Thank you all for your support!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 1:56PM
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I won't be so insensitive as to say 'I know how you feel', because I don't. Maybe this will help you.

I think of life as a flexible quilt. The most important things right now are in the center, simply because they are the most important. They remind us often of why they are important and bring back good and not so good memories. They are not sewn down, but basted in place temporarily.

As life continues, other things (people, events, 'things') present to us, and some of them become more important or significant than the things in the center of the quilt. We can then move the previous center things a little to the outside, and allow new things to be in the center.

The life quilt is always changing, with new things being put on it, sometimes in the center to begin with, sometimes in a position of less significance. The quilt also gets bigger as we have more experiences. It is a part of us, who we were, who we are, and where we have been.

It is your decision to place things where they are on your own life quilt. Remember, they aren't sewn down, only basted. Give yourself permission to make the changes that are important to you and remember that moving something out of the center of the quilt doesn't mean it isn't important, just not as important as what you want in the center for today. It is still a piece of you, and the memory is what brings it honor, not the physical existance.

Does your new husband have any idea how tough and resilient his new bride is? Bless you both.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 5:19PM
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Barbara, you certainly have a unique way of putting things into perspective. I, for one, appreciate your input.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 8:37PM
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Wow Barbara!!!! That's amazing...and so thought provoking. I hope you don't mind but I'm printing this out so I can read it over and over to remind myself of what's in the center of "my" quilt. Visualizing my life as a whole like this is enlightening and soooooo helpful in getting my priorities in order.
Thank you so much for these words of wisdom!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 12:16PM
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Jeanim - of course, print it if you like. I hope it helps you. One thing I would add is to keep yourself in the very center of the quilt.
Marie26 - thank you for your comments. Hey, it's Tulip Festival month in the Skagit Valley!. I hope you get a chance to see the fields in bloom, it's breathtaking. And lunch at the Calico Cafe in Mt. Vernon is yum-o, to quote you know who.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 12:53AM
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Jeanim, first congratulations on your new life with your new house and husband.

Second, is there a place (library, hospital, convelsant home) that you frequent...perhaps you can take you can set up the village at one of the locations where others besides yourself could enjoy seeing it during the holiday season. It would be a win-win situation as you win by being able to use the village that brought (will bring) such enjoyment to others, and others will marvel in the village and enjoy seeing it. My guess is that your new hubby may even get into by adding to the village in his own way.

Just a thought, Heidi

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 10:45AM
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Heidi, I will have to give that some IS a good idea but I don't know of anywhere around here to do it. Thanks for your input though....I will think on it some more.

Barbara....thanks again. I have it posted above my desk now so I can easily read and re-read it.

All of you are great!! Thanks so much for everyone's thoughts and ideas!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 1:41PM
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One thing I can say is that time will often help with certain things, especially things saved from a loved one, so sometimes you can try to identify those things that you ought to just let "breathe" and give yourself PERMISSION not to feel weighed down, then go through them later when they will truly have lost some of their power and you'll feel very right about letting them go, vs. those things that are truly weighing you down and you'll feel better if you deal with now.

As I've mentioned before, both of my parents died with the past 5 yrs and so I've had some household things plus lots of photos, especially of my mother's family. My parents had been divorced for over 25 yrs, so my brother and I had 2 different homes at different times to go through. We of course did not feel the need to keep everything, but there was clearly a need to "hold" onto the person through various objects. Not long after my dad died, my cat broke a small porcelain candy dish that I had saved from his home. I almost cried and was depressed about it, because it seemed "irreplaceable," when in fact it was my dad I missed.
Anyway, what I can tell you is that over time, I've been able to see that many of the "things" that I saved from their lives no longer have such strong meaning because they were just what you feel you need right at first when your grief is so raw. It isn't that you don't still remember and revere the person--it's that you can finally do that in a non-thing way. So it can be just fine to save boxes of things, if you have some storage space, and then go through a process of letting go. It's a process, not a "wrong" thing-focus, and varies from person to person.

Another thing is photos. I think everyone here can attest to the power of photos--it's very hard to let go! I have several large boxes representing my mother's family and various cousins and possibly a few generations back--she inherited her aunt's collection and never organized or gave them away. After she died, I felt I needed to keep all of these as they connected me to her, to her childhood, and one day I might figure out various ancestors, or somehow do some great thing.

Well, in reality there were just a handful of relatives that were very important to me and my brother growing up, and my children never met any of them. So I can finally see that all I need to save are some convenient-sized (not 10x13) photos of these dear folks, especially ones in which my brother and I and our parents are present, since my kids will recognize their parents and grandparents, and just let the rest go. But I couldn't have felt that way 4 years ago.

Another thing that helps is to recognize that a family can only UTILIZE so much memory stuff--we ought to be making more memories every day, and living in the present and planning new adventures. Again, that is a grief process--right after a great loss, you are focused on the past, and time helps you get back to the present and future. Your new family can help you see that if you spend all your weekends trying to organize the past, there won't be time for your REAL life (sort of like the quilt story). So, a few great mementos & several well-loved photo albums that your family really enjoys, are better than cartons and cartons of "memories." Well, a mysterious trunk in the attic can be fun one day, but not a dozen!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 3:33PM
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This is an incredible thought provoking thread. So many of you shared your personal experiences and wisdom that it would be impossible for me, who has not gone through a loss so great, to add anything. I'd just like to give a cyber hug to jeanim and frankie and congratulate them for being so resiliant! Here's to you!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 3:29PM
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Frankie, you brought up some points I hadn't considered. You are exactly right that if I spend so much time in memory I'll not be living in the present. I know that's not exactly what you said but that's the way I need to think on it. I'm slowly working through this and getting a different perspective on things has helped a lot. Thank you!

