Receiving without Guilt

By Leslie Jacobs

Staff Writer

 

On TV, Sheldon from The Big Bang theory said to Penny during the Christmas episode “Receiving gifts are obligations. I know you think you are being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.”

An obligation meaning you have to keep the gift, use the gift and show the person you used it. And, yes they are an obligation for people who believe they are.  But for most of us, we just don’t want to hurt the other person.  That is guilt and every one of us has endured it for something we have received in our lifetime.

For every gift received that has been an item of clothes—I make sure to use the item at least once—possibly twice—and then it’s my decision whether to keep it or not.  OR, I say I had to return it because it was too big/small and when I did they didn’t have anymore-so I got this instead.  Do you like it?  They will say yes.

If I don’t keep it and can’t return it then I donate.  If I keep it and never use it again because I don’t love it -then it becomes clutter.  Clutter as we know are UN-answered questions such as why do I feel the need to have this when I don’t like it?  This is especially true when you receive a gift—that you would never use—how do you feel?  I feel guilty, don’t you?

That feeling of guilt binds us to our possessions. Most guilt comes after a person has died and we don’t know what to do with all of their possessions.

After my father died in 1976, it took my mother seven years to donate his clothes. Seven years of looking at his clothes in his closet and being reminded he is not there—why would you do that to yourself?  That’s grief—and with it unresolved feelings of guilt.

But suppose there were ways to deal with this guilt—would you do it? Here are 5 ways to deal with items and the guilt of getting rid of them:

  • When I didn’t want to look at something I would box it up, date it and keep it in the attic. If after a year up in the attic and not missing it—I could donate it without guilt. But each of us has guilt—mine is a small pocketbook of my mother’s—it was circular and I sold it at the estate sale—and sometimes if I see a circle—not a circle purse just a circle a twinge of guilt passes through me—and I say these words—its better off with someone else, I have enough purses.
  • Use the item in a different way if you want to keep it, but don’t like it in its original form. With a ring, or some jewelry you could always change the setting, add some bling to it, or just sell it for the gold or silver content.  There are many ways of doing this.  My mother had a gold necklace—I never wear necklaces-(heck I hardly wear jewelry)—and I sold it as gold and bought myself at the same jewelers, a ring I do wear.
  • Clothes—this is a biggie, because we often wear the same clothes week in and week out—so the clothes we leave, did have a lot of meaning to our loved ones.  Use your loved one’s T-shirts to make a grocery bag, or a seat on your chairs, or use some of their best clothes to make pillows for everyone who loved the dead person.  Use their jewelry to make earrings for their loved ones.  These are ideas I’ve tested out with my mom’s clothes and jewelry.

In fact, last week I had company over and on the couch was one of my mother’s orange silk blouses on a pillow.  My friend’s daughter loved the pillow and the idea of using clothing as material on a pillow.  I told her it was my mom’s blouse and she could try it on and if it fit it was hers.  It fit.  Or use one of my friend’s ideas for her mother’s clothes (give them to a friend) use the jewelry in a creative project such as putting a few pins, necklaces in a frame with other mementos of loved ones.

This body pillow was made out of my baby winter jacket. Photo by Leslie Jacobs

This body pillow was made out of my baby winter jacket. Photo By Leslie Jacobs.

If you don’t sew, bring to someone who does.  I brought my baby winter jacket and stuffed it and now use it as a small body pillow on my couch.  These are some other ways to use clothes to reupholster items you already own:

Bike seats are great and need just a little material.

Pillows for each of the grandchildren to remember their grandparents by-

Bar stools, blankets and quilts and of course you always could use T-shirts for produce or grocery bags.

Every time I use mine—I get to tell the story of how one of these t-shirts were too small to wear and I decided to try this idea.

  • Ask your friends and family what they would like and give it to them as a remembrance. For a few years after my mom died I would give my friends and family costume jewelry from “the collection of Frances Eshoo Jacobs.” They told me they liked the gifts.  My mother actually told me what to keep in the house—which was everything.  Yes, everything.  (When I get to heaven, let’s hope my mother has reincarnated—or else I’m in big trouble.)
  • Donate it all to a worthy cause and let them decide.

    A bar stool covered with my mother's clothes.

    A bar stool covered with my mother’s clothes. Photo By Leslie Jacobs.

The best advice I can give you is if it doesn’t make you happy to look at the item in question—get it out of your way.  Enjoy your life and your possessions in the same space.

Leslie Jacobs is a professional organizer and can be reached by her website lesmess.com