It’s either an ancient Asian belief or something I remember from an old episode of Kung Fu that when you save someone’s life you are responsible for it forever. It’s certainly true that when you buy something or save something (a yogurt container, a photograph, a stray cat) you are responsible for it as long as you own it. No wonder having a lot of stuff is more stressful than being a minimalist.
Hierotopy, the study of sacred spaces, distinguishes sacred objects from the mundane. Helping my clients gain clarity about what is truly special or necessary from what is unimportant to them is a huge part of my approach to home organizing.
I believe the home serves its inhabitants best when it is treated as sacred space. Ideally, our homes are where we find shelter and comfort, enjoy privacy as well as the company of family and friends, and are surrounded by items we’ve collected through our lives that are useful, beautiful or meaningful.
Just as you wouldn’t expect a temple of any sort to be full of clutter and broken items, neither should your home be. Taking it to an even more personal level, the body is often called the temple of the soul — filling it with junk (food) or overstuffing it, even with good stuff, is not healthy, physically or spiritually.
When I work with a client who has trouble letting go of possessions and has more stuff than is optimal for their space, we start with a conversation about what they most value. Once a person articulates his over-arching values, it is easier to separate the treasures from the trash. And, as the saying goes, one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.
If you value information highly, your library and an extensive file system may earn space as “sacred” objects, while the family silver — that has always been too fancy for your lifestyle anyway — can be sold. A fashion lover might refuse to part with a collection of high-end handbags, but might have no problem donating a shelf full of DVDs.
Whenever choices like these are made, an effort should then be made to store the retained objects appropriately and maintain them. There is no point in saving a box of special photographs if they will be stored in a hot, humid garage, and no matter how revered an expensive wine collection is, if it is not stored appropriately in a cellar it will become vinegar. If necessary, do a little research into the containers and products you might need to store and care for your things. Do the best your budget allows.
When you consciously choose an item to remain in your home, you are figuratively putting it on an altar of sorts, giving it at least a little sacred status — as Marianne Williamson says, “What is put on the altar is altered.”
When possessions are assessed regularly and an item makes the cut time after time, its status as sacred becomes even stronger. This is one reason it’s so much harder to part with family heirlooms and things we have owned many years, however, “I’ve had it so long!” is not a valid reason for holding on to something. Keep this in mind when you’re making your “should it stay or go” decisions and if you’re on the fence about an item, consider letting it go sooner rather than later.