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  • Writer's pictureJen Greenway

Thoughts on Being a Sentimentalist

I've been a collector of things and memories since I was a child. I had a collection of everything you could think of. I had rocks, teddies, pens, stickers...It's extremely easy for me to accrue sets of trinkets, but that's not all. I also have a deep desire to write down musings and quotes and to store daily photos, all of which I regularly revisit and review. I would dare to say that I'm even more obsessed with collecting memories than I am with possessions, especially after my Grandma was diagnosed with dementia. I often think about the reality that the memories she kept were no longer available to her, and I have to admit that that’s a real fear of mine now.

Being the collector that I am, I was overwhelmed by my possessions by the age of 23. My closet was literally overflowing and I had enough furniture in my bedroom suite to furnish an entire house. An aesthetic choice led me to find my way to something called "minimalism," sort of. Honestly, I more or less found my way to a cycle of downsizing/purging and collecting/nesting again. I've tried minimalism of various kinds many times throughout the past eight years and I want so badly to make it work. I've watched YouTube videos and read books. I was even subscribed to the Minimalists Podcast until they got insufferable. I'm serious! I've tried every method... Konmari, the 30-30 rule, the one in - one out rule...Somehow, I always end up with way too much stuff and equally as much anxiety.

In the past, I've shrugged and then chalked my ability to accrue solely up to my being a serial hobbyist. I have an unimaginable amount of creative and physical pursuits and I immediately buy all the gear needed to participate in them the moment they catch my interest. However, as I enter yet another round of anxiety and subsequent deep decluttering, I'm finally piecing together the puzzle of where I've been falling short in my auditing process and why my minimalism/decluttering process never stuck in the long run: my unaddressed trauma. Surprise surprise, trauma comes back to run the show once again.

The last seven months have been incredibly difficult for me to get a handle on my physical space and my mental space. I've spent an embarrassing amount of hours looking at desks, bookshelves, new computer monitors and anything else that can streamline my work and give me more space to function in my office space. I never was able to find a desk that met my criteria, but Erik mounted beautiful floating shelves and a corkboard so we could clear off my current desk. I love my new workspace, but it quickly became apparent that physical space wasn't the heart of my issue.

I have to really commend Erik for being ready to sit down and have these impromptu deep-trauma and decolonial conversations with me. We've made it an unofficial but regular part of our day to check in on triggers and trauma, which if I'm doing my Spirit work correctly usually only takes us about 15-30 minutes. Recently though, he noticed that I've been fixated on clearing out my things but struggling a lot with tearful sentimentality, so we decided to try to understand it better. It's funny how the right person asking the right questions can unlock things within you that you didn't even know were there. Or maybe you know they were there but didn't want to admit they were that bad.

Through speaking to Erik, I was able to admit to myself that I carry more financial trauma from childhood and teen years than I was initially aware of, and it causes me to panic about money because I'm always waiting for the rug pull I've already gone through twice in my life. I also continue to face abandonment anxiety that not only impacts how I enter relationships (a fact I already know and actively deal with) but also triggers a desire for me to be surrounded by familiar things when I'm facing insecurity of any kind. These anxieties and traumas work in tandem to keep me questioning myself and my ability to take care of myself, especially in times of high stress when my trauma brain is running the show. Unfortunately, that's currently been the case since my Grandma Violet passed and my brain function seems to max out at 50% while I continue to grieve.

Being a collector of things and memories has been a source of comfort throughout my life, and minimalism was always intriguing to me because it gave me permission to let go of my things while keeping the memories. In fact, one of the quotes that The Minimalists always say is that our memories aren't in our things, but they are in us. Except, being the grandchild of a matriarch whose body no longer let her have access to her memories has taught me that maybe neither is true. Because of that fear of forgetting myself and my family, I struggle to truly let things go. Things give me comfort, and that's something I struggle with.

Having this conversation with Erik was eye-opening and vulnerable. I don't want to associate my things with me or with my memory, but I can now admit that I struggle with collecting and sentimentality because I live in fear of losing everything, including myself. That's been one of the biggest moments of Understanding Self in my trauma work to date and I'm now starting the process of learning what to do with that new Knowledge.

My most recent auditing process has been different. Not only am I going through my things with the intention of creating a space that honours who I am and what my heart, mind, body and Spirit need, but I'm also going through my memories, my thought patterns, my hopes and fears, and my trauma. It's the most intense and thorough audit I've ever done, and it's probably going to take every day for the rest of my life. There will always be fresh information to process and sort, but my intention is to prevent the backlog that's built up over the last 31 years from building up even bigger and being left to wreak further havoc on my physical and mental space moving forward. Even if I have to chip away at the same memory and no other until I understand how it impacts my present, I'm willing to do that.

If you've struggled with clutter, sentimentality or even financial anxiety, and if it impacts your ability to maintain a supportive and healthy space (physical or mental), it may be that your auditing system has been too focused on the physical realm as well. Perhaps it's time to take a look at your memories and see which ones you continue to assign the highest value and which ones you allow to drive your actions. We all have trauma and we all act in ways that protect us from further trauma, but knowing and understanding those actions is vital if you ever want to change or improve your trauma response.

There's nothing wrong with sentimentality, and there's absolutely no golden rule saying what the appropriate amount of things is for each of us. But if you find yourself attaching your identity to the things you own, I'd say it's safe to explore why that's the case. Take it from an out-of-control collector, it might unlock one of your biggest moments of growth yet.




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