Managing Memorabilia

Several people who attended my presentation on hoarding at the San Francisco Public Library asked about keeping furniture and other belongings from a deceased parent, even though storing or living with these items causes financial, relationship, or other stress. This raises the larger question of how to deal with the memorabilia that most people accumulate as they go through life.

There are many reasons that people want to keep a parent’s belongings:

Beyond a few well-chosen items, keeping parental memorabilia is just about guaranteed to produce unhappiness in the long run. A parent’s belongings do not:

Hanging onto memorabilia keeps your focus on the past rather than the present and future. Memories are not in objects but in our hearts. It is one things to keep photos or a few other small items and quite another to keep most of a loved one’s belongings. Keeping so many mementos that they must be kept in piles or rented storage means you have exceeded rational limits. Using memorabilia to live in the past instead of living in the NOW, the only moment anyone can ever really have, is sacrificing real life for a fantasy. Memorabilia encourages the emotional delusion of connecting objects with people and attaching emotional meaning to inanimate objects (sorry if this seems harsh, but this is reality).

Many people rent storage facilities to store a parent’s belongings but this creates greater emotional and financial insecurity. Greater emotional insecurity is created because accepting reality is necessary to take control of your emotions and actions. Greater financial insecurity is created by paying for rented storage space or a larger apartment, or moving after eviction because of hoarding. Greater stress is created by trying to do the impossible, i.e., live in the past instead of the present. Increased stress and insecurity creates constant emotional and real-world pain.

We cannot re-live or change the past, but people who try to re-capture the past through large amounts of memorabilia are almost paralyzed from coping effectively with present-day demands. When people keep large volumes of belongings of any kind, being organized becomes impossible. Lack of organization hampers the ability to function effectively. Since memorabilia is inherently items that have no practical use (because if the item was useful or in use, it would not be just memorabilia), keeping such items is sacrificing space which could be used for being organized. The more impossible organizing becomes, the less possible managing the day-to-day business of life becomes: paying bills and managing finances, interacting with the numerous bureaucracies we are all must cope with, or keeping track of important papers.

Doing everything we need to do every day to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially healthy is just about a full-time task (read The PRESENT Principle to understand this). Daydreaming about a past that isn’t and can’t be distracts from attention to tasks that really matter, i.e., those that can change reality for the better. The more difficulty you have managing in the present, the more important it is to spend LESS time thinking about the past and coping with belongings you do not actually use. Spend as little time, energy, and money as possible on the past and focus on working (not just dreaming) to make the present and future as good as they can be.

Focusing on the past often results from despairing of a better future, but this may be just a way to avoid the effort required for that better present and future or the potential for failure (unlikely). We all want what 12-step programs call an “easier, softer way” that is, a way to achieve a better life without the sacrifice or rigorous effort required for personal change – we want to make as little effort as possible for essential changes (and we want any changes to not disrupt our habits or make us uncomfortable). However, the “easier, softer way” does not really exist – the idea is a fantasy intended to avoid sacrifices or discomfort. Giving up things we are attached to requires challenging our thinking and emotions – not the most comfortable activity for most folks, but the only way to grow and become what we are capable of being. Since addiction to hoarding or anything else often causes despair, giving up excess belongings that contribute to hoarding addiction leads to greater freedom and happiness.

Guidelines for Memorabilia:

      Really, we should add “hope” to the list of words that sometimes show potential instead of actual thinking. Read my article The Difference Between Actual vs. Potential Value to understand why these are different.


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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