The Sinister Six, part 4: Identity
Welcome back, as we continue to examine the Sinister Six: The six fears that make us pause before we place something in the donate bin. I’ve hyper-linked the ones that we’ve already discussed:
This week let’s talk about another favorite of mine: Identity (I really like the psychological ones!).
We’ve all been behind this car at one point or another…
Who am I without my stuff?
In our culture, we use things to signal to others, and remind ourselves, of who we are… Or who we aspire to be. It’s not just America, but since many of us in the States can afford things well outside of the food-clothing-shelter trio, anybody looking to see perfect examples of the clutter/identity tangle can come right here. Identity items are almost always a luxury. They are usually wrapped up in feelings of success, or avoiding feelings of inadequacy. They are a poor substitute for self worth.
Examples I often hear when working with clients, when holding onto Identity-based clutter
- “Everything to do with the Kansas City Chiefs stays.” (How do I know it’s clutter? When it stashed away in a box, and my client doesn’t want to take it out and display it).
- “My children might want this some day. I would love to be able to provide this for them when that day comes.”
- “I won all of these awards: Look who I was!”
Frequently kept things based on Identity
- Bumper stickers (subtext: “Let me tell you exactly who I am!!”)
- Logo clothing
- Sports team paraphernalia
- Awards, trophies, plaques, medals (remember, these were in the Investment category as well!)
- Collectors items
- BOOKS (omg this is a big one)
- Other media collections: music, movies, etc.
- Décor/display such as some posters, maps with pins… Anything that you would call a conversation piece.
- Things that you hope that your adult children will one day ask you for.
- Our home(s)
- Trophy spouses (kidding! but also kind of not kidding)
What we are really saying when we keep based on Identity
I’m not enough by myself.
Look at me- I made it! I’m a success!
I need recognition for this- this thing sets me apart.
I need this to feel seen and heard and understood and loved.
What I have kept too long in my own life, based on Identity
Oh boy. Um… In middle school, it was everything to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Sarah Michelle Gellar. Because if I recycled all those magazine pages of her face that I plastered all over my wall, then I wouldn’t be THE biggest Buffy fan anymore, right? (Yes, my mom questioned my sexuality during this phase).
But last fall, I donated my tap shoes. I haven’t worn them in 10 years since I graduated from a musical theater conservatory- a path that I clearly didn’t take in life. Years ago I had donated my leotards, recycled my sheet music (fine- some of it is scanned on my Google Drive) and unfollowed some of those drama queens on Facebook, but my tap shoes were kind of the final thing to release. Because without them I never had that phase of my life, right? By getting rid of them, am I throwing away that part of myself? Of course not. That little part of my life lives on in my heart: Last month my friend Chad (a former theater kid himself) and I went to see The Book Of Mormon tour in Kansas City. We sat there grinning idiotically and laughing at every joke, and it brought us back to our theater days in a very happy way. I will always listen to the Avenue Q and Sweeney Todd soundtracks when I need to. I don’t need the un-used tap shoes to be reminded of who I was, or could have been. Honestly, the tap shoes made me feel kind of bad that I didn’t make it as an actor, and worse, that I didn’t even try. They also made me feel good, because while dance wasn’t really my thing, I was pretty good at acting (or at least, mimicry and humor). But then they made me sad again because it felt like a wasted talent. I don’t miss them now that they are gone, and I’ve found that I can weave a lot of my own humor/theatrical timing into my talks and workshops now on decluttering. The things that make us us don’t really leave.
More thoughts on Identity Clutter
How to distinguish between the innocent identity items and the clutter? Well, ask yourself this: Am I keeping this [thing] for internal or external reasons? By all means, keep these things if they actually make you feel happy and lighter! You don’t have to be a minimalist with two pairs of shoes. Maybe for the purposes of Identity, the goal should be simply to subtract until you feel your worth inherently.
Are you thinking of making heads turn while you shop for a car? Hoping to actually change minds as you add your 25th bumper sticker to the back of your current ride? (Good luck with that! I wish that my sporadic political posts on Facebook could change minds, but they are as ineffective as bumper stickers). Praying that your massive library of books will assure you of how smart you are? Eager for your edgy t-shirt to start a conversation with the right person? Waiting for your children to grow up and ask you for this stuff (which would let you add “provider” or “good parent” to your identity, even though you are already both of those things)?. Marry somebody to show the rest that you still got it? (Zing! Had to).
Clutter is a material clue that something needs to be emotionally released. If you obtained something that you don’t truly love just to impress others, it’s clutter. As you release the item, make sure to also release the belief that you need it to be somebody. You’re pretty cool the way you are. This guy thinks so, and so do I.