Sentimental Attachment: It’s Not About the Stuff

My Teddy Bear

When I was a little girl, I had a fuzzy chocolate-brown teddy bear with oversized, expressive plastic eyes. I called him Luli and I slept with him every night, for years. Like many people, I was attached to the stuffed animal I had as a child.

If it’s not a stuffed animal for you, then maybe it’s an outfit you wore on a special occasion or the record collection you’ve had since your teens.

It’s no surprise that most people have something they are emotionally attached to, but it might surprise you to hear that it’s not about the stuffed animal, or the clothes, or the records – it’s not about the stuff at all.

What we are really attached to, what we are hanging on to for dear life, is what the item represents. For me, the stuffed animal meant safety and love. He never abandoned me. He was always there to cuddle with, even on the day my first boyfriend broke up with me. If it’s a special outfit for you, maybe it represents at time in your life when you felt really good about yourself, or your body, or your relationship. And that record collection, maybe it makes you relive the fun, carefree days of your youth. It’s different things to different people, but it’s never, ever, ever about the stuff – this I can promise you.

I share this truth with you because I believe that awareness is a powerful change agent. If there are items that you are particularly attached to and are ready to let go of (perhaps because you don’t have the space or want to let go of the past to make room for something new) I encourage you to try this exercise. It’s not scientific, and I’m not a psychologist, but I have found that it works for me and for hundreds of clients who have experimented with it.

Overcoming Emotional Attachment to Stuff:

Step One: Determine which item you are ready to let go of.

Step Two: Take a picture of it to preserve the memory (and make it easier to let go).

Step Three: Think back to when you used that item. Jot down how you felt when you used it, wore it, read it, etc. Focus on the emotions and the need it filled at the time.

Step Four: Ask yourself if it is possible for you to feel this emotion/get this need met without the item. For example, can you experience the fun of your youth by reconnecting with old friends and planning a night out (after all, that fun-loving person is still inside of you)? In other words, can you replace the item with an activity that elicits the same feelings and meets the same needs?

Step Five: Ask yourself if you are willing to let the item go.

The answer to Step Five may be ‘no’, and that’s okay, because it is a process and it does get easier. Keep working on it with various items that you want to detach yourself from. Once you are aware of the ‘why’, the ‘how’ reveals itself. You’ll soon recognize that emotional attachment to things from the past can tie you down and prevent you from moving forward in life. That’s not to say that you can’t keep a few mementos; but an excess amount can keep you anchored to the past. The memory is not the item; you don’t need the physical reminder because you can keep the memory in your head and heart – where it doesn’t take up space and you never have to dust it.

So what ever happened to my Luli? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I don’t sleep with him anymore. Once I met my husband, I was able to experience that safety and love without needing to cuddle my bear. So I took a picture and let him go (the bear, not my husband!) And I’m happy to report that I haven’t missed Luli at all.

Please take a moment and use the comments section below to let me know what item(s) you are emotionally attached to and what you think it represents. This takes a lot of courage, but it’s the first step in letting go.

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This post has 7 comments

  • Cheri says:

    My children are now young adults and I still have 4 large boxes of items from their youth. I am not sure how to thin these boxes out. They include baby clothes, hand knitted blankets, their letters to Santa Claus and paper work from their elementary school years. I’m definately hanging on to those precious years because the teen years were nightmarish. I would like to file it down to one box for each of them and they can choose to do what they want with them in the future. They may feel different about these items once they have children of their own.

  • Georgia says:

    Hi Helen,
    I have a problem parting with my children’s elementary school projects and any homework that they’ve done. I think it’s because I’m so proud of them and being that they were both very good students makes it even harder to let go of anything that they’ve done. They are both in their late teens at this moment and I still can’t part with any of their stuff! I’m really not sure if that is the case or do i just have a problem with paper all together because I also have a problem getting rid of all bills or really anything that comes in the mail. If I’m expecting guests I just shove things in bags or boxes and the end up cluttering my room!! Not sure how to start or where to start, especially when I’m always feeling overwhelmed, I plan to clean but it just drains me and I can never get started.

  • Beautiful words Hellen! You’re right, everyone has a Luli. 🙂 Mine was a small red plastic duck that is featured in a few of my baby photos. I kept moving him from home to home – would find him in a box when unpacking – only to pack him up again later. The cats were terrified of him. Being made in the early 60’s, his loud quack was certainly way beyond a safe sound level! So I took a photo and recycled him.

    Now I can use my bath buddy as my computer wallpaper.



  • Valerie says:

    Hi Helen…first off…really MISS seeing you on HGTV…you were my mentor and got me into the recycle mode…for that…I greatly thank you! A few things I want to comment on… my first doll..TOPSY is her name and yes..54 years later she is STILL with me..with some broken toes and all! Both my parents died last year AND also, my most beloved holding onto many things from the past is VERY important right now… How I can part with cards and photos of all 3 of them…it would be wrong some how?? I just do not know what to do? My mother was a great card sender and avid photographer…so I have LOTS of both. I have so many pics. of my dog, his Halloween outfits, lots of personal items of his…. Gosh…getting rid of ANY of these, would be devastating… Thank you, Valerie.

  • Helen says:

    Hi, mine would be the doll my grandmother gave me when I was told I did not need a doll because I was too old for dolls.I think it represents someone listening to what I wanted and actually hearing me. The doll still sits in my sewing room out of the way, but looking over me. I lost my grandmother at age 97 and she was one of the strongest people I have ever met. I don’t think that doll is going anywhere any time soon, though I admit I have a ways to go.
    I am happy to say though that during some recent renovations, plus older kids moving away, we are managing to go through our possessions and condense down a lot. I guess you could say that I am looking at things differently now and finding a little easier to let go of some things. There are always those certain things though that seem to hold you up for a little longer.
    At the cabin we have gone through over 10 years of cottage magazines that I thought I needed to keep for reference. We went through them all, took out any article or recipe we would like to keep and put them in a binder where they are easy to find. What a load off.
    More space and things are looking good. I am hoping to thin out my art magazines as well and put them somewhere for others to use if they need reference material, an accessible library for my art group.
    Thanks for all the advise, I do enjoy reading it and actually follow it on many occasions.

  • Tracy :) says:

    Mine is my monkey, Mr. Went everywhere with me and at the ripe ol age of 39..hahahaha He is still beside my bed:) Recently decluttering my entire home and am finally pondering on just what all my stuffed animals mean to me… My daughter is 11 now and does not need them anymore so what so I do with all my old stuffies?? ugh..making a tough decision and so far am ready to donate all of them, save three. <3 As for Mr. Manix?? Ummmmm..he is still beside my bed:) lol

  • Helen says:

    I have to say that even though I have gotten rid of many things I no longer need, I have hung onto some of my kids old toys.
    When the Jets team came back to Winnipeg, my daughter asked me if I still have the stuffed toy she bought at the Jets game when she was about 10, she is 28 now, I went into the container of toys I had been keeping for her and there it was, it went off to Red Deer for her to have a mascot while they watch the hockey games.
    Our son was heading off to start a new chapter in his life as well, so I pulled out a few of his toys I had kept, we came across a binder of hockey cards, he is going to try selling them for some make some money.
    A couple times when my storing of memories came in a little handy.
    I am still a work in progress, trying hard to get rid of things that I really don’t need.
    Thanks again for a great article.