HELP ME SARA

Some­times, it’s hard to part with sen­ti­men­tal ob­jects.

Parents Canada - - Contents - BY SARA DIMERMAN

Let­ting go of sen­ti­men­tal ob­jects.

I must con­fess. Lurk­ing in the back of my garage, amongst boxes of books from my daugh­ters’ child­hood, is a clear plas­tic bag in which a large stuffed mon­key and big bear hi­ber­nate. Ev­ery year, as I clear out my garage, I pause mo­men­tar­ily as I con­sider let­ting go of them.

When I was 15, my fam­ily and I em­i­grated from South Africa to Canada and as you might imag­ine, were not able to bring all of our pos­ses­sions with us. In the process of pack­ing, I imag­ine that my mother might have thrown out some items that were sen­ti­men­tally valu­able to me. I’m think­ing this be­cause I don’t re­call be­ing too in­volved with the pack­ing and can’t imag­ine ever throw­ing out the round pur­ple cush­ion I knit­ted in home eco­nom­ics class, for ex­am­ple. The one that my first boyfriend cud­dled when he was over, leav­ing only the scent of his Brut cologne be­hind.

So, it’s no won­der that I have al­ways been par­tic­u­larly vig­i­lant about check­ing with my daugh­ters be­fore throw­ing any­thing of theirs away in case it means some­thing more sig­nif­i­cant to them than I might think.

Hav­ing said this, I re­al­ize and help oth­ers rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of clear­ing clut­ter, liv­ing in the present and not hoard­ing just in case. I also rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of learn­ing to let go.

When chil­dren are younger, even items that ap­pear in­signif­i­cant to us, can mean the world to them. A stick he finds in the park, the outer shell of a snail she finds in your back­yard, the old sweater he’s out­grown but re­fuses to part with. Items such as this, de­spite be­ing ma­te­rial ob­jects, be­come as­so­ci­ated with other sig­nif­i­cant mem­o­ries such as spend­ing time in the park with you, go­ing on scav­enger hunts in your back­yard or the warmth he felt in your em­brace while wear­ing the sweater.

Many chil­dren also like to cre­ate col­lec­tions. A dif­fer­ent shape or sized rock wher­ever she goes be­gin to fill a large shoe box, favourite char­ac­ter fig­urines from the lat­est Dis­ney movie be­come her cov­eted pos­ses­sion over time. Col­lec­tions are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause they may rep­re­sent feel­ings of ac­com­plish­ment as she watches her col­lec­tion grow, may be sym­bolic of want­ing to hold onto fond mem­o­ries from the past and are great ways to help with or­ga­ni­za­tional and an­a­lyt­i­cal skills.

Par­ents will of­ten ask their chil­dren to get rid of the dusty col­lec­tion, or a ran­dom item such as a stick from the park, be­fore their chil­dren are ready to part with it. And when they don’t, you might con­sider just toss­ing it in the garbage when she isn’t look­ing or hid­ing it away for a while un­til you can safely guess that it has been for­got­ten about. My sug­ges­tion is not to do this.

Learn­ing to let go is a life long process. It be­gins with say­ing good­bye to a de­cay­ing piece of wood or pile of wrap­ping pa­pers and con­tin­ues through to be­ing able to say good­bye to a par­ent who has died, for ex­am­ple. So, help­ing one’s child let go, while im­por­tant, should not be rushed or im­posed.

My ad­vice is to take one small step at a time and to of­fer strate­gies along the way. So, for ex­am­ple, as you go about help­ing your child or­ga­nize his room, or tidy his draw­ers, you may sug­gest putting aside a pile of items he no longer uses or wants and then help­ing him fig­ure out what to do with them – maybe donat­ing them to char­ity, for ex­am­ple.

Be con­sid­er­ate and re­spect­ful of his feel­ings if he’s not ready to let go of some­thing quite yet. Help him to eval­u­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of ran­dom or worn out ob­jects. Au­thors have writ­ten books on how to de­clut­ter and some rec­om­mend hold­ing an ob­ject in one’s hand and tun­ing into one’s bod­ily re­ac­tion while ask­ing, “Does this ob­ject bring me joy?” for ex­am­ple. If yes, then put it back where it came from or find a dif­fer­ent rest­ing spot.

An­other sug­ges­tion might be to put items that your child rec­og­nizes as no longer use­ful or of value, but is not quite ready to let go of, in a box with the date on it. Of­fer the sug­ges­tion to keep the box for a pe­riod of time, af­ter which time to let go of – with­out look­ing in­side.

My guess is that your child will one day be ready to let go of most of the ob­jects that are no longer use­ful or are just col­lect­ing dust.

Rush­ing that process may ac­tu­ally cause him to hold on to ob­jects longer than he might oth­er­wise have.

And yes, I do be­lieve that one day, like so many thou­sands of other ob­jects and all the sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple I have let go of, I will be able to say good­bye to my two stuffed an­i­mals in the large plas­tic bag in my garage.

DO YOU HAVE A HARD TIME SAY­ING GOOD­BYE TO MA­TE­RIAL THINGS?

Sara Dimerman is a psy­chol­o­gist, au­thor and par­ent­ing ex­pert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpme­sara.com.

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