Can you be sentimental and live clutter-free? - Conny Graf

Can you be sentimental and live clutter-free?

After a few interview episodes in a row, this is going to be one with only me.

I am talking about being sentimental and the worry of regret when decluttering, because that came up in my survey on why you struggle declutter clothes.I explore the difference between regret and being sentimental and answer the question if you can be sentimental and live a clutter-free life.


 

October is here, how did this happen?
 
Wasn’t it just March and everything slowed down, most of us had to go into lock down and we felt like time is standing still? Well it turns out time wasn’t standing still, it was actually flying by and here we are in October. 
 
Where I live here in the Vancouver BC Canada we have been spoiled with absolutely glorious weather, sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures, but it’s also definitely fall. The leaves are turning, the nights are colder, the mornings are foggy and the ground is covered in heavy due and a lot of leaves.
 
Nature’s time of decluttering started. 
 
My favourite time of the year is summer, I love it when it’s hot out and I can just throw on a t-shirt and shorts and walk around barefoot all day. So I am a bit sentimental that another summer in my life is over. 
 
This is the cycle of life, from seed, to growth, to bloom, to bear fruit and then to die, from spring, to summer to fall and then winter, nature does it like what seems effortless, she just surrenders to the cycle but a lot of us humans we are struggling with letting go, whether it’s in fall or any other time of the year. 
 
But this cycle of life would be present in our life too if we were not tripped up with sentimentality and fear of regret. We acquire, we use and then we let go – or are supposed to let go, in order to stay in the flow of the cycle and to invite new things and events into our life.
 
Just imagine nature would refuse to let go in fall, we wouldn’t have spring, the season so many of us love so much. 
 
But of course there is a lot that trips us up (including me) and one of them are our emotional attachment to things and events. 
 
As I mentioned before, in my survey about why you can’t let go of your clothes clutter over 40% said for fear of regret and over 25% said for sentimental reasons. 
 
And hey I totally get it, if someone is sentimental around here,  then it’s me. 
 
I put a lot of meaning in a lot of things and experiences and I have a hard time of letting go. At the same time, it seems that I came to this life to learn to let go as I have to do that a lot and maybe that’s why I am qualified to talk about it and help you with it. 
 
All while I am not at all good with good-byes …. because I am very sentimental, but 
 
when we have goals in life and want to achieve certain things, the only way we can move forward is by letting go of the old. 
 
I’ll give you an example from my life: when I wanted to go on a 6 month long trip to Canada back in 2003 I was looking for someone who would take over my apartment for that time and look after my kitties. No matter what I did, I could not find anyone, I couldn’t understand why, I lived in a cute little place with a beautiful garden in a quiet and safe neighbourhood and the rent was really reasonable. 
 
But no one was interested to take over my lease for 6 months. I couldn’t pay both – the rent for 6 months and to travel for 6 months so I had to make a decision. I remember the day I realized and understood I had to give up the apartment if I wanted to go. I came home from talking with a spiritual advisor and she told me that in order to go and do what I wanted to do, and needed to do, I had to let go. 
 
The price for what I wanted to do was to let go of what had been my sanctuary for the last 3 years, the place I had been living and recovering from a rough patch in my life, it had been my safe haven. With a heavy heart I moved out, decluttered a lot and the rest of my belongings I was able to put in the attic of my mothers house. I found a place for the cats to go to for the 6 months, I couldn’t go as far as giving them away, but I found a place for them to be until I would be back. 
 
All that was hard, very hard, it was a big deal to give up this place, but it was also freeing. Am I still sentimental about it? Yes of course, I left part of my heart there at that house. Do I regret that I gave it up? No, it was still the right thing to do, the right move to take, whether I am sentimental about it or not. 
 
According to Wikipedia ” Regret is the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past, because the consequences of the decision were unfavorable.”
 
A lot of people are scared to give up smaller things than the place they live in. They worry they regret it if they give away a sweater or a blouse, despite the fact that they haven’t worn the item in moths, sometimes years. Still they are very scared of regret, but honestly, what’s the worst that can happen, and are we really sure we are going to regret it? What unfavorable thing could really happen? My coach Brooke Castillo always says “the worst thing that can happen is a feeling. 
 
