Happiness & Gold
Happiness is not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.
Happy Monday and welcome to a whole new week!
Over most of the past year I’ve been focused a lot on all my stuff, and by that I mean all my physical possessions. It was so much work getting a multigenerational family of seven prepared for a move several hundred miles away and it took months to prepare for and then several weeks to actually do and complete. We had to organize the house we were leaving which we had lived in for thirteen years and prepare for what we thought we would need and what would work best in the new home we were building. It’s not something I would recommend for fun!
By the time for the move finally came in December, we had made many trips to our local mission agency to donate clothing and household items and we made a few trips to library to donate many of the books we had accumulated over years and felt no need to haul to our next house. Each week over the past year I organized our trash pick-up to maximize filling every possible bit of space with trash and what was allowed to discard each week so we would have less to get rid of by the time we moved. Beyond all those trips and weekly effort, we still had so much old or excess stuff to get rid of that it filled an industrial sized dumpster to the brim with things we were discarding.
A few times over the course of the year I found myself thinking about certain things I owned and what it meant to me and whether I really wanted to keep that anymore or what purpose it might serve. Some things we’ve kept over the years serve no purpose at all really, but they can invoke deep, personal, and meaningful memories which can be quite difficult to part with. One area of stuff I avoided entirely was a storage shelf in our basement where we had kept what we wanted from what was left of my mom’s stuff after she died in 2019. I’m very thankful to my wife for having boxed up that stuff (or I’m not even sure if she kept all of it or not), so that I didn’t have to look at any of it, and I really appreciated avoiding that.
I have to admit that everything we kept from my mom serves absolutely no usefulness today whatsoever, but all of it is deeply personal and meaningful to me. So much so that just looking at one of the pins my mom used to wear on the dresses she wore to church each Sunday can bring me nearly to tears today because every individual pin or thing immediately brings back specific memories in different times with my mom and I don’t want to go there right now. It leaves me realizing how much I miss the past and those times with my mom and how much I still wish she was in my life today. But all those pins and other things of my mom’s are just a bunch of gaudy old things that have no meaning for my kids or anyone else. I’m very confident that when I die and my kids have to go through my stuff, they’re going to just throw all that stuff from my mom away as it will invoke no memories and serve no purpose for them, and there will be nothing wrong with that when that time comes someday of course.
My wife is back in Pennsylvania this week where she has been off and on over the past month helping to get her mom situated into long-term care and helping her siblings go through all their mom’s stuff. Their mom has TONS of stuff and it has been an exhausting, emotional, at times unpleasant, and enormous job for my wife and her siblings to go through their mom’s stuff. Their mom’s stuff apparently includes an enormous number of things saved over decades from their mom’s entire life and even many things from her parents she kept along the way.
A few times over the past weeks as my wife has been going through things, she has texted me pictures of things to ask things like: “Look at this that mom saved, do you remember this?” or many times more often to ask: “Do you recognize this or is this anything someone could use?”
I’ve been stunned a few times to get these texts in the middle of my day and to see a picture that immediately evokes a strong memory from the past. Each time I’ve had that experience I’m amazed by how simply viewing some piece of stuff takes me back to a prior time in my life, often decades ago, and I can immediately remember so much about that time in my life. I wonder how is it that seeing some particular thing from long ago that I’m looking at can instantly open a portal to the past with many details of things I’m sure I would otherwise have never thought of again. So despite the many years I’ve practiced EMDR Therapy I’m still stunned to have those moments and realize there is so much history stored forever in my brain and so much of it can be instantly recalled by gazing upon something from my past.
I know I’m not alone from these experiences as I hear stories like this all the time in my psychotherapy work. I’ve come to really treasure the moments people share experiences like that with me and I can well empathize with how emotionally painful or difficult it can be to clean house after loved ones have passed on.
Complicating all this is also the issue that times and families and home configurations have changed dramatically over just the past few decades. How many people have formal dining rooms these days or are in need of “fine china” place settings for twelve people? I can vividly remember the arguments my mom and her sister used to get into about who was going to “get mom’s china” when she died, as if it were some priceless commodity that they couldn’t bear the thought to live without or part with. But I can also remember my mom deciding to donate all that to our local mission many decades later when she realized it had sat boxed up in the attic for too many years and it would really just be more stuff for her kids to have to deal with one day when she was gone.
I share all this then to think about how much stuff you have and how you think about it or not. It’s normal and natural to have emotional ties to things that have been part of our history, and especially to notable events in our life. The purple heart medals and airborne wings one of my uncles had earned in his life had deep meaning to me, even though I didn’t know him during World War II and those medals and wings weren’t even mine, but rather things my aunt showed me to me decades later. I knew my uncle though and I heard some of his stories from World War II so those material things had special meaning to me and I hope maybe one of his children got to keep those things now that both he and my aunt have passed on.
Our stuff is important to us because it often holds meaning to us, we like it, or it represents us. If I’m counseling someone online and I see they have a surfboard in the background in their living room, I know immediately that is something important to them and it represents part of who they are. They don’t have it in their living room because it’s the most convenient storage place to keep it in their house or apartment. As a psychotherapist I treasure and honor the opportunity to see into someone’s home because it often shares things like who they are, what’s important to them, or it can even give me a hint on whether they’re happy or depressed.
I recommend you take some time to think about your stuff this week. If you have way too much stuff, consider what you might sell, donate, or get rid of because typically if we’re surrounded by too much stuff or we live in a cluttered environment it can cause underlying anxiety. Organizing, cleaning up, and establishing order around us can be a great investment in serenity and more peaceful existence.
For the things you know you’re going to keep or maybe you want to keep forever, think about who will need to go through your stuff someday when you’re not here anymore. Is it so much that friends or kids will be overwhelmed to deal with? Will it serve a long-term purpose to you in keeping it?
If you decide to get rid of things, take the time to really think about how that thing was involved in your life or how it may have impacted you. If it has special meaning, take the time to share about that thing with someone close to you or someone who might appreciate knowing more about what that thing meant to you. Sharing the story can be a great way to help yourself accept parting with that thing and moving on in your life without it. So it can even be therapeutic to share the story of your stuff even if it’s just to share with somebody working at the mission or someone you sell something to at a yard sale.
This week if you get rid of anything, share about your stuff with someone, or you work to establish a bit more organization and order around yourself, take the time then to think about how it feels to having simplified things a bit and see if it might be worth doing that some more.
I hope you have a great week!