Whoo boy, this is a tough one.
Anytime I tell people I’m a minimalist, this comment always arises: “I couldn’t do that. I’m too attached to [insert pet possession here].”
While I can honestly say I’m not a slave to my possessions anymore, I do honestly fight the sentiment monster once in a while. Due to my recent home invasion, however, I have been forced to take a hard look at some things to which I’ve clung, and make some difficult decisions.
There are at least three major levels of sentiment when it comes to stuff you own. (An argument could be made for many, many levels, but we’re sticking with the three biggest for now.) The lowest tier includes stuff like pictures, souvenirs, and regular clothing. Pictures can be scanned and stored digitally. Souvenirs are great, but not necessary if you have pictures of the event or trip. Clothing will eventually wear out and need to be replaced anyway, so on a subconscious level most people can handle that reality.
The middle tier includes things that have built-in guilt: gifts, scrapbooks, homemade items. These things are more personal, and have the added penalty of making you feel really bad about yourself if you get rid of them.
The highest level of sentiment holds the biggies: baby books, wedding dresses, and family heirlooms. Obviously, these are the things that are the most difficult to weed out.
Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I long ago tackled tier one. I digitized my photos and important documents, cleaned out my closet and knocked myself back to a dozen items, and set a goal of 100 items or less by the end of 2013.
Tier two is tougher. Not necessarily for me, but for my man. His mother has made two scrapbooks for us (one of him growing up, and another of our wedding) and we’re hesitant to get rid of either one. Sure, we can scan the pages and have digital scrapbooks, but we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. For now, two more books in our tiny library aren’t causing that much trouble, but they’ll have to be addressed eventually.
As I have been sorting through my potentially infested belongings, I’ve procrastinated on dealing with some of the top-tier things. These are the items for which I’ve long made excuses. Wedding memorabilia: glasses, bouquet, dress, shoes. One item – my mother’s wedding veil – is not just a sentimental reminder of my Day, but a legit family heirloom.
I have been mulling over a list of questions to ask myself about each sentimental item as I have to deal with it. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. Does this item have sentimental value for anyone other than myself?
A good example of a “yes” answer to this question is my mother’s veil. It was my “something old” in my wedding, and I’ve hung onto it ever since. I would never dream of tossing it. But in this situation, I may end up sending it back to her for safekeeping in her cedar chest. It will mean every bit as much to me there, and it’ll probably be safer from accidental damage than it would be as part of my ever-moving home.
2. Would getting rid of this item cause backlash or tension between myself and someone else?
Sometimes we’re given gifts by well-intentioned people. Sometimes those gifts come with invisible price tags. For example, when Jack and I were just starting out, we were given a piece of furniture by a well-meaning relative. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until we were ready to upgrade that piece to something more “us” that we discovered the relative wanted it back when were were finished with it. Now we can’t just pass it along to someone else, but we have to spend money on a truck and drive it to this person’s house, 3 hours away. Getting rid of this item now will either require money and time we don’t have, or a difficult conversation we don’t want.
3. Does this item create feelings or evoke memories that I can’t get anywhere else?
Here’s what I mean: I’ve kept my wedding shoes with my dress, but I never wear them. Looking at them is very “aww, look, my wedding shoes!” but looking at pictures of them on my computer gives me the exact same nostalgic feeling. I don’t need to keep the actual shoes for the memories, and if I’m not actually using them, they shouldn’t be taking up space in my house.
4. Can this item be repurposed into something smaller or more functional?
This is the jackpot for minimalist crafters. In my particular situation, this question seals the deal regarding my wedding dress. Upon asking myself the first three questions (and answering “no,” “no,” and “no”), the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” The fabric on my dress can be used for a ton of other things: a cute tiny handbag, a necklace, or some lace earrings, a satin scarf. I can put bits of it into a tiny vignette case along with a flower from my bouquet and some pictures for an easily-portable wedding shrine that takes up a lot less space. And best of all, it won’t just be hanging in the back of my closet, collecting dust.
“But wait a minute!” yells the tiny bit of my heart that isn’t apparently made of stone.
“It’s my WEDDING DRESS! I can’t cut up my wedding dress!”
“Why not?” asks the rational minimalist within.
“Because it’s… well, it’s the wedding dress! I just can’t!” scream my feels.
“Give me one legitimate reason not to,” challenges my rational side.
“What if you want to wear it again?”
“Never gonna happen. I don’t just walk around in it.”
“What if you do a vow renewal one day?”
“I won’t be doing a vow renewal ceremony for at least 20 years, and I’m pretty sure it won’t still fit by then. Next.”
“What if your daughter wants to wear it for her wedding one day?”
“It was a $500 dress from David’s Bridal. If she HAS to wear exactly what I did, she can continue the veil tradition.”
“But… it’s so pretty.”
“Yes it is, which is why it’s such a shame to have it hanging in that bag in my closet.”
And with that, my brain wins. My heart will come around.
The tough facts of being a minimalist seem cold and horrible at times, even to a person who wants this life. But in the end, my quest for minimalism is, at its core, a quest to be free from the bondage of “stuff.”
Owning sentimental things is not bad. Being owned by sentimental things is. My memories, and all the other happy bits of my life, are in my head and my heart. I don’t want them also to be cooped up in a closet somewhere.