Our house has always been quite cluttered, I admit. I’m not a “hoarder,” but I do find it difficult to get rid of stuff, including lots of toys from when our kids were little. Last summer, my 17-year-old daughter, who’d been reading a decluttering book, offered to help get rid of a bunch of stuff. I said, “Sure,” and she really went to town, filling up box after box and mostly giving the contents to local charities. At first I was thrilled – our house looked so much better – but then realized she’d given away some treasured heirloom Christmas decorations that had been in my family for generations. They contained many memories of family Christmases and I cried when I found out they were gone. My daughter has tried to get them back, but has had no luck. I still feel really upset with her. What can I do to get past this?
Dollars to doughnuts she was reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – or someone influenced by Marie Kondo, who famously advocates chucking anything in your domicile that doesn’t “spark joy.”
Kondo has always been a tidying-up fiend, the very definition of a “neat freak.” She says she began tidying up seriously when she was five, and as a teenager tidied up “all day every day” before going on to become a global decluttering guru followed by millions.
But it’s a canard that she’s a strict minimalist. Included in her “spark joy” philosophy are objects of sentimental value, which she encourages people to hang on to. And I would say your family-heirloom Christmas ornaments definitely qualify.
I certainly understand you being upset that your daughter got rid of them without your permission. (Kondo says as a teen, she threw out many of her father’s suits and mother’s purses without asking.)
My father died earlier this year and I inherited a bunch of his clothes. I wear at least one item on a daily basis. They spark sadness, true, but also love and joy. One sweater in particular, corny as it may sound, feels to me like a warm hug from Dad.
If one of my boys, in a pinwheel-eyed decluttering frenzy, were to donate Dad’s duds to some charity without asking me first, I’d definitely have to wrestle with my emotions.
But here’s the thing: I’d get over it eventually. Because no matter how much sentimental value you’ve attached to some items, in the end it is only stuff, and your relationship with your daughter is more important.
That said, it is an ideal teaching moment. Teens, bless them, in my experience, have hazy notions of private property.
Me: “Hey, are those my socks?”
Teen: “Oh, yeah, sorry, Dad, I grabbed them out of your drawer.”
Or: “Do you have any idea what happened to my favourite green jacket?”
Teen: “Oh, yeah, sorry, Dad. I lent it to my friend Jack and he lost it.”
It’s a tendency that has to be discussed and curtailed, but be gentle about it. She already sounds haunted by remorse and has clearly tried to make amends.
Say something along the lines of: “Listen, we know you were just trying to help. We were upset for a while, but we’re over it now. We love you and want to have a nice Christmas. But maybe in future, please ask before doing anything with anyone else’s stuff.”
And this might seem like an odd piece of advice for this time of year, but take a cue from the Grinch. When he sees the citizens of Whoville full of joy, even though he’s stolen not only their ornaments, but the tree they’re hung on and all their presents, his heart grows three sizes and he returns everything.
Let your heart grow three sizes and forgive your daughter. Forgiveness is, after all, central to the teachings of the man whose birth you are celebrating.
From there, grab a string of lights from the hardware store, pop some popcorn and find a moment to string it all on a thread (like we did as kids; it was fun and I always looked forward to munching the ornaments afterward) and wrap these items around the tree.
Behold, it shall be enough, I predict. I also predict if you follow these simple guidelines, you may have more fun this year, and feel closer to one another, than ever.
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