Why people keep stuff

I meet all kinds of people in the consultations I do.

This week, for example, I worked with someone who agonized about letting go of six boxes of handicraft materials she had hauled from home to home for two decades or more and never used. By contrast, another client had so little attachment to the things in her apartment that when asked what she would rescue in the event of a fire, she couldn’t think of anything she would want to save. Her possessions were nice, but to her they were only things and they didn’t have much importance.

So what is it that makes some people want to hold on to things, and other people not to care about them at all?

History abounds with tales of monks who renounced all worldly possessions in their quest to find enlightenment, but after much self-deprivation even the Buddha discovered that “The Middle Way” was a more wholesome approach – having enough to satisfy one’s needs but not so much as to be self-indulgent.

My own take on this is quite similar. I have observed that people fall out of integrity if they fail to provide for themselves the means to do the things they truly want to do, and they also fall out of integrity if they place so much emphasis on material possessions that it causes them to lose touch with the spiritual dimension of their life. It’s all about finding the right balance – not too little and not too much.

The inescapable fact of life is that no-one can take any of their things with them when they die. We are born with nothing and we die with nothing. The things we acquire while we’re alive can help or hinder us in our journey, but in the end they are all stripped away. Forming too much attachment to material things is ultimately futile.

So does that mean we should all be monks in loin cloths with begging bowls? Absolutely not. Life in our modern world works best if we have around us the things we need in our daily lives, and it’s also fine to have a few treasured possessions that bring joy to our hearts. It’s only over-attachment to material things that causes imbalance, and even then the cause is not the things themselves. Over-attachment to material things is one of the most common ways that people attempt to compensate for an emotional loss of some kind. If they get in touch with and work through the feelings of loss, the physical objects will no longer be needed.

In my experience, any method of helping people do clutter clearing that does not address this deeper level of sourcing emotions means it will only be a matter of time before new clutter appears to replace the old.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2013


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3 Responses to Why people keep stuff

  1. Olga Strachan says:

    Hi Karen
    I soooo agree with you here. People can actually be traumatised if their clutter is forcibly removed and they are unable to process the emotional impacts. It is so important that people are gently helped to declutter their spaces and they be allowed to set the pace.

    • Merilyn Parker Armitage says:

      Hello Karen, Five years after Rob died I am on a really radical stage of clearing. I have been clearing steadily all the time, but somehow the attachment to many of the stuff has gone and my ability to face those things that were Rob’s – tools etc. I have had a lot of help along the way but I think a lot of that was the pilgrimage I did last September walking the Camino de Santiago. I had all that I could carry – no more than 8 kilos plus water, which in September is a lot and vital and heavy. I learned what was important to me and what wasn’t. So now I have mastered ebay and selling a lot of the things that were too valuable for car boot sales. I have thrown away a lot of maps, tapes, papers and have chosen photographs to put in an album which I have labelled so my daughter has a record of her early life and our life with Rob. I still have some way to go, but all those things that were just inherited from both sets of parents are being rehomed. I feel so much better and ready to move house, let go and move on. Thank you for your help, and this article.

  2. Amanda Jane Wright says:

    Hello Karen :-}

    Release can indeed be a scary and lengthy process.

    Having split with my partner of 20 years, retaining the majority of the stuff we owned anchored me and was some slight compensation for hurt and heartache. Now, some 6 years on the possessions are like prison bars or prickly barbs and constant reminders of what is no more. I have tried to re-associate new feelings with some of them but the old energies re-emerged. Emotional release is undoubtedly the key and the time has come when the “pain” of holding on is now greater than the “pleasure” I had of holding on. The balance has eventually shifted and I am very much looking forward to making the time to clear my closet, embrace the new and lighten up.

    With Gratitude to You for Inspiration and Wisdom

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