Moving Past the Guilt Trap
Spring is in full swing and you are doing it! You are getting your home organized! Throwing things away, donating items or selling them - all except…that pile over there…You know the one – The Guilt Pile. Feeling the need to keep items out of guilt is common but I have a philosophy:
When a gift given to you ceases to bring you joy, it is no longer a gift.
The question is how do you move past the guilt?
First you need to be honest with yourself. Admit that you don’t want the item and then why — get all the feelings out there in the open! Sort of a decluttering intervention with yourself if you will. Is the item you inherited not your style? No room in your home? Perhaps bad memories associated with the item? Or how about — you just don’t want it! Take some time to have a nonjudgmental discussion with yourself.
Next ask yourself why you are having a hard time letting go? Are you worried about judgement or confrontation with a loved one? Feeling guilt because it was given to you? Judging yourself or feeling ungrateful for not appreciating a gift the way you think you should is exhausting I know. We all have items with which we have had to grapple.
How then can you complete the decluttering process and let go?
I had a client who had an enormous stack of unread magazines she was holding on to out of guilt. The subscriptions had been a gift and she kept telling herself that she would read them at some point. While my client had at one time enjoyed the magazines, she simply had no time to read them in her current life. Not knowing what to say to the relative, she asked me for advice. My response was to ask her to be honest — out of respect for her relative, the money spent, as well as the time and thought for the gift. I suggested she tell her relative how much the subscription had been enjoyed in the past, but now there wasn't time to fully enjoy the magazines as intended.
Perhaps when there was more time in her life to enjoy reading again, she could let her relative know that she'd love to receive the subscription again. My client was able to be diplomatic and speak the truth at the same time. Her relative was a little hurt but also said she appreciated the honesty. Of course, I realize some items are much more tender than a subscription. Telling grandma that you now can’t stand the old bedroom suite she gave you probably isn’t the way to approach things. First, thank her for getting you started with furniture and then let her know that your tastes have changed and would she mind if you asked someone else in the family if they would like the furniture now. Many times people simply need to feel the gift has been appreciated and then they are much more understanding about your letting it go. Feelings may indeed be hurt, but it is better to be diplomatically honest . Lying and being sneaky to get rid of something just may come back to you in a negative way.
Often the giver is no longer in our lives, but the guilt is. An item I struggled with was hats. I inherited a few very cute hats from a favorite great aunt. They were not something I would ever wear though, and moved with me several times, only pulled out of their boxes every few years and inciting guilt. I had myself convinced I would wear them someday until I had a frank discussion with myself. Honestly? I realized I was doing more of a disservice holding onto the hats, tucked away where no one would enjoy them so I gave them away. I have a friend who adores, and regularly wears, vintage clothing, and she was over the moon! There were two that didn’t speak to her (and she was honest in telling me so) so I donated them. I pictured someone walking into the shop where I donated them and being excited about their find, and that really helped me let go…and let go of the guilt. My aunt loved her hats and by letting them go — well, they could be a gift to others who would really appreciate them. I felt I honored the hats and the memory of my aunt in a much more loving and respectful way.
Break the cycle of guilt for others! Several years ago my mom had the task of going through my grandparents' belongings after they passed. They had kept almost everything over the last few years. This was not a hoarding situation by any stretch, just two people of an era where nothing went to waste so they put everything on display or put it to use. After completing her task, Mom sat my sister and me down and said, “Listen, when I give you a gift please use it until it is no longer a gift then let it go, pass it along or give it away. I don’t want you to feel that you ever have to keep anything out of guilt of hurting my feelings.” What a gift she gave us, and thus my philosophy! This has been passed to the next generation as well, and has helped many of my clients.
Guilt is a painful, weighted feeling. Being honest and giving yourself the grace to let go is a huge gift in self-love. Keeping items that no longer give to you is a drain so honor yourself and those who have given to you by letting go.
Heather Shore is a professional organizer based in Cary North Carolina. She brings peace of mind to her clients one room at a time, with budget-friendly decluttering, no judgment, and a friendly disposition. Peace of Mind Decluttering services the Raleigh and Cary areas, with appointments for clients available in Wilmington for an additional fee.