Sadie’s Question: On Letting Go of Things Without Guilt

A few months ago, I was hanging out with my 10 year-old friend Sadie and she asked me to clean out her room with her. We started sorting through her clothes, toys and picture books, and she was gamely putting a lot of things in the Goodwill bag.

When we tackled her stacks of notebooks and papers, however, the going got slow. Sadie began carefully examining each handout, drawing, and school evaluation. Staring at a collage of magazine images she said, “This is from Mr. Stevens’ class in Kindergarten. I remember making it with him…” Then she paused, wide-eyed, and said, “Am I a bad person if I give it away?”

Her question struck a chord with me because I think it’s an issue that comes up for a lot of us when we’re trying to “clear the clutter.” The point is that it’s not just clutter: it’s memories, associations, old hopes, dreams, desires. There’s a whole lot of nostalgia bound up in our things from the past, even if your entire past is just 10 years long.

The judgements we put on ourselves are profound. Are we “bad” people (whatever that means) if we let go of stuff that once had significance to us or others? Is letting go of objects from our past the same as letting go of the memories of a time and place that was important to us? Or can we release our old things — whatever it is that has already served its purpose and is no longer needed — without worrying about how it reflects on us as people?

I reassured Sadie that she was definitely not a bad person if she recycled the collage from kindergarten. But I also said that she didn’t have to let it go at all if it was important to her. We ended up creating a special stack of papers that still had meaning for her and put them in a binder that she could find easily. She put the rest in the recycling bin without regret. Then we got some ice cream.

Sadie’s question is at the heart of many of our challenges with clearing out things or beliefs that are no longer needed. What are you holding on to because you feel like it would make you a “bad” person if you let it go?

Can you separate your physical things from your memories?

How about letting go of old ideas of yourself or others?

Can you do this without judging yourself, or them?




Writing about women entrepreneurs, mindfulness and creativity. Published in The New York Times, Ms., and The Best Travel Writing.

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Katherine Jamieson

Katherine Jamieson

Writing about women entrepreneurs, mindfulness and creativity. Published in The New York Times, Ms., and The Best Travel Writing.

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