When everything is special, nothing is

I visited with a client recently who was, shall we say, a keeper.  She was a keeper of books, of memories, of papers, and of collections.  All of these books, she said, are precious to her.  All of these framed photographs are special.  Each and every one of her Boyd’s Bears is beloved.

There were shelves upon shelves, rooms upon rooms, filled with books, framed photographs, and Boyd’s Bears figurines.  What this client couldn’t see is this:  when everything is special, nothing is.

I couldn’t tell you a single title of a book that she had, because all the books disappeared into one giant sea of titles.  The faces of her loved ones got lost amongst the hundreds of other framed photos that competed for attention along every wall and every available shelf.  You couldn’t take in the intricate detail of the Boyd’s Bears figurines because all you could see was the sheer mass of them.  The special-ness of each individual item got lost because there was just so much.  Nothing in the house seemed special.  There had been no editing, no careful collecting, no curating a collection of items that truly meant a lot to her.  She thought it was all special, but because she couldn’t find or clean or manage her out of control collection, none of it was special.

She is planning a move to a 2-bedroom apartment at a local retirement community.  We’re going to take two bookcases, filled with only her truly favorite books.  We’re taking one small hanging shelf and putting her favorite 5-10 Boyd’s Bears on it.  She will have one wall to display family photographs, so she’s going to carefully select the best ones.  When you limit what you have, the process forces you to truly evaluate objects and select your favorites.

What we encourage clients to do when downsizing is to set priorities.  Sure, maybe they can only keep 30% of their possessions, but we want to make sure it’s their FAVORITE 30%.