Old things, like old people, may look worn and faded, sometimes even gnarly. But they are more than mute testimonies to events, conversations and scenes they have witnessed or even been part of. They often possess keys, pieces of a puzzle—answers to questions we may have.
Basically a sentimental person, I find it difficult to let go of stuff—especially if they are beautiful. I am also able to find ways of using them in ways they were not intended for. I have a great tendency to be a hoarder!
The Dark Side of Sentimentality
Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun said that sentimentality simply meant emotions at first but sometime in the 1950s, Britons began using it to mean excessive, unrealistic emotions that have no basis, hence Oscar Wilde’s statement: “A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”
In my mind, I understand this and perhaps even accept it, especially when sentimental emotions are not based on actual or real events. According to Todd, sentimentalism is defined as oversimplification of feelings and of existence itself. He explains that according to psychologists, sentimentality and excessive sweetness are defense reactions and help hide painful emotions like anger, shame and grief.
Like most things, anything in excess may be harmful so that sometimes sentimentality can give way to insensitivity to others—their rights and their needs. Cable television’s “Hoarders” and “Clean House” are only two programs that show how sentimentality can affect or ruin lives. Clinging to material possessions rather than the memories they evoke can take over homes and the lives of the people who live there.
Getting Rid of Stuff
Huffington Post’s Rosie Leizrowice points out two psychological concepts to help cope with being sentimental about possessions: the endowment effect and loss aversion. Leizrowice says that owning things makes them more valuable to us. Something becomes even more special and valuable when we hold on to it. Also, we do not like losing things we own or what we feel is ours, even if we already let go.
She says that these items that can constitute clutter in the home do not hold our memories but only triggers them. Sentimental items are not our lives, so we do not throw away our lives if we give them away. Leizrowice suggests saying thank you to these items as gratitude is important in feeling okay about getting rid of these items and explains that if items are still truly useful, there is no need to discard them or give them away.
Sometimes, other people have better use for our stuff that merely trigger memories for us. There are also times when the stuff we keep actually make us dwell in the past and this is not good if the memories they evoke are negative! Leizrowice says photographs and letters are better memory holders or triggers than these items. In fact, even these letters and photographs need not be physical items we store in boxes but in the cloud! And, as an exercise, she suggests making a list of our most valued possessions from memory because she says doing this regularly allows us to separate what really matters to us.
Emotions as Clues
Reminders from these two authors make a lot of sense, but I would like to point out the importance of emotions—which they both seem to undervalue. To me, emotions are not to be dismissed or done away with. We need to own our emotions and find out more about ourselves by asking why we have these feelings, where they are coming from and what they make us do.
We do not simply discard, but take a closer look at why we have such sentiments, why we hold on to baby clothes or shoes or why we need to keep junk that remind us of difficult days. We then ask why we feel the way we do now.
We do this so we do not just throw away old things. We also process the memories we attach to them and throw those that are unpleasant as well!
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.