Thanks to everyone for their input....and thanks for the hug, neesie!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 6:27PM
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I had a coffee table that belonged to my much-loved Grasndmother. My first (ex)husband sat on it and the legs broke. I sat there and cried because it had been in Gramma's house. I have since realized it was a thing, not that important. I still had all my memories of Gramma. And besides that,the table was ugly looking. It never went with my other furniture.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 9:26PM
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You really aren't enjoying the things if they are stored away in boxes, so why not set them up, take some pictures, then donate or give the items to someone. Make a memory photo album you can sit, look at and enjoy.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2008 at 5:48AM
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Ishtar must have felt like you're feeling, after she went down into the underworld, and was stripped of everything...

one of the neo-feminists wrote a story about the long, barefoot walk back out of hell - about how surviving wasn't enough, not even getting things 'back' was enough, in the fact of the long way back.

so it would seem you're in really good company, if nothing else.

passing things forward helps - I know I'm not the only kid on the planet who learned how TO do model painting because someone gave me banged up old figurines to practice on...there's a whole lot of 'adaptive reuse' to be had from a box of old knick knacks - craigslist and freecycle both do a lot towards hooking old stuff up with new owners...I've even made a friend or two over plant swaps, and donations of paperbacks and kitchenware (remind me again why a household of two needs five identical LARGE cast iron frying pans?)

I think the ideas of how to memorialize the christmas village show a wonderful understanding of what made it precious in the first place...when you are done with the archive process, maybe there's a retirement community, or a local church who could take over 'stewardship' of it, and make the display part of their yearly celebration?

I know it doesn't feel like it - but you're dealing with all of this stuff with a great deal of strength. maybe you just need to 'thank' people in your head for the things, and then let them 'forgive' you for letting things go?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 2:08PM
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Jeanim and Barbara=--thanx for things to think about. As I get older, relatives have died, children have moved and suddenly my home looks like the Smithsonian as I become the official repository for their "stuff". I have a rocker that belonged to my husband's mother. It is fragile, so nobody can sit in it but it is in the guest room. He actually suggested I could put tape across it. (just like the Smithsonian) My kids have left yearbooks and trophies which they are going to take (I also deliver) but its a never ending job.
As a matter of fact, I set up the village last Christmas, it had been in storage because we remodeled and i wondered if I should get rid of it. It seemed like the fun of having it and acquiring the pieces is gone. I don't know why that is.
I too, have ornaments, etc from my husband's previous life and its tough to respect it--when it looks like junk to me, but I am sure my stuff looks like junk to him. We've been married 7 years so last Christmas we started the process of throwing out the broken, non-working and less than wonderful Christmas treasures. I guess its time.
Obviously the term "trash to treasures" goes both ways.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 7:18PM
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I have a rocker that belonged to my husband's mother. It is fragile, so nobody can sit in it
Tell DH to find a furniture repair person to fix this so people CAN sit in it!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 10:58AM
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A little update!! I finally started going through a few things I had stored and am VERY happy to say that I'm making a little progress. I have 3 storage tubs filled to the brim with Beanie babies that belonged to my deceased son-in-law who was an avid collecter. I've stored these for 5 years daughter had taken the ones that "meant something" to keep for their son. Somehow, I couldn't let the rest go....they were his, he had a lot of money tied up in them, are they worth anything, etc. WELL, I have donated them to the Friends of the Animal Shelter here for their rummage sale this weekend and what they don't sell will be going to Hope Haven, which is a local children's home. I feel so good about this!! I also am donating an entire tub of dishes to them....a BIG set of Corelle (dishes, glasses, flatware, serving pieces) in a pattern that my late husband and I loved and used for several years. I have a new home now and new dishes, so I should pass them on to someone that will use and appreciate them, as well as helping out the fundraising for the animal shelter.

I know this is not a lot but it's a beginning. It does make me feel so much better just getting started and I'm surprised at how much incentive it gives me to keep going!

Thank you ALL for your wonderful made a huge difference in my thinking. I realize now that I am not "losing" anything, I'm allowing these things to bless other people...and my departed loved ones would approve.

Thanks again!!!!!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 2:51PM
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Way to go, Jeani! I am so happy for you. Thanks for sharing your success story.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 9:41AM
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Jeani, what a wonderful, inspirational "success story". My kids had dozens of Beanie Babies, some even with Lucite display cases. I took them to a local Day Care center last December, to give to the kids for Christmas. They were a hit! And so much for them "having value". I heard rumors years ago of people paying $200 for certain "collectible" Beanies. Who collects them now?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 12:02PM
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Jeani, I'm so glad you posted about where you are now with your progress. What a wonderful idea to donate the beanies to the rummage sale that benefitted the Animal Shelter! You are right on about passing the down the dishes that you and your husband loved. Give someone else a chance to love them! We can't be museums or storage lockers, we have to get on with the business of living. Good work, and I think your relatives would approve.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 3:33PM
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Great work, Jeani!

As an aside, when I keep something for "memorabilia", I pin/tape/attach a little note to it that describes what it is, when it was used, and why it is special and worth makes going through old stuff more fun. Also, I have found that if I'm not motivated enough to write a little blurb about something, that's probably a sign that it's not as important to me as I thought!

Having said that, you are not alone - I have an extremely difficult time giving up my daughters' baby clothes, and I have no difficult, painful "backstories" to contend with. Hang in there and be gentle on yourself!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 3:01PM
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