So, now that we’ve talked about the purpose of stuff, let’s go right to one of the most sensitive stuff categories…
“stuff with strings”
When I started typing this post, I thought it would be pretty straightforward, but once I got into the thick of it, I realized this is a tricky one and I don’t have all of the answers! So, take this post or leave it. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to a dicey dilemma. And, if you have some wisdom or experience to offer, just leave it in the comments below!
So, if you have stuff with strings in your house, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Usually it’s stuff you’ve been given by family that comes with some sort of caveat like, “you can never, ever get rid of it” or “you can’t paint it”. In most cases, you’re okay with these terms when the item is given to you, but you come to resent those qualifiers when that thing doesn’t fit your current decorating style or you move or you just don’t like it any longer.
Here’s what I would say about stuff you don’t want that has strings attached…
Those strings need to be cut. Take a huge pair of scissors to them and have an imaginary string-cutting-ceremony. You don’t need stuff with strings attached.
When something is in your home, unless you’re borrowing it (or you stole it, but you’re not that kind of person), it belongs to you. And remember what we said about your stuff? It’s there for you! When other people are dictating what you can and can’t do with said stuff, it’s no longer there for you. It’s there for them.
And, if it’s there for them, it should be in their house.
If you’re stuck with a piece with strings, I can’t advise you on how to best navigate those potentially choppy waters, but I can tell you what I would do (and have done)…
I would have a loving conversation that goes something like this. “You know that hutch you gave me? I really appreciate it and I have enjoyed it, but my style has changed and I am trying to be intentional about what is in my home. I know that it is an important piece to you, though. Would you like to have it back? Or, is there another family member who might want it? If not, then I would like to sell it or donate it.”
I know that conversation might go swell in some cases or it might result in tears and a mom who won’t speak to you for a week in other cases.
The bottom line is that your home is not their storage unit or museum. It’s your home. And they need to respect that.
If you’re someone who has given stuff with strings to other people, please call or write them and cut those strings yourself. Free them from any obligation to you or to long-lost relatives.
Now, I do acknowledge that there may be a few reasonable exceptions to this black & white approach.
I think an acceptable string is – If you find that you do not want this someday, please return it to me. When we brought Sebastian into our home, he came with that string and I was totally fine with it. (I know that Sebastian isn’t “stuff”, but he was a good example!)
This was also the case with some pieces passed down to Jeff and I from our family members. When I wanted to get rid of a family piece, I always asked if the person who gave it to us would like it back or if anyone else in the family wanted it before I would donate or sell it. I think that’s reasonable, because it’s not a string that saddles you with the item for always and eternity and there aren’t negative emotions tied to that scenario.
I also think there is something to be said for preserving a family’s history for future generations and showing respect for things that have been passed down. But, that can be done with a carefully curated box of photographs, documents, and precious keepsakes or a few select pieces with real significance. It doesn’t have to include every stick of furniture and collection. And, if you are the designated “keeper of the stuff” in your family, there is a need for limits. (I’ll write a post to all of you later in the series.)
And lastly, all families are different and people are more important than things. There are times when trying to communicate about “stuff with strings” to your family will cause real hurt and division. While I wouldn’t suggest shying away from a loving and honest conversation just because someone might be offended, I do concede that sometimes it’s better to just put the piece in your garage until a good solution presents itself.
Whew! That was harder than I thought! I think that is why “stuff” is such a polarizing topic. It’s tied to our home, emotions, family, friends, and memories. It’s hard to talk about the stuff without talking about all that comes with it.
Next time, we’ll talk about something a little easier…