Hi, my name is Sara and I have heirloom guilt. What is heirloom guilt? It’s a mental health issue, kind of. A psychological block that brings about feelings of guilt at having to get rid of family “heirlooms”. And I use heirloom loosely. It sounds fancier than “getting rid of the “crap my family couldn’t” guilt”.
I openly admit to still, after nearly 18 months, having most of my grandmother’s belongings in storage. Some of it has been in storage for almost 4 years since we put some things in storage when she moved to Phoenix. But, at that time, it was her stuff. It wasn’t for me to discard. She and I would discuss going to the storage until “when it was cooler”, “when I feel better”, “when I’m not so tired”, “after the holidays”. You know, later. Another time. A time when the memories won’t flood and make her sad. Sad to be without both of her children and husband. Sad to think that soon she would leave me alone.
Those days going to the storage unit never came. After she passed away I only had a short time to clear out her apartment. So nearly all of it went into storage. And now, nearly two years later it’s still there. Untouched. In the same boxes I packed long ago believing I would go through it “when it was warmer”, “when I had an unscheduled weekend”, “later”.
The reality is that I don’t need any of the things in storage. I’ve done fine without them this long. Organization experts say that if you haven’t used something in 12 months it’s time to get rid of it. But this is my family’s history. Memories. Connection. Our past. How do you get rid of someone’s past?
All rhetorical questions, I know. It happens every day. People purge stuff all the time. We move. We downsize. We get tired of dust collectors. The bags and boxes fill up, we pile them in the car, and drop them at the donation center without making much eye contact lest they see we aren’t sure we should be doing this.
I know I can’t keep everything that’s packed into two storage units. Actually, I can’t keep most of it. I also can’t keep paying the monthly storage fee. That’s idiotic. I’ve already paid several thousand dollars. If I hold on to it for a few more years I could have bought a really nice car with the money paid to store all this stuff. That’s kind of stupid. My grandparents taught me better about using my money wisely. Ugh, more guilt!
Heirloom guilt is very real. Sometimes it’s debilitating. I drive to the storage unit but can’t even go in to the locker. It’s overwhelming to think about getting rid of my past. My memories. My history. At the same time, though, it will all just end up a pike of garbage if I do nothing.
I think of selling or giving it away and my heart gets heavy, my chest becomes tight, the adrenaline starts to rush, and the thoughts of not having a past swirl. I think of those who lose everything to fire, flood, war. I think of them and try to understand that the stuff isn’t what hold my memories. I hold the memories. I am responsible for sharing those memories. For sharing the past. That this stuff can’t speak and tell the story. If I don’t tell their story they’re worthless.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about the stuff or the memories. It’s about my own realization that I’m the last one. That I’m alone, in some sense of the word. That my family is gone and all I have are these trinkets. And either I let go of the guilt or I’ll be controlled by it.
So, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. And believe that it’s OK for me to let go of the stuff. And the guilt.