"Oh, that clock belonged to your great-grandfather."
"This china was given to me by my mother when I married your father 39 years ago."
"My dining room table has been in this family for 5 generations."
"I can still remember my son playing with these toy tractors when he will a little boy."
"I got this as a gift for my 16th birthday."
I have said them. I have heard them. So have you.
Our family has gone through this decluttering and simplifying process and even after we have sent truck load after truck load of items to Salvation Army and Christian Help, and given away rooms full of toys, clothes, and household items to family and friends, thrown away and sold just SO MUCH STUFF, I still have to fill up garbage bags full of donations every month. Eventually we will hopefully get to the point that I can one large drawer in our bedroom designated for donations and our house will be free of clutter, or operating on a system of constant clutter maintenance.
Clothing was the first area we tackled and it was probably the easiest for me. I have simplified two more times after our initial purge and am now very pleased with my minimal wardrobe. Next I went to the kitchen and sold almost all of my Pampered Chef items that I had obtained from being a consultant for a few years. I made a killing off them and then started selling other "valuables" to help our family with income when my husband was almost out of work. I raided our kids toys, clothes, and accessories and gave away to friends. I got rid of so much "office" type items, craft supplies I hadn't used in years, broken or unwanted gadgets, bedding, beauty products. I went from room to room with a vengeance and determination to simplify our lives.
I say this so much but it needs to be said again. Our lives are full of so much more TIME and our house is full of so much more SPACE now that we have so much less STUFF that needs to be sorted, organized, cleaned, maintained, and cared for.
Most people have been interested to talk to me about this process, ask for tips, inspiration, help, encouragement. Most people have been eager to start their own journey of decluttering. I honestly have not met a person yet who told me they have no clutter and are completely satisfied with the state of their homes. I've never heard one person complain that their house has too much space and not enough stuff.
I have definitely heard many people talk about items they own which they cannot even fathom letting go. Items they never use. Items they store in boxes and bins in their basements, in their attics, in their bedroom closets. Items that they don't even really like. Items that are (and have been for years) robbing them of valuable space in their homes. Items that COULD BE donated to a charity and used by someone else. Items that COULD BE sold for money to help pay off debt, to put toward a vacation or a new vehicle. Items that COULD BE given to friends or family and enjoyed by them. But they hold on to the stuff. They store the stuff. They dust and shuffle around and try to find room for the stuff.
Why? Because they feel guilty to give it away. It has some sort of sentimental meaning or value to them. So-in-so gave it to them. It used to belong to this person or that person. It was a gift that someone spent a lot of money on 20 years ago.
A lot of us struggle with heirloom guilt. Maybe because someone a long time again gave us something and said "This is something you can have forever." "This is something you will always have." "This is something that can have to remember me by, even after I'm gone."
Maybe you have had someone close to you tell you that if you gave this something away, that it meant you didn't care about the person who gifted it to you. Maybe you've been told that someone you care about, who has passed away, would be devastated if he knew that you gave it away. Maybe you feel like if you didn't hold on to this stuff, that it means you are less of a daughter, less of a brother, less of a friend. Maybe you think that what you do with this thing directly reflects what you have done to this person that obviously means a great deal to you. Maybe you want to keep stuff that once belonged to your loved one so that you have something to remember her by.
I'm not sure what your struggle is with heirloom guilt but I am going to share my struggle in hopes that you will be encouraged to think about yourself and your own situation. I hope it encourages someone to continue to press onward toward freedom from materialism, or clutter, or chaos.
My struggle is mainly with feeling like I will disappoint or be a disappointment to my family members who are still alive. I have a few people in my family who I love dearly, who mean a great deal to me, who I look up to and respect, who I want to honor, who I desperately wish were proud of who I am and proud of what I do. I don't enjoy the feeling of knowing that someone I cherish is disappointed in me, or ashamed of me, or angry with me. I have come a long way in my adult life from the overly people pleasing self that I once was. But I still don't like when people close to me are displeased with my decisions, especially when those decisions are a direct reflection of who I am.
And that....is really the heart of my struggle. I want to have less stuff. I want to break the chains of materialism that I have been bounded by for a very long time. I want to raised children who are content with what they have. I want a home that is peaceful and orderly. I want to have more time with my family. I want to have a giving heart. I want to store my treasures in heaven rather than on earth. I want to be a Godly steward of the resources on this planet. I want to give away one coat to someone instead of hoarding two. I value simplicity. I value contentment. I value generosity. I value family.
When someone I love is displeased or disappointed when I give away something that I don't use, that I don't want, that I don't need.... that person is displeased and disappointed not just about what I do, but about who I am.
Something I have learned about myself since becoming a mom two years ago is that I really have a void in my life that I didn't know about before. I desperately want the people I love to be proud of me. Proud of my decisions, my choices, my values. My husband, my children. My parents, my brother, my aunts, my older cousins. My elders within the church family. My former teachers and professors. Maybe even some of my closest friends.
Now, I have come to terms with the fact that not all of these people will be proud of all of my choices at all times. But the big ones, the big choices, the big moments. Those are the ones I wish I had support. Encouragement. Verbal affirmation. Pride.
