How Do I Know if I Should
Keep or Let Go of My Collection?
A fellow professional organizer asked an interesting question last week. He had a client that wouldn't let
go of his vinyl album collection because he had heard about the Velvet Underground Album that sold for $150,000. (Washington Post, 12/9/06) He wondered
if we as professional organizers should tell clients about cases like this.
My view is that we should always tell what we know! It’s a matter of trust. Clients need to know that we are there to help them make informed decisions about what to let go of and feel good about their choices. We are not there to “push” them to get rid of stuff. We should be helping them reframe their relationship to their things so that they “become ready” to let go.
If you have a collection that could be of value over $500, I strongly encourage you to consult a professional appraiser or auctioneer (see www.neatandsimple.com for recommended resources in Northern NJ) to find out the facts about your collection. I have often actually stopped clients from tossing or donating items that might be extremely valuable! We put "possibly valuable" things aside and call in a professional to advise us. Experts have access to specialized databases and can quickly research the potential value of everything from china to rugs to fine art.
Interestingly, I have found that doing this actually causes clients to feel more ready to let go. Maybe it's reverse psychology? I don't know, but when people hear from a professional that most of the things they think are valuable - aren't - they peacefully let go of lots of stuff that no longer serves their needs! This also happens when they see hard numbers proving they will get more money back from donating items than selling them.
When in Doubt, Keep it!
Contrary to the popular adage, I strongly recommend people do NOT let go of anything irreplaceable if there is any doubt or insecurity involved. It can be traumatic and usually triggers a new wave of holding on to even more clutter. Just like it's healthier to lose weight gradually without painfully starving yourself, it's healthier to let go of clutter in a way that feels safe and good. It encourages people to learn what not to keep in the first place, and helps them develop strategies and habits for regularly & continuously letting go of what they don't need. This is in the long run a much less stressful approach than binging & purging cycles. (Clinical hoarding is a different story I'm not going to get into here.)
Anyway, holding back information is not a good idea. It's much better to give people information and give them tools to make an educated decision. This way they'll have a process to make decisions in the future as well. For example, let’s suppose your collection WILL be worth $150,000 "someday". You must apply additional criteria to decide whether or not to keep it.
One question to consider is this. "Is the collection worth the price you are paying to keep it?" If a collection is impeding your quality of life, most people will say that no amount of money they "might" collect from their "potential lottery ticket" is worth the sacrifice of their family harmony, ability to enjoy their home, and even health. On the other hand, if it's not causing stress, or impeding your ability to function, and you love it, there is probably no harm in keeping it.
So, the next question is: “Do you take care of your collection? organize it? protect and preserve it? display it?” If not, then you need to question yourself deeply about why you are really keeping it. Some people have their "collection" randomly scattered all over the place and many of the things are already damaged! It will NOT be valuable if it's not cared for! So why are you really keeping it? Collections are a beautiful thing - if you love them and take care of them. If you don't take care of whatever you collect...you need to question what is really behind your need to hang on to them and consider letting it go to someone who will take care of it.
SIDE NOTE: I have a personal collection of a couple hundred albums and a bunch of 45's - some dating from the 50's. They are safely tucked away, organized and protected in a cabinet in my living room with my record player! Yes, do I listen to them now and then.
© 2007 Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed.
Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed, Coach, Author & Blogger is the founder of www.NeatandSimple.com professional organizers and www.LotusBridge.com: Coaching and Learning Resources. As a Life, ADHD and Organizing Coach, she specializes in working with creative people, ADD and the chronically disorganized. She guