A SaltWire Network Publication

Top News

De-cluttering: Examining the relationship between a family and its stuff

A hand buzzer, left, and a pink retro phone Jane found while helping a client declutter their home.
A hand buzzer, left, and a pink retro phone Jane found while helping a client declutter their home. - Jane Veldhoven

When you do something for a long time, you think you know everything you could ever hope to know. I have been helping people organize their lives by helping them achieve the freedom of living with less, designing functional storage solutions, and making their space look beautiful for the past 15 years. So, I should know it all, right? Of course, I will never know it all.

My de-cluttering work almost always involves dealing with an individual’s emotional relationship with stuff. Until we uncover what’s beneath the stuff, it’s very difficult to truly let go. Even successfully redecorating or renovating a space can be a challenge, depending on how the family members feel about change.

One thing I have discovered over the last few weeks as I have been working with a group of clients clearing the family home is that children each have a different role in the family when it comes to stuff. I wonder if the same is true of your family?

The oldest sibling is most likely the guardian of the family home and the stuff that’s been there for the past 50 years. He or she probably feels like they are responsible for ensuring that each family member is given every opportunity to take what they want. After all, it’s been saved all these years, why wouldn’t a family member want it? If it was important to your parents, it must be important to you. I’m guessing the oldest might keep everything if only they had a place to put it. After all, the oldest sibling has the longest relationship with the stuff.

Then there could be a family historian. My great uncle researched the genealogy of the Dutch side of my family and did a family tree for all of us. There is likely someone in your family who is interested in the history of your family and it must be someone’s responsibility to carry on that work. The challenge for the historian is that small objects, pieces of paper and pictures can be of major importance in this type of work. And there may even be a story behind a piece of antique furniture that has been passed through the generations. The question becomes, how much do you keep and who wants it? How much time do you spend looking for meaningful items and trying to catalogue and record everything before it all becomes too much?

Your family could have a sibling who is shocked and awed that all that stuff is still in the house and just wants it all to be gone. He or she might feel sentimental about a few things, like special pictures and knickknacks, but for the most part they just want to see the home cleared of the mounds of stuff that have been long neglected and forgotten.

I would hazard a guess that the youngest member of the family still has their stuff stored in their parent’s house. You know the child who kept moving home and leaving, each time keeping a few things there “just for now.” Suddenly, 10 or 15 years has passed and you start to find the long-lost stuff that you are now forced to deal with. I wonder if the older siblings pressure the youngest to take stuff when they really don’t want to. Something to think about if you find yourself in a similar situation. Depending on the age range of the children, the youngest could have a very different relationship with the house and the stuff than the oldest.

I find all of this so fascinating. If you have a special item in your family that triggers a great tale, please have someone record it so the story can be passed down — and then let go of the stuff.

Recent Stories