By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
“The past is a candle at great distance: too close to let you quit, too far to comfort you.” ― Amy Bloom
Like most people, I try to go through my storage on a regular basis to make sure I am only keeping what I need. I struggle with sentimental possessions and alternately feel guilty for keeping something and also for throwing things away. It is a lose/lose proposition. No wonder people avoid sorting through their treasures! I believe many of us don’t even feel like we have permission to enjoy looking at our stuff because it is so rife with guilt and other negative emotions.
This realization made me start paying more attention to what I was feeling during this process. And I believe doing so has helped me understand myself better. I am sharing my thoughts here because I believe that an honest review of emotional attachment may help some people like it helped me.
I pulled a tote out of our storage space with the intent of donating anything that we did not use. I did not struggle to determine the best next step with most of the items in this tote – donate, donate, keep, donate, keep. Most of the decisions were clear. And then I came across the tin that holds my extra buttons.
This tin came from my mother’s house. I remember distinctly the green drawers in the basement where she kept all her sewing things – thread, scissors, and other sundries. When we cleaned out my mother’s house, there were a few different tins with buttons, sorted by color category. I have not done enough sewing in my life to justify so many tins, so when I cleared out this dresser, I chose one tin and mixed the buttons I thought I might need together.
The thing is, after four years I have never needed any of the buttons. I think it is time to donate them. But the tin is harder for me to get rid of. I have been thinking about why and I think it is because it has a unique and distinct smell. It is an old pipe tobacco tin and retains some of that earthy smell, combined with the metallic smell of the container itself.
I have to admit, I was curious about my attachment to this smell. I do not remember anyone in my family smoking loose tobacco. I opened the container over and over again and tried to pin down what I was feeling. I believe I was smelling home, but not home as in comfort and family, more the sadness and longing of a home that no longer exists.
Then I thought, why I want to hold onto these emotions? I am not holding onto my mom or even memories specifically of her. The memories are more place-based. I decided I can let that go. I do not need to hold the tin to remember my home. I decided I can donate the tin because I finally understand what I am feeling and why.
I encourage anyone who is decluttering to think about the feelings evoked from items you are holding onto. Based on my experiences, you may be surprised why something is pulling on your heartstrings and whether or not it is something you need to remember at all. Sometimes, it is not what you hold but what you feel that is more important.