Is Your Home Overrun with Things?: Feel the Emotion Underneath and Organize

“I have a basement full of boxes and crates, all holding precious memories. My oldest’s first tooth, my youngest’s baby blanket, my wedding dress…” Barbara trailed off and her husband (who’d been waiting politely) jumped in. “We have a basement that’s been full of precious memories for the past 20 years. With your health problems we have to downsize. There’s no other choice.”

“I was in homeless shelters and couch surfing for the past 10 years. Everything I owned fit in a backpack. This is the first home I’ve ever owned, but somehow I can’t figure out how to manage my things anymore,” Barry lamented. “I’m confused; what do you mean exactly?” I asked. Barry sighed. “Last week I went to Goodwill and picked up 200 almost-new envelopes. When I got home I realized I already had boxes of envelopes on my desk! And it’s not just office supplies. I have too much silverware, too many sheets, too much of everything!!”

“I’m here because my friends and family are mad at me,” Marsha began. “Why are they angry?” I asked. “I just gave away and sold all of my daughter’s possessions. She passed away a few weeks ago and I just couldn’t stand to look at them anymore. Her house, car, baby books, clothes—everything. All gone. I feel relieved, but everyone else is telling me I’ll regret it.”

Stuff. We all have a different relationship with our things, but we each consistently project our feelings and ideas onto the objects around us. Barbara and John decided to sort through 5 boxes per day, giving every item a specific place: send to the kids, donate, trash, or keep (limited by their new storage space). Additionally Barbara gave herself daily time to feel the sadness of moving. Barry stopped going to Goodwill and began sorting through one corner of his apartment per weekend. In order to believe he really was no longer homeless, he interacted more with his neighbors. Marsha committed to stop purging, allowed her friends and family to re-claim some of her daughters things, and signed up for weekly counseling and a grief-support group. What emotion are you avoiding by focusing on things?