Decluttering and Simplifying Right Down to the Ancestral Guilt

“The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.”
Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

I live in a small home. There is just so much that I can put into a space.

Feeling overwhelmed at our own accumulation and the addition of all the precious heirlooms, mementos, artwork, crafts, quilts, etc. that have been passed on to us over the years, we resolved it was time to make some tough decisions.

As we handled almost every item in the house, tool room and garden shed, we determined how it would be disposed. Trash can, E-Bay, Yard Sale, Thrift Store/Charity, etc. The no brainer decisions are easy, such as the household items that are never or seldom used or the extra beach umbrella that is still in its plastic.

And then, there are those bits and pieces of a loved one’s life that trigger memories. We find ourselves comforting one another by saying, “You don’t have to make a decision right now, honey. Just think about it.”

Ancestral Guilt:  an expression I coined years ago when we went through this same process of getting rid of our excess before we retired.  Our grown children were recipients of much of this ancestral guilt. This past year we accumulated more as a result of Ron’s mother’s passing and keeping far too much.

Once again, we try to come to terms with this abundance, and once again are the bits and pieces we still cling to.

Our grown children are already going through their own dilemma of what to do with the things we “gifted” them. Our son and daughter-in-law no longer needed or wanted the antique china cabinet that we gave them, a “gift” to us from a distant aunt and uncle. We even drove to Ohio from North Carolina just to pick it up. Oh the things we do. After years of using it, then storing it in the garage, our son put it in the hands of an antique dealer and it eventually sold. But, after his grandmother’s recent passing, he picked out some things that had special meaning to him and now has acquired more.

We just took two large boxes of china to our daughter this fall. It belonged to Ron’s mom and our daughter couldn’t say no. She also wanted a living room chair and a large painting that was her Grandmothers, but we could get neither in the car and had to ship them to her.

Finding homes for ones treasures brings me satisfaction. Our yard sale in late November turned into an altogether pleasant experience. I have never met such friendly, interesting people who actually asked questions and listened to stories about the item they were purchasing. I made the decision to sell a large portion of an extensive basket collection of mine. It did my heart good to see purchasers appreciative of the heritage and origin of the basket and not cheapen the transaction by asking me to lower my price.

For many years Ron and I dreamed of living aboard a sail boat. We even looked at several. I suppose our dream was experienced vicariously as our collection of books on this very subject was extensive. It was time to “let go”.  Again, people at the yard sale did not let us down. Instead, they were the ones with the stories. We listened as they shared their lives on open seas and that their next adventure was forthcoming. They bought our books. The sailor wannabees bought out books. A boat builder bought our books. How satisfying to see this genre getting a second home.

Probably the most heart warming story of our recent experience of passing on personal treasures and keepsakes has come through the spirit of our community. We have donated many fine pieces of original art created by Ron’s mother to local organizations for their annual fund raisers and silent auctions at their request.  How gratifying it is to walk into a large real estate office and see her lovely artwork displayed handsomely on the walls. To know the bidder enjoys the work enough to purchase it and to know the donations help island charities. Mom would be so pleased.

Have we created more space? Definitely.

Am I going to fill that space with more things? No.

We still have a layer to peel. It just takes time and heart to let go.

About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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35 Responses to Decluttering and Simplifying Right Down to the Ancestral Guilt

  1. you and linda sort of matched topics today!
    how great that your need to downsize your personal items brought you and your community closer!

  2. Dianne says:

    I am reading a book on my kindle called “Getting Rid of It” by Warren & Betsy Talbot. A couple that lived in a 3,000 sq ft house that now have all their worldly belongings in 2 back packs!!! There is a chapter on sentimental value assigned to our possessions. They wanted to travel the world. The sailboat dream is like our motorhome dream of travelling.

  3. A pleasure to read about someone who is successfully tackling the “too much stuff” problem. I have good intentions, but lack serious follow-through.