I wouldn’t be where I am now and I wouldn’t have lived the life I did if I had decided to not let go and not follow my dream and goal to travel for 6 months. 
 
Maybe that’s the reason why I don’t have the worry of regret when deciding if I want to keep a sweater, a jacket or another piece of clothing, or want to let it go. What is the biggest regret I could have? It’s just a piece of clothing, I have more and other things in the closet. 
 
That being said
being sentimental is a different story. For example I have a jacket that I bought on a Whale Watching trip back in … .wait for it… 1997. This jacket is now over 23 years old, I had to put a new zipper in 3 x already, the shoulder seam was falling apart and had to be fixed, but I am not letting it go, it’s my favourite jacket. 
 
But here is the difference to a lot of you who hang on to sweaters, jackets and other clothes…  I am wearing this jacket almost every day, it is my ‘barn jacket’ how I call it. It’s a fleece jacket that I put on when going out to the horses to feed them. 
 
So the jacket is not sitting in a box or in my closet collecting dust, it’s in use every single day and yes I admit, I am way too sentimental to let it go. I will most likely repair it again and again. 
 
When I checked the Cambridge Dictionary for the official definition of sentimental I was surprised, it sounds quite harsh in my ears: 
 
A sentimental person is strongly influenced by emotional feelings, especially about happy memories of past events or relationships with other people, rather than by careful thought and judgment based on facts:
 
What I don’t like about it is that it basically implies that you are either strongly influenced by emotions or you carefully base your decisions and judgments on facts. 
 
Ouch, so in my eyes there is definitely  not just this or that, it can be both. 
 
And it’s so funny, it goes on with this example: 
 
“Why be sentimental about that old coat? There’s no point in keeping it just because you were wearing it when you first met your husband.”
 
Again, this sounds harsh to me. Now do I suggest you keep every piece of clothing you’ve ever owned ? No not at all, again, it’s not all or nothing, it’s not this or that, it can be both. 
 
We can make the decision not not let it go, or letting it go despite our sentimental emotions. Because here is how I see it: being sentimental after letting it go and regretting it is a difference. 
 
Would I regret letting the jacket go? I don’t think so it’s just the representation of a great trip, and I really don’t need an item to remember this great trip, so no, no regret. But would I feel sentimental about it. Yes for sure. Do I need to let the jacket go? No I don’t, I am actually using and enjoying it. If I just had it in the closet someplace then it wouldn’t make that much sense keeping it. 
 
And here comes another clue for me, I feel sentimental, no matter if I have the item that represents that trip or not. I feel sentimental when thinking back to that awesome trip over 23 years ago. Sentimental about how much younger I was back then, how different I was thinking and feeling back then. 
 
So what my point is that I want to make is, life goes on and if you are the sentimental type like me, you are sentimental whether you cling onto things or not, you are sentimental whether you have the item or not. 
 
Does that mean I suggest you just throw everything out without any sentiment? No of course not, but clinging onto things that you don’t use and that clutter up your closet, your home and your mind is definitely keeping you stuck and you carry around a lot of heavy baggage. 
 
But here is the tricky part, even things that you love and use can hold you back, remember my apartment I talked about earlier? 
 
It might be that you need to take your emotions into consideration, feel very sentimental about your decision and still let something go. 
 
Now, I don’t tell anyone they have to let go of something, what I am asking you is to really consider the price you are paying for hanging on to the item and let it clutter up your closet and keeping you stuck in life. 
 
When you feel you might regret giving the item away, also consider that you might one day feel regret for not giving it away, for staying stuck, for not moving forward. 
 
Hanging on to this jacket doesn’t hold me back, I use it on a regular basis, but hanging on to that apartment 17 years ago would have held me back, and I most likely would feel regret to not have gone on that trip. 
 
Regret goes both ways and you feel sentimental either way. 
 
So I suggest you practice with things like clothes and household items and to let go even when feeling sentimental, so that when you are faced with bigger decisions of letting go, you understand you can’t do it wrong. If you are a sentimental person you will always feel sentimental no matter what, with or without the item.
 
That doesn’t mean it will be easy, these big life decisions really kick our butts I can sing a song about that for sure, but that’s for another time. 

Let me know in the comments below are you sentimental? 


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