The more I think about guilt the more I’m convinced that it’s one of the more influential emotions in my life. That’s not to say that I spend every waking minute consumed with it but I am acutely aware of how often I feel it. Or maybe that’s just me.

Guilt works on a grand scale too. How many of our actions are determined by the avoidance of guilt? How much do we try to do the right thing in situations because we can’t face the guilt of doing the wrong thing? Perhaps in many ways morality is simply the pursuit of a guilt-free life.

In those circumstances, where the potential for guilt keeps us on the straight and narrow, there is actually some clear use for the emotion. But it’s not always the case, and it’s thinking about these negative aspects that made we want to write this post.

On a recent visit to some relatives we were talking about the possessions someone had in their loft. Specifically they had a large collection of slides, a projector and a screen. The slides were of a, now deceased, family member and largely consisted of their old holiday pictures. Because it’s so time consuming to set up a slideshow and actually look at pictures in this format my immediate thought was that they should scan them all to disk.

Their response was that they never actually wanted to look at the pictures. After all, why would they want to watch a slideshow of someone else’s holiday? It occurred to me that what they’d said was ridiculous and illuminating in equal measure. I mean, who really does want to spend their whole evening looking at pictures of someone else’s holiday, no matter how close you are to them?

But here’s the problem. This person and their slide collection were stuck in a kind of limbo. They didn’t want to put on a slideshow, or indeed scan them for future viewing. Equally they couldn’t bring themselves to throw the slides away. They just couldn’t face the inevitable guilt.

So we’re in a ridiculous situation. One which makes me question the whole notion of “sentimental value”. Are we keeping things, mementos, souvenirs because they really mean something to us? Or are we keeping them because we’d feel guilty throwing them away?

The things is, if the person who owned those possessions, or who gave them to us, or of whom they remind us were here now, do you think they’d insist on us keeping all that stuff? Or do you think they’d tell us to get rid of it, start afresh? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that.

  • Valdaly

    I appreciate this posting. I’ve been purging things from my home the last few years, especially after being diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. I am amazed at how much has traveled with me over the years, and how much  that I kept for sentimental reasons I never looked at because it was buried away. I am also aware that the most important connections for me are the current day-to-day interactions with family and friends. I am much more present-oriented, and all the other stuff seems to be just so much heavy weight. I have also learned that just because I may have found value in something, very few others want those kinds of things to pass on to them, so why do I hang on to them in order to pass them on?  So off to Good Will they go. The less stuff I have, the less time I have to spend on caring for it, and the more time I have for my family. All common sense ideas, but it can take us a while to claim them for ourselves.

  • http://twitter.com/jmloquist Jeff Loquist

    Really enjoyed reading this. I have been purging things from my life for a little while now and have also found that the attachment falls closer to the guilt category than them having meaning. These things…they sit quietly in their boxes or on their shelves and we never consider them until we think of removing them from our lives…we have the memories and the feelings anyway…regardless of the thing.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment. It is amazing how much we keep around us for the wrong reasons. I hope that our children never feel the need to keep anything we give them if it’s not something they want themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Jeff. I do think that people don’t really ever question what they mean by “sentimental value”. Like you say, we have the memories and feelings. The objects usually don’t add anything to that.