Clients will often seek my approval before making a final decision to throw something away, donate it or sell it. And if they definitely no longer want or need the item — especially if someone else could use it — I’ll usually reassure them that they are making the right decision.
However, and this may come as a surprise, I also find myself regularly trying to convince people that something they consider disposable may be worth keeping. Not because it’s valuable in a monetary sense, but because it is, or may be, priceless to someone in the future.
Yes, I’ve read “The Life-
Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and yes, a large part of my job involves helping people declutter their homes. But I’m not totally on board with the notion that we shouldn’t keep something unless it sparks immediate joy and is useful. It’s true that some objects are just objects and that many household items can easily be replaced, but there are some things that can’t, and shouldn’t, be replaced. Let me explain.
Technology and other innovations are changing the way we value important pieces of our lives. Handwritten letters are becoming a relic. Instead, we have thousands of emails and texts. Our phones have enabled us to take more photos than ever, but we’re printing far fewer. Because of those changes and the speed with which we can do things now, things like letters and printed photos from our past can feel irrelevant and extraneous. But I would argue that those tangible memories are invaluable, and that passing down at least some of those possessions creates an important connection between generations and has a vital part in a family’s history.
I totally understand that millennials aren’t interested in furnishing their homes with their parents’ heavy wooden furniture. I also realize that setting the table for a formal meal has become as rare an occurrence as a solar eclipse. So I’m not advocating that people keep every antique table or all three sets of china because they hope to pass them down to the next generation. But I do recommend that people take time to think about and set aside a couple of special things that younger members of their family may like to have and that will provide a bridge between old and new.
I advise clients to think small when considering what they would like to keep and pass on to their children or grandchildren. Ideally, the items should be portable, and it’s not necessary to give things away as a whole collection. For instance, if you collected silk scarves, there is no need to keep all of them because you think your daughter may eventually want them. Choose one or two and either give them to her now or set them aside to give to her later. Or if you’ve collected mugs from all over the world and no longer have room to keep them, choose a few from special locations to pass along to your children and donate the rest.
I wholeheartedly endorse going through your belongings periodically and reassessing what to keep and what to give away. It’s my job, after all! But I don’t want people to make rash decisions or feel pressured to get rid of their treasures just for the sake of expediency. If you plan to move or are considering downsizing in the next couple of years, begin to think about what relatives might want, but be realistic. Choose things that have special meaning — a serving dish that you used every Thanksgiving, old family photos, books by your favorite author, a sewing machine, a few pieces of special jewelry, or one of your favorite paintings.
Technology has made our lives better and easier in so many ways, but it has also made our lives busier and changed our perspective on what we deem important. But don’t get too caught up in the madness of the minimalism trend. Instead, make choices about your possessions that feel right to you, and remember that some objects are valuable not because of how much they’re worth but because they connect generations and preserve a familial bond.
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