I have pretty much grown out of, or chosen not to be attached to almost all of my material possessions There are exceptions definitely. Photos of my family and our children. Our sons's baby books. My "blankey" that I have had since I was a baby and still sleep with under my head every night ;) Letter, cards, e-mails that my husband and I exchanged when we were dating and first married. My wedding gown and veil.
So this is who I am. I am not overly sentimental. I don't want a lot of stuff. I don't our children to have a lot of stuff. I have the dream to live simply. Am I going to change who I am to please the people I love? No. I have already changed myself so much to become less attached to stuff so that I might please Jesus Christ more with my life. Changing myself again to please these people that I love would only be backtracking.
And therein lies the heirloom guilt that creeps over me every now and again. Every time I am about to give away something that someone gave me. Something that used to belong to someone. Something that someone else is going to be upset that I gave away. When I hear that someone I love has talked poorly about me because of my decision to purge something, it hurts. And I feel guilty. And I feel angry. When I have someone I love confront me and tell me that they are so upset or that someone else is/would be so upset because I am getting rid of something, it hurts. And I feel guilty. And I feel angry. When someone flashes a look of disapproval when they discover I have given something away, it hurts. And I feel guilty. And I feel angry.
It is a struggle. It may always be a struggle. And these are the tools that have helped me through it and helped me to grow.
1. Positive self talk. This is a tool that is useful for so many areas of our lives. In this situation I tell myself, "I am making good choices." "I am proud of myself." "God sees my choices and is pleased."
2. Truths from Scripture. The passage I look to the most often and the one that has brought me to this journey and continues to challenge me:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21 NASB.
I want my heart to be in heaven and not here on this earth. I don't want my heart to be in material possessions, regardless who gave them to me or what they mean to someone else. Maybe the only thing that has really attacked the guilt that I feel is reminding myself of what God has asked of me. I can't feel guilty for striving to be obedient to this part of his will for my life.
And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:10-11
This verse has challenged me in a lot of ways but has helped me to really value having ONE and letting ONE be enough. ONE is my goal and it isn't something I should feel guilty of but something I should be proud of!
3. Being on the offensive instead of the defensive. I used to let the anger control my response to someone saying something hurtful or being displeased with my choices. But I have come to learn that being positive about my choices, being excited and proud of them, being ready and willing to share why I do what I do, the ways it has improved my life, the reasons why I continue to simplify, all of those are much more effective avenues than attacking someone else's way of life. No one wants to be attacked or criticized for the way they live their own life. So instead I try to share why I make these choices. I don't really think it has changed anyone's idea of me or influenced them to change their own life, but it hasn't hurt my relationships the way attacking and criticizing has hurt/would have hurt.
4. Reading and hearing other people's testimonies about how they live without so much stuff. It reminds me that I am working toward a goal that is worth it. The Zero Waste Home and Becoming Minimalist have been my favorite blogs that continue to encourage and inspire me.
5. There are people in my life who are alive or who have passed away who I love and will remember and will cherish for the rest of my life. I will cherish them the same, no more and no less, regardless if I keep the things they gave to me. I have memories of them, photos with them, photos of them. I will never forget them. I can still honor them without their belongings. Their belongings are not who they any more than my belongings are who I am.
If you have items that you have been holding on because of heirloom guilt, and you would like to give them away, may I offer a few suggestions?
- If you have something of monetary value, consider selling it online or at an auction and donating the money toward a charity that was a favorite of your loved one.
- Take a photo of the item by itself or maybe with your family and frame it to hang on your wall.
- If you have an item that has been passed down for generations in your family, consider talking to some other family members who may like to have it and use it. You may have no use for an antique camera, but maybe one of your relatives is an avid photographer and would love to restore it.
- Repurpose the item to much it functional or useful for you. The internet is a wealth of resources for ideas on how to repurpose all sorts of items from furniture to kitchenware to clothing. I know of a girl who made a quilt using all of her tshirts from childhood that her mom saved. She had shirts from playing soccer and softball, shirts from church camp, shirts from plays she was in. She sewed this awesome quilt and took it with her when she moved in to her first apartment. She didn't want to lug around all those shirts forever but it was really special to her that her mom saved them all for her. What a great way to repurpose them into something she uses all the time AND gets to display each shirt.
If you have children and grandchildren and are tempted to pass on your things to them, take a few moments to ask yourself if that is really what you want for them, really the BEST that you have to offer them. I don't want to pass down things to our children. I don't want STUFF to be the legacy we leave for them. I want to pass down our values. I want them to have lots of memories with us to cherish. I photograph and video of our children as often as I think to. I still want them to know about their childhood, the toys they loved to play with, the books they loved to read, the silly games we played. But I don't want to have to keep all of these "things" just to share it with them. So I take photos. I record our voices. I video them dancing.
My parents started college funds for each of our boys and for Christmas and Birthdays they mainly get a donation into those funds from my parents, from my brother and any money they receive from friends/family. My parents have started a tradition for them and are contributing to their educations. I am not sure there are too many BETTER gifts that anyone can give our children than the gift of education. Maybe you have an idea similar to theirs that you could start a legacy or tradition for the little ones in your life that won't lead to heirloom guilt.
I would LOVE to hear what your experience has been in this area. Do you struggle with heirloom guilt?