How to let go of things with sentimental value · A personal story

A tiny little cactus

Letting go of memorabilia and things with sentimental value is considered one of the hardest parts in becoming a minimalist. In Marie Kondo’s list of decluttering categories, it is in fact the last group of things, for that exact reason. You start with the easy tasks, and move forward to the hard ones.

Initially, I got into minimalism because I wanted to clean up my childhood bedroom. To get rid of all the clutter that had piled up there over 18 years. (And also because I really liked the simple shapes of Bauhaus architecture and interior. Seriously, I lived close to Weimar, a German small town that has a famous Bauhaus college).

Anyway, minimalism worked out for me. I have been living like this for almost 20 years now. But some things still feel weird. Like getting rid of things that contain memories. And even if those things aren’t pretty and I never liked them, it still feels like betraying someone to let them go. Especially if you do it in favor of some newer, nicer thing that – practically spoken – you don’t really »need«.

What is this weird hipster obsession with cacti?

When I was a kid, I had this really ugly cactus. I don’t like it now, I didn’t like it then. Basically, I only like succulents. And I have liked them way before hipsters sold water paintings of monsteras and got all excited about »cacti«. Never would I have guessed that something as lame as… cacti, cactuses, cactaceae… would become subject to twenty-somethings’ interior blogs.

And I will never understand this obsession with the word cacti. It’s not even remotely intellectual to brag about knowing the Latin second declension plural. But that’s probably a thing everyone has to find out for themselves. (Hopefully through some Latin super-pro enlightening them that it is in fact the dumbest, most basic declension of all). However, I don’t really like cacti (the above plurals are all correct(ish) btw). And even though I’m a late hipster, I can’t connect to this hype at all.

Minimalism and decluttering sentimental items—explained by the example of a cute little cactus :^D

But I got this cactus from my father for my kid. She is now 2 years old and he gave this cactus to me, because it actually is grown from a branch of my old cactus, which I got when I was like one year old. He put this branch into soil the day my daughter was born and then gave it to me when she was about 1 year old. My first reaction to this gesture was something like: »No, you did not?!«

I remembered all the times I accidentally touched this spiky little f_cker, and an uncountable number of tiniest needles would stick in my finger tips… taking me days to get rid of all of them. Feeling kind of bad because I never liked that little cactus and that I was actually pretty happy, when my parents split up and my Dad took the almost-dead thing with him.

»Minimalism remorse« should be a thing

I feel so sh_tty writing this. But you know, kids can be little assholes, and I’m not sure I’m much better now (I’m just not as cute anymore). However, I took the cactus and I put it on my kid’s window board, high enough so she would be spared the spiky cactus experience. And there it was. The reminder of my troubled cactus relationship days. In the pot I had not thought of for three decades…

One part of me now felt sorry for the pot, the other one felt oddly sorry for myself. Oddly, because this is really a dumb first world problem and I’m fully aware of that… (Btw: Are you? Because if you’re still here, you seem to enjoy reading my cringy cactus story, so you better keep your judgment to yourself, we’re cool, right?) The sorry part is also the design fetishist part… Because, while I’ve been a frugal minimalist for a long time, today I tend to obsess a little bit about the items I surround myself with. I have my style now, and I like stuff to match (but not in a modern interior catalog way, I mean, I’m not a complete asshole, and it’s all MSC wood and stuff). I just like the things around me to calm me down after a stressful work day.

Presents create false sentiment

This is also why I generally don’t like presents. Especially those who are supposed to go somewhere in our apartment. I sometimes put hours of research (stretched over years) into finding the perfect items, and once I got them, I enjoy them for decades – and that feels just right for me.

But I do not look for »spark joy« (in fact I really think that the whole concept of it is bullshit). But I want to feel happy when I look at my things. And I want to have things that look good enough that I can have all of them lying around in my apartment at once, and it still looks disappointingly nice. (That does not cover my computer, my phone, my rubber boots or any practical items that are not available in »beautiful and practical« at a reasonable price, which is why I don’t own an Apple notebook.)

And why the heck do people feel the need to follow up on how their present is doing?! WTF is wrong with you all?

However, my Dad has his quirks, too. Just like the cactus had to come in its completely useless original pot. The one it was in when I was a kid, and which I already hated back then. It has these ridiculous feet and it’s made of white porcelain that looks a little bit like a princess bidet. And ironically, it is kind of is a plant bidet, too (a clogged one), because it does not allow for proper drainage.

Maybe I should add that not a phone call of my Dad goes by where he wouldn’t ask about the cactus… Finally, at some point, I could bring myself to »secretly« buy two new little pots. A ceramic planter and an inner terracotta pot. While buying these I felt slightly ashamed of myself for being so happy something so profane. I kept it in my closet for quite a properly elaborate grieving period, while progressively making peace with the awful idea of getting rid of Mr. Princess Bidet… (I have one old wooden closet in my room – remember, I’m a minimalist – that bacically contains all my belongings, and yes, it is not totally empty, and it’s most of the time not tidy.)

Letting go, despite the sentimental value, and in favor of making something useful for myself

When I could finally find it in my heart to go through with my plan, I took the cactus to the balcony, made a tiny, well-contained mess and planted it into its new pot. Then I had a little cleaning meltdown over the dusty window sill. That ended in cleaning the window, the dusty heating, the floor and the kid’s closet… Oops. Finally, I took some Instagram shots and put the cactus in the window. I felt all sh_tty but happy at the same time.

But afterwards, I probably walked into my kid’s room like ten times while she was in daycare. Just to enjoy the nice new pot and to narcissistically pat myself on the back.

Letting go is a big part of minimalism and nobody should make you feel bad about yourself because of it

Sometimes I think that most of those feelings are not really genuine. That they are mainly caused by people around me not understanding minimalism. My life has always been about a certain obsession with owning less. And I don’t think that this is bad. In fact, it makes me more comfortable and content in my everyday life.

Some people might have the same »issue« and instead of calling it an OCD or fighting it, they make a living of it by becoming designers. I was never into being a designer, I am more into mathematics and the geometry of non-tangible spaces. But I’ve always liked my living space clean and the items in it consistently arranged in some sort of geometric balance. All my objects have their one place, a story, a reason and a purpose. I own almost nothing random and that is exactly as I want it to be. Because (yes, deep shit now), I believe that in a world of chaos, being an OCD-ish tidyness and design freak helps me calm my mind more than meditation, psychological wisdom or getting into a boring new hobby ever could.

Letting go of things with sentimental value never gets easier, and that’s okay

But still, I hated the idea of letting go of Mr. Princess Bidet, while I still loved the idea of having found the right thing to make this room whole. Something that would not make my eyes twitch every time I looked at it, feeling like I felt when I was young and had no control over my belongings. It’s also an interesting thought about my child and her childhood and me within it.

Because I will totally take the ugly little cactus back, if someday she decides she does not want it anymore. That is just what parents do. And maybe that’s also the reason I feel so bad about it. – But really, Dad, I mean, look at this happy fellow, he’s so much better off in a well-drained pot, and it makes us happy and I will keep this damn cactus until I have a grandchild or until my kid decides to get a cat (a so-called cattus).

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