Have you ever gotten rid of something and felt horrible about it? I’m talking intense, deep-down, panicky regret here.
The kind where your stomach gets that sick feeling and your heart ties up in knots.
It’s one of the reasons people hold onto stuff. There’s a fear that letting go of something could be the biggest mistake of your life. An end of the world kind of mistake.
It seems safer and infinitely saner to hold onto things just to avoid that potential outcome. Doesn’t matter if your life is full of too much stuff. Doesn’t matter if you’re tripping over it every morning while you try to make breakfast. Doesn’t matter if you don’t want to go home at the end of the day and face all that stuff. It could be a tragic, dastardly mistake to get rid of it!
Hold onto it, hold onto it, hold onto it and you’ll never face that lead-belly feeling of regret. You’ll be safe and your stuff will be safe, close to home, close to you.
In my journey from clutter-queen to minimalist I faced this scenario. It came in the form of a ratty 30 year old pink bathrobe. You’re probably chuckling right now. A bathrobe? Really? Yep. Out of everything I released in my quest to be clutter-free there was only one item that tore my heart out after I donated it, and it was an old, beat up bathrobe that wasn’t even mine to begin with.
Let me tell you a little story about the legend of the pink bathrobe. It was my momma’s and it was pink and fluffy and went all the way down to the floor. She used to wear it every evening. As a child I must have seen that bathrobe thousands of times, felt it’s texture while I sat on her lap during story-time, rested my cheek on it’s fluffy fabric while I drifted off to sleep.
It wasn’t just those warm, fuzzy memories that made me decide to rescue it from my mom’s charity donation bag some 25 years later. It was the legend that surrounded it. See, I’d heard the story of the pink bathrobe. My parents had been recently married and she spotted it in the window of a big city department store. It was gorgeous. It was everything she ever wanted. The perfect bathrobe for lounging in. The kind of bathrobe you’d keep for 25 years!
It was also expensive. Very expensive for those days. My pappa, being the charming romantic that he was, saw her looking at it as they passed by the department store window. Even though it was pricey, and they really couldn’t (shouldn’t) spend so much on a luxury item, he swooped inside the department store and had the cashier ring up the purchase before my mom could say a word.
That story was part of my legend growing up. It fit in neatly with the legend of them meeting by chance on a train winding through Europe, falling in love and getting married. For me, that bathrobe was the legend of romance. That there really is a happily ever after. That princes do find their princess. For me that bathrobe summed up the bond of love that my parents share in it’s worn-down, pilled, fuzzy material.
That legend spoke to me again after all those years when I was grown up and out of the house with a life of my own. I spotted that fuzzy pink bathrobe looking derelict and tatty and ready to depart in my mom’s goodwill bag. Oh no. Goodwill was going to miss out. I’d give that treasure a home!
The problem was, that fuzzy pink bathrobe didn’t live up to it’s legend. I had it for several years and I wore it every now and then as a nod to it’s special status, but it really was pretty beat up. It was also big. All that fluff and fuzz and full-length glamor took up a lot of space in my tiny closet. About a year into my decluttering kick I decided it was time for the legendary bathrobe to move on. I asked my mom if she wanted it back (to keep it in the family of course), but she turned me down.
I was stuck with it. It was up to me to either give up the legend to a charity or hold onto it in my tiny closet. With a heavy heart I gave it up. The pink bathrobe landed in a garbage bag with an odd assortment of other misfit clothes that no longer served my life. The garbage bag took a road trip to Goodwill. And everything in that garbage started a brand new life without me.
Except that fuzzy pink bathrobe. Yeah, it made the trip to Goodwill. Yeah, I left it there… but that’s not the end of the story.
I laid in bed two nights later in an absolute panic, my heart clenched tight, tears threatening to spill, my stomach churning with anxiety. What had I done! I’d given up the legendary pink bathrobe! Horror of horrors! The pain! The agony! My life couldn’t be complete without it!
The next morning I was a woman on a mission. I drove an hour to that thrift store (I lived deep in the country at that time), I attacked the racks frantically searching for it and then… there it was… the fuzzy pink bathrobe. I clutched it tight to my chest, grateful that no one had noticed it’s majesty in the two days it had hung on that rack in that dusty, old thrift shop. I marched up to the counter and I paid $2.99 to get that bathrobe back. Victory! My life was complete again. I had reclaimed the bathrobe!
I brought it home and lovingly stored it back in the closet, in the same place it had hung before. It was home. Safe at home with me.
Then a funny thing happened. Watch out, cuz here’s the clincher. Time passed. That bathrobe continued to hog up precious real estate in the closet. It got in my way when I picked out clothes every day. I didn’t wear it often, because well, it despite it’s legendary status, it still was a ratty old bathrobe and I, ahem, had another bathrobe that I liked to wear more. My other bathrobe was still a fresh young starlet. The fuzzy pink one was a movie star past it’s prime.
As time passed I found myself getting annoyed with it. It was a space hog, just sitting there, taking up valuable inches in my over-stuffed closet. All the reasons I’d originally decided to get rid of it were still there. It’s legendary status maybe wasn’t so legendary after all. I mean, my parents still loved each other, even though my mom didn’t have the bathrobe anymore (hadn’t had it for several years by that time).
Further into my decluttering kick I came to the realization that maybe, just maybe, I actually could live without that bathrobe in my life. I ran experiments. I wasn’t going to give it up to the clutches of Goodwill so easily. I packed it away. Stored it in a box with out of season clothes. I didn’t miss it. Next year when I opened that box I was surprised to see it there in it’s ratty pink glory saying, “Remember me? I’m the space hog. Want to let me out of this box?”
I didn’t. In fact, I kind of thought maybe I could let it go. I’d done a lot of work on my clutter patterns in the year since I’d seen it last. I’d worked through a lot of the reasons I held onto stuff. I decided to run the ultimate test. I packed it up in another garbage bag. Nestled it close with others of it’s kind, items that no longer served a purpose in my life, and hauled that bag to Goodwill.
The second time was the charm. I gave it up and guess what! I don’t miss it. I can look back on the whole experience and giggle about it now. My parent’s love wasn’t contained in that old chunk of cloth. It lived in their hearts until the day my father passed away. It still lives in their hearts now, even though they’re separated between life and death. I don’t need a ratty pink bathrobe to remind myself that they have had a wonderful love story.
Moral of the Clutter Story
Yeah I’m bringing this back around to you. It’s a common sensation for people with to much stuff to imbue objects with emotion. It can feel as though you might lose a part of yourself if you lose that object. I’m proof that you really don’t need those “skinny jeans” anymore. You don’t need that second hammer for “just in case”. You don’t need an object as proof of feelings. The people the feelings are associated with are way better than any physical object out there.
If any of this sounds familiar, run a test with yourself. If you want to get rid of something but you’re not sure you can live without it do the well-known pack it up method. Box it up and store it away. Set a time frame for how long to store it. At the end of that time frame, pull it out again and see if you still have such a strong attachment to it. I’m guessing the legend will have faded…