It never fails. We find it every time I sort a space with a client. It might be in a closet, a basement, even the bathroom. I guarantee you have it in your home right now. What is it, you ask? A guilt gift.
Guilt gifts are just gifts, given to us by some well-intentioned person whom we probably love dearly. The only problem is… we don’t love the gift. Not at all. It’s not our color or our style. We may not even be sure what it exactly is. Looking at it is somewhat like being on the eternal guessing side of a poorly acted game of Charades. (Ummmm… is it a can opener? No, it’s a Swiss army knife! No? I’ve got it! Tire pressure gauge! Holla! Still no?! Damn!) But despite all this, we keep it, out of love for the giver.
But I’m here to tell you: you can keep the love without keeping the stuff.
This fall I’m doing a series of blog posts called Rosie-isms: sharing some of my tried-and-true organizing advice, the catchphrases I regularly tell clients (and myself) to keep the clutter at bay. Today’s post features Rosie-ism #2: Keep the love, not the stuff.
I think of gifts as vehicles for love and goodwill. For example, let’s say that, as part of my company’s employee appreciate week, I’m given a coffee mug with the company logo. I love the company. I may even love my boss (in a totally workplace-appropriate way, of course). But that does not mean I love this mug. My employer gave me the mug as symbol of their goodwill, basically saying, “Hey, we think you’re great and we’re glad you work here.” But instead of giving me those words, they let the mug do the talking. I receive the mug, I receive the love. After that? I say a sincere “Thank you” (after all, they gave me love and goodwill! I am always be thankful for that!), and then I’m free to find that mug a new home. I get to keep the love, after all, which is the much more valuable part of the gift.
I know this may make you nervous, especially when we consider gifts of a more sentimental nature, such as those received from loved ones, perhaps those who may no longer be with us. Naturally, these gifts give us infinitely more pause than the company mug. But the basic principle is the same. Your relatives are saying: “I love you. You are important to me.” And instead of them saying that, they’re letting grandma’s china do the talking. Again, we can choose to think of grandma’s china as a vehicle for her love: keep the love, revel in it, and find the china a new home if you don’t love it, too.
Because here’s what happens if you don’t: you actually negate some of the love by allowing your guilty feelings to cloud it. If you don’t love grandma’s china, every time you look at it, your internal dialogue goes something like: “Oh man… Grandma gave me that china and I never use it. I feel so bad… I’m a bad granddaughter. I don’t know what to do…. ugh… I just want to close this cupboard and not think about it.”
You don’t need a psychologist to tell that that these are very NEGATIVE feelings. No one wants to feel like that, and grandma would definitely not want you to feel like that. Because while you’re sweating serious guilt about her plates, you know what you’re not doing? Remembering her with love. That’s what she wants. Your guilt is clouding the true, loving feelings you have for her.
So snap a pic of that china set, or save a special piece or two that you plan to use, and then let it go, knowing that you are actually enabling yourself to honor your grandmother’s memory more fondly by NOT keeping her china.
Keep the love, not the stuff.
Do I apply this principle to gifts I give, too? Absolutely. I expect to be thanked for gifts (after all, the gift is a vehicle for my love! Say thank you!) but after that, I realize it’s up to the recipient whether or not the actual item suits their life. I’ve helped my kids donate gifts I’ve given them. I’ve helped friends donate gifts I’ve given them (which I have found in closets I’ve helped them clean out! Ha!). I don’t ever feel bad about this. The gift is not me; it’s just a thing. I know they love me even if they can’t use the gift I gave them. It’s just a vehicle for an emotion I feel for them.
Do you have a gift in your home that is adding guilt to your life? Could you remove some negativity by letting it go? If you’re like me or any of my clients, I’m guessing the answer is yes. So I’m giving all of us full permission to keep all that love… and then let the stuff go.
Rose Lounsbury is the Dayton, Ohio area’s up-and-coming professional organizer. She also loves giving and receiving gifts… especially of the wine variety. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, please call her at 937-626-9030.