    • It’s not easy. Each individual has their own approach or no approach at all. I would love to have all the money Pine Island makes on yard sales. It just shifts from one house to another. 🙂

  4. Lovely post Lynne… I’m still doing it by degrees, but was really successful this Christmas when everyone chose two books of mine that they wanted, and also the odd item… a few more birthdays and Christmases, and I may be nearer my goal !!!

    • Valarie, what a unique approach to gift giving and decluttering. Books are priceless and I’m sure your recipients are most grateful to have a book and other collectible from you. Thank you for sharing.

  5. restlessjo says:

    I’d have been there with my nose in the boat books! 🙂
    Our place needs a whole lot of decorating this year and that’s always an opportunity for review. Most of our stuff will go in the junk, though. “Lived in” to say the least.
    Sounds like you have lovely neighbours, Lynne. Health and happiness to you and Ron!

    • To think this whole decluttering episode began with redecorating/refurbishing and having a small bathroom shower tiled. It got out of hand but ended well. Yes, we have lovely neighbors and kindhearted community. Happy New Year to you, Jo. Wishing you the best of health and happiness this 2014.

  6. Good for you, Lynne, for handling every item in your house and carefully considering what to do with each thing! I love your term “ancestral guilt.” I’m envious because I need to do this desperately! I’m sure it feels great to have accomplished this task. Happy new year to you and Ron! 🙂

  7. It is so easy to acquire more things but difficult to let them go. Sounds like you will start 2014 in a great “space” both mentally and physically. Happy New Year !!

    • Thanks for your comment. You’re right. It is as much mental as it is physical. A great way to enter 2014. Happy New Year and I wish you the best of weather conditions the rest of the winter. 🙂

  8. Letizia says:

    It’s so hard to part with family treasures but I love that you found good homes for some of yours, that people wanted to know the backstory is just wonderful. And a large smile came on my face when I read that you were able to give some of Ron’s mother’s art pieces to various organizations – I can’t imagine the joy you must feel when you see these! I love seeing my grandparents’ things in my own house and in my cousins’ houses when I visit, whether it’s small things like my grandfather’s sherry glass or a big thing like my grandmother’s bed, each is special.

    Wishing you and your family a wonderful new year (full of new adventures and many new books!).

    • I love your comment, Letzia. It is a joy to see mom’s work displayed. We were overwhelmed with the volume of work she had, but most of it has found appreciative homes. Books will be the downfall as we fill those spaces with new ones. 🙂

  9. Ancestral guilt! Haha…I love this name. It is so appropriately coined because I am feeling the guilt and can’t let go, yet. My mother moved into a memory care center today. She has a huge house packed with “stuff”. My mother was a very talented quilter and seamstress. Now, we need to empty her house..a job I’m really dreading. But, your heartwarming stories have inspired me. I know the things will find loving homes and I realize it’s like peeling back the layers. Poco a poco. Thanks, Lynne, for sharing this part of your life with us.

  10. Hi Debbie. Acquiring our parents possessions is inevitable and it isn’t easy making all those decisions. I will be thinking of you as you go through your own version of ancestral guilt. Sounds like you have a talented mom. Happy New Year to you and Ron. We just celebrated Christmas today. My grand kids are here. We have just eaten home made pizzas and now we’re heading out to bring in the new year with fire works. Building memories. 🙂

  11. I have tried and tried, but I don’t think I will ever learn the art of letting go. Much to the ado of my mom, my dad and I never let go of ‘crap’ that will hold some minute sentimental value to us. Since we live in a small house, just like you, we got a garage to store these things. Then another one when that garage began to overflow! And this one will soon reach its tipping point too!! I guess we sure need to let go of a few(a lot) of things if we want to have space to walk at home!! 😉

    Wishing you and your family a very happy, clutter-free new year!! 🙂

  12. Happy New Years to you too, Sumithra. And thank you for sharing your heartfelt comments on not letting go. It sounds like you are surrounded by sentimentalists and it is easier to acquire a garage for the memories than part with them. I truly understand. 🙂

