| The Sinister Six: Loss

The Sinister Six: Loss

Welcome back for my final post on the six fears that keep us from shedding our excess baggage… The Sinister Six! Here is a recap:

  1. Potential (use)
  2. Investment (cost)
  3. Identity (ego)
  4. Control (perfectionism)
  5. Obligation (guilt)
  6. Loss (grief)

While not the most insidious of the six, Loss of Connection is the one that can bring up buried and unaddressed feelings of grief. We often cling to the possessions that remind us of the people we love who are never coming back, whether the reasons felt personal (divorce, break ups, abandonment) or impersonal (death). You can also feel a Loss of Connection from things other than humans (or creatures)- you may have felt connected to an era of your life, for instance. But I believe that my post on Identity would address that better than Loss of Connection would.

No matter how you lost your person, when you look at the stuff that reminds you of them, its meaning becomes heightened: Your person gave this to you. Or, it was a belonging of theirs that they cherished, that you have inherited. There is part of you that knows that they can no longer give you another thing, so this, (whatever you currently have from them), is it. On top of the missing them, we know that anything we give away or break of theirs cannot be replaced, by them. No wonder it is extra difficult to let go of these particular items.

My friend and professional storyteller Laura Packer puts it eloquently: “When my husband died I found it very difficult to let go of anything he had touched. For a long time I saved everything from socks to his high school notebooks that he had saved, to even old tissues. It felt as if I was betraying him by getting rid of any of this stuff. After awhile I realized that he wasn’t in all of this stuff. Sure, some of it had been important to him, but it didn’t have to be to me. I began to realize that all of the stuff was actually getting in the way of my healing. It was very hard, but I began to let go of his things. First some of his clothing, then some of his books, then the tissues and the stuff that had no meaning to me. It took awhile and I still have some of it left, the things that are too precious to part with, but I finally realized that the man I loved and still love isn’t in these material things. He is in my memories and my heart forever.” (Laura’s Blog can be found here– she has a terrifically honest voice).

Things we say when we are confronted with Loss of Connection clutter:

  • “My wife loved it, so I can’t get rid of it.”
  • “My ex gave that to me- can’t I just keep one thing to remember him by?”
  • “It’s the last thing my sister gave me before she died, I have to keep it.”

I pay attention to what my clients say. Because if I say, “Tell me about this” and get one of the responses above, then I know that it might be clutter. My reasoning? I know that if we really love the item, our first response is more likely to be, “Oh I love this thing! My mother loved it too.” Things deserve to be kept first because they resonate with you… And if there also happens to be a connection with a lost loved one, that’s only an added bonus.

Items frequently kept based on Loss of Connection:

Lots of crossover here with Guilt/Obligation…

  • Heirlooms and inherited items
  • Photos
  • Love letters
  • Knick knacks

What we are really saying when we keep what doesn’t serve us based on Loss of Connection:

  • I’m not ready to let go of them yet.
  • If I give this away, I might as well be telling that person that I don’t care about them.
  • Keeping this keeps me from dealing with the loss.

What I have kept too long in my own life, based on Loss of Connection:

My mom died when I was 16. You can see a list of what I kept for too long in this post.

Also I’ve kept old love letters from failed relationships. I was stuck on somebody for six years after we broke up. I won’t say that I got over him because I recycled the letters from him, but I know that I never could have 100% moved on if I hadn’t made recycling them a step in that process.

More thoughts on Loss of Connection

It’s not all clutter. I kept plenty of things from my mom because they bring me joy, and secondly they remind me of her. Not everything will resonate with you, so just keep the things that do. And if that’s nothing, then keep whatever they taught you in your heart. Did they teach you how to cook? Did you admire the way they treated servers in restaurants? That stuff all counts, and can make shedding the material clutter far easier.

I went to my friend Chad’s house last spring with some old letters and documents and journals, and we had a tiny fire in his backyard and burned them. Chad is a friend that I can be open with, and he knew that I needed somebody to simply listen as I read almost every single item aloud (poor guy learned some of my high school secrets!). It was really hard- I relived some painful memories as I read those journal pages aloud, and I couldn’t bear to bring those books back home with me again- I needed to release them. After reading, I sat silently with my thoughts for a few minutes, and then tossed the pages into the flames. I felt ten pounds lighter and ten years younger.

There is a correlation between accumulation and loneliness- if we feel judged or unsafe or unloved, we may use things as a buffer from the outside world. Yet if you have an empathic friend who can do with you what Chad did for me, I highly recommend it. Empathy and love bring out our best and bravest sides. When we have love and feel safe, we don’t need that crutch of “stuff” so badly, and we can process a heavy less just a little more easily.

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  1. Julie

    For me, storing my mom’s items out of sight really helped reduce my attachment to them. Time also helped, so now I’m able to donate most of them.

  2. LIsa

    My Mother passed away 7 1/2 years ago and my Father 2 weeks ago. I just came back from his house with boxes of letters, photo albums etc. This article could NoT be more timely! I might not be able to part with some of these things right away, but maybe it will make it a little easier to edit since I feel like I now have “permission”. Thank you

    • Eliza Cantlay

      Hi Lisa! I am so sorry for your loss, and I am glad that my article could help a little- no need to do it right away, it took me years to part with my mom’s stuff, and I’m still doing it, here and there, every year! Best of luck as you go through it all. 🙂