“Throw them away,” she said without a second thought. Torey is a neatnik and the tiniest bit twitchy when it comes to cleaning and organization. “If reading those letters brings you down, get rid of them.”
Next I called Nathan, my younger brother, and he recommended the opposite: “How many people in their mid-30s have a 20-year correspondence with their spouse? For archival purposes alone, you need to keep them.”
Finally I called Tanner, my older brother. We laughed about the conflicting advice Torey and Nathan gave, and then he was silent for a moment. “How do you know how far you’ve come if you can’t remember where you started?” he asked. That resonated with me. I tucked the letters back into their box, and there they remained, untouched, until the day they burned in a house fire. And I have never given them a second thought.
Looking back I can see I really wanted to get rid of them but didn’t think I ought to — that was the tension. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was that what I wished to do conflicted with what I thought I should.
This is why decluttering (and losing weight and managing money) can be so painful; it’s the tension from the many feelings, often in conflict. Simply being aware of what’s underneath the surface can help us through. There are some common reasons we hold onto things we don’t want out of a sense of obligation; see of any of the ones here resonate with you.
2. “It was a gift.” After our fire we were flooded with donations. In the first weeks, I sorted through truckloads of things people had given us. I was so thankful for the incredible generosity and, at the same time, there were so many things that didn’t fit or that we didn’t need. It wasn’t long before I got over any qualms I had about passing things on to various charities. Now I assume a gift is truly mine to do with as I please.
3. “I may need it someday.” This comes up across the spectrum, from overbuying consumables to storing extra furniture. This could be the biggest one of all, and at the bottom of it is fear. A subcategory of this is: “I’m not actually sure what it is, but it may be important!” A few months ago I was sorting through a drawer in my desk and came across a random screw. It was thick and substantial; I knew it belonged to something.And then I recognized the old and familiar tension forming in the pit of my stomach with the thought, “Keep it! Keep it! You may need it!” I’m happy to say I reminded myself I had survived losing everything and was not going to allow an anonymous bit of hardware to freak me out.
To me minimalism ishaving what you love, but not a bit more than you can maintain. How that looks in your home may differ from how it looks in mine. It comes down to creating the home you long for. Life, like art, is all about removing and editing to make room for what you truly want and need.