I was talking to a man in his late thirties. He lived alone in a two bedroom condo full of stuff. When he found out my profession, he began to discuss his situation.
He acknowledged that he tended to keep, rather than get rid of, things. There was meaning in many of these personal objects. Some he thought were just plain cool, or were related to seldom practiced hobbies. He held onto them while recognizing that many no longer had functional value. He kept them because he could and liked having them around. But then he said something that surprised me. He said that if he came home one day to find that he’d been robbed, he wouldn’t be upset. In fact, he’d be relieved.
While he experienced some emotional attachment to things that represented memories, it wasn’t overbearing or clingy in nature. He really liked his things but didn’t love them. He saw value in them, but also recognized that they were just things.
I wondered if there are two kinds of people: those who would be devastated if their homes were robbed and those who’d be almost grateful. Knowing where you fall on this spectrum is another vantage point from which to understand your relationship with stuff. It may also reflect your personality type and how you tend to deal with problems. Do you take things head on and like to exert control over your environment or did you tend to get overwhelmed and bury your head in the sand when you are on overload?
I ask this question to people I meet now and while majority would be closer to the devastated end of the spectrum, I’ve found a surprising number that would rather it just all go away. This may mean that people are far less attached to stuff than meets the eyes. Some just don’t want to deal with it. And for some, it’s the experience of initiating the separation that’s tough.
I used to think about the experience of separation a lot as a young, quiet, and shy person. Not with stuff, but with words and feelings. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say or that I wasn’t willing to share, it was that the act of separating those thoughts from inside me- the act itself- was painful. Sometimes it was confusing and it was always overwhelming. Even knowing that I’d be happy with the results afterwards, the separation was stressful. I see a similar challenge with those struggling with too much stuff and disorganization. They see the value in the end result but the act of placing a once used object in a donation bin opens up too many questions and feelings that it seems easier to live in chaos. A burglar would save one from the trouble, just as a glass of wine can let the words flow out.
Pretend for a moment that most of your stuff vanished. How would you feel? Where do you fall on this spectrum? Allow yourself time to reflect on what your answer means, one way or another, and how this new understanding can guide your downsizing or organizing project.