Recently, I heard a speaker talk about her childhood living in South Sudan. Her family often hosted guests during this time, and the toys that she owned were shared with the visitors. As often happens with communal objects, many of her toys became a bit worse for the wear. To ease the pain of sharing toys, her mother always allowed her to select one toy– her most precious toy – to be hidden away in a safe place whenever company came. Being quite young, she initially struggled to pronounce the word precious. Instead, she called her selected plaything her “behbish” toy… a term which stuck in the family.
In my years helping clients to de-clutter, I’ve come to realize that most people have a hard time figuring out what to keep and what to release. A pile of belongings can be overwhelming, and we delay the discomfort of decision-making. It is common to be anxious about making a wrong choice, and to fear making a determination we will regret in the future. Nevertheless, as I reflected on the speaker’s story, I was struck by the fact that this girl did not seem to share this same struggle. She was easily able to identify her “behbish”; she knew what was precious.
There are a variety of reasons why the average home today is suffering under the weight of possessions. The combination of historically increasing disposable income and decreasing price of purchased goods has rendered items more affordable. In addition, the average size of the American home has nearly doubled in size over the past 50 years (NPR), making it easier for us to stockpile. According to the LA Times, the average American home now contains 300,000 items. Furthermore, one out of every ten Americans rent offsite storage (Selfstorage.com), extending the problem beyond the walls of our homes.
The point is, we may be losing our ability to discern what is precious.
The process of consciously deciding what to keep and what to shed is all about prioritization. We need to be constantly circulating belongings with the goal of freeing space to enjoy what is important to our current life. Contrary to the anxious voice that taunts us, not everything we own is of equal importance. In fact, if we believe everything is important, we are basically saying that nothing is important. In addition, we need to acknowledge that life is ever-changing. Our needs and desires are not static, meaning that we need to be regularly adapting our environment.
- An activity we enjoyed at one time may no longer be of interest
- The clothing we used to wear may no longer fit or flatter
- The toys one child enjoyed may be of little interest to a younger sibling
- Books we loved may never warrant a second reading
- Power tools may be rendered useless due to a new physical limitation
- Décor/furnishings from a parent’s home may not suit our space or taste
Identifying what is precious – and correspondingly what is not – is empowering. Instead of asking, “Can I figure out a use for this?” the question becomes, “Is this precious to me in its function or in the way it makes me feel?”
Ultimately, focusing on the precious helps us create a space that is both efficient and satisfying. Can you look around and identify what is precious? How might the concept of precious help you face a de-cluttering task that you have been procrastinating?