Originally published in the Lakelands Leader in our advice column the Laudable Life
Q: Over the last several years, three of my relatives have passed away leaving me their memorabilia and several pieces of antique furniture. My townhouse is now extremely cluttered and I feel like I’m suffocating. It breaks my heart to let these things go because of their sentimental value, but I don’t have the space for them either. What should I do? Please help!
A: This is such a tough one. You likely feel a heavy responsibility being the caretaker of the family’s prized possessions, yet you understandably want to keep your space your own as well, including keeping it functional and decluttered. Here are some suggestions from Dr. Elizabeth Carr, Kentlands Psychotherapy’s founder. If your goal is to keep items to bring you a sense of connection with your loved ones, consider holding on to a few smaller items or just one piece of furniture. Often we equate “more” with “better” but when it comes to family heirlooms this is not necessarily the case. Keeping only a few small items can keep you feeling just as linked with your loved without the accompanying feeling of oppression.
Ask yourself how much you really want these items. If you had a dining room set and have subsequently inherited another one, which one do you prefer? If truth be told you prefer your own over the one you’ve inherited, you have your answer. Don’t let the guilt keep you from parting with objects you really can’t fully appreciate or used.
If you feel strongly about keeping many items in the family try to stay clear that this goal is only worthwhile if the recipients truly want the items you’re offering. You won’t be honoring your relative, or their beloved belongings, by burdening your kid with things they don’t want but begrudgingly take anyway. Many young people are trying to “live small” and want more modern items. If this is true with your family members, consider giving yourself permission to share these goods with people who would either better appreciate them or who have more use for them; perhaps by giving to a charity that you support.
Finally remember that some of the pain of giving these items away is really about the grief of losing a family member. Let yourself feel the pain as you say goodbye to your family member by saying goodbye to some of their things.