  13. Yes, I think when one reaches a certain age, there is a definite need to pare down. It’s very difficult to part with some possessions which to us, have sentimental value. There is a wonderful feeling of lightness though, when we manage to have even a small clear out. I’m so glad you’ve found really good homes for some of Ron’s mother’s artwork. It must be so gratifying to imagine them being appreciated by their new owners. 🙂

  14. Losing a loved one and then being responsible for the estate definitely opened our eyes to our own excess. Time to pare down indeed. I am getting better about the sentimentality of it all. Sort of the “if I could just keep one thing from a loved one, what would it be and just keep it to that.” That is the ideal. Thank you Sylvia for your perceptive comments. 🙂

  15. Leaving our home and stuff two years ago to lead a more nomadic life illustrated how little material things we need to survive, Lynne, and that’s why your post spoke to me. That said, I also struggle with the art of paring down (especially when it comes to objects with sentimental value). I’m glad I’m no longer tempted to take home a keepsake or two from the places we visit; photographs have proven to be the best souvenirs!

    • It sounds like you have self-discipline and know what you need and can do without. I have to do a better job of not buying things on our travels. I’m a sucker for table runners and scarves because they don’t take up much room, but how many do I need? I agree. Photos are the best souvenir. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tricia.

  16. Tina Schell says:

    Oh my, we live in a large home and I have filled every single drawer and closet with “stuff”. You’ve made me SOOOO jealous – and I love that you gifted some important things to charity; great idea! I did not make this a new year’s resolution but maybe I should have 😦 Good for you!

    • Hi Tina. I’m still gifting and finding home for things. I have quilts that need to go to a historical museum in Indiana which already has some of my grandparents’ heirlooms. It just takes time to work through it all. I think you have the best idea yet. Don’t make it a resolution. 🙂

  17. Madhu says:

    Beautifully expressed Lynne. ‘Ancestral Guilt’ is the perfect term for this conundrum. You seem to have found some great solutions as well!.
    My ancestral keepsakes are just a couple of small pieces of jewelry. Have gifted everything else to the children, cousins and nieces. R & I have been compulsive junkers (unlike our daughter and her husband who we consider magpies 🙂 ) We give away clothes periodically to charities. Also R’s transferable jobs, helped us pare down every time we moved house, until we settled down in our 2500sft apartment with very little ‘stuff’, except for a few paintings. And friends know us well enough by now, to not gift us things for what they call our ‘bare’ home 🙂

    • I really like the bare home concept. I have a friend who calls me a minimalist and I find that a compliment, but compared to her, I am. Our kids no longer gift us and are getting creative…like setting up a bi-plane ride for us around Key West this past summer. They know we want experiences, not things. Like Tricia Mitchell said, photos, not souvenirs. I agree. Thanks for your input. I could write more on ancestral guilt and probably will . 🙂

  18. vbholmes says:

    It’s the books that are the hardest to pare down as many warrant a second look. With all your travels, you must have memorabilia that is difficult to part with–but then, decluttering makes room for new souvenirs of as yet undiscovered places–places I’m looking forward to reading about (and seeing Ron’s photos).

    • I’m really on a mission. I have just had another yard sale and will donate more “stuff” locally. I believe we’ll stick to the photo memories and not collect any more souvenirs from traveling. Thanks VB for commenting.

  19. Tahira says:

    Wonderful, Lynne! I love the saying “I collect memories – not things.” I am a hoarder by nature but through the years I have learned to “let things go” and “open up space” for other & new things that needed to come into my life. It’s been a life-long lesson & has not always been easy – but the rewards have been limitless. Beautiful post!

  20. We seem to go through life learning lessons and we’re never too old to make some changes in our habits. I seem to be challenged by all the ways I can remove clutter and ancestral guilt. I feel lighter all ready. Thanks for your comments, Tahira.

  21. Ancestral Guilt. That in itself has layers of meaning beyond the goods and chattels. Hope you are feeling lighter and freer and can see the path ahead 🙂

  22. Yes, I feel lighter and freer and it is a good feeling. Mostly, it has helped me to access what is valuable to me. Yes, Ancestral Guilt has many layers, and after much reflection, I have learned that some are even positive. Thanks for your comment, Alarna.

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