I’m in my mid-40’s. I don’t have children. I say these things to give you context on the story I’m about to share.
This weekend, I said goodbye to a possession of my childhood. It was a rocking chair, the kind you can imagine a little toddler girl sitting in. I had one, my sister had one. It was a gift from my godfather, who always gave me wonderful gifts, and who passed away too soon, when I was 15. It was well taken care of, and the cushions had been recovered somewhere along the line. At some point in time in my adult life, it moved from the home I grew up into my own home. I can’t remember when, but it was probably when my parents sold that home, and I received a truckload of heirlooms, furniture, and keepsakes to have as my own. This was about 12 years ago. I’d yet to meet my husband, and for all I knew, children might be a part of my future.
As long as I’ve had the chair as an adult, it’s been in storage. A storage closet in the basement in my last home, on the top shelf in my garage in my current home. It’s been wrapped in plastic and protected.
Of course, when I received it, I thought, “Well, I might have a daughter. I’ll keep it for her.” I didn’t. Then, “Well, my best friend might have a daughter, and I’d give it to her.” She’s got 2 awesome boys, and rocking chairs would not be their thing. Then, “Well, maybe my sister-in-law will have a daughter.” Instead, I’ve got an adorable nephew. The years went by, and the excuses for me to hold onto this, and turn it into something that someone I love might also love, left.
But it didn’t leave. It sat in the top corner of my garage, where it has been for the last 5 years.
Last year, I almost let it go. My husband talked me out of it. “You don’t seem ready. You’re saying you’re ready, but you don’t seem ready. It’s not in the way or anything. It can stay.” So, it stayed.
This year, however, it was the very first thing I did when we started to clean up the garage. “Take down the rocking chair for me, and put it at the curb please.” No discussion. I was ready. It was time. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Yes. I’m sure. If no one takes it from the curb, then I’ll figure out what I’ll do with it, but it’s time.”
As I was gardening in the front lawn a little while later, a minivan started to apply the brakes; the driver had caught sight of the chair. She pulled over (our street is busy enough that that’s not without risk) and came over to look at it. “Are you giving this away? Or… is someone using it?” “I am giving it away, yes. It’s yours if you’d like it. It was mine when I was little. Now it should be someone else’s.” “Thank you so much!” And off it went in the back of a minivan.
I took a deep breath. I held that breath. I cried a little. Heck, I’m crying a little now, as I type this. But I was relieved. The debate of keep vs. not keep was officially over and out of my hands. Someone was going to have a great day because she was going to get a great rocking chair in her room. A mom was able to bring something her child will love into her room, for free. And I got to let go of a thing which wasn’t adding any value to my life; it was only a source of… A source of what?
That was the part that was hard. Why was this so tough for me to get rid of? What were the emotions I was battling? Because it wasn’t about a rocking chair (you know this one: it’s never about the stuff). So what was it?
I think it was a lot of things:
- We have no regrets in our lives for not having children, but I do have guilt over not giving my parents a grandchild. Keeping that rocking chair for years, both at their house and at mine, was always for a “player to be named later”. And this chair embodied the guilt I feel towards my parents for not giving them a grandchild, which they really wish they had.
- It was something that reminded me of my godfather, who was kind and generous and died way too young. And part of me felt that holding onto it helped to honor him and the unjustness of his early death. But I also have some smaller things that I have not only held onto, but I proudly display in my home and see every day. Important items and memories of people should be honored and displayed, not wrapped in a plastic bag in the back of the top shelf of the garage.
- For a long time, I knew that “someone will love this”, and for whatever reason, I felt like it was important to me, so the person who would receive it would have to be important to me, too. That way, they could value it in the same way I did, understanding why it was special to me. But there was never really that person who magically filled that spot in my life, so it felt wasted on someone else. I just couldn’t imagine dropping it off at Good Will. I needed to see a face attached to it.
I think we can all agree that these points have two things in common: They’re all a bit irrational and they’re all completely understandable.
So, it took me a long time, and ultimately, years of decluttering other items, before I could tackle the biggest item around. I’m not someone who holds onto large items for sentimental reasons, especially not displayed or used in some manner; I donated my wedding dress a month after our wedding. That one thing kept staring back at me, and worse, I had no real reason to get rid of it. It wasn’t in the way of anything. It wasn’t broken. Those are the “status quo possession” answers: “I don’t have a good reason to get rid of it, so it must be fine not to.” But I’ve shifted over time to much more “purposeful possession”. Simply put, if it’s not adding to my life, it’s taking away from it, Whether that’s in space or negative emotion, this wasn’t a positive part of my life anymore. It became something I knew I needed to deal with and kept putting off dealing with it. What could be less “adding value” than that?
It may be uncomfortable or painful or sad to get to the bottom of why you’re holding onto things, but you know when it must be done. You know it’s the right thing to do; that’s why it’s hard. It’s okay to let go of the thing and acknowledge the emotions. Because, it’s never about the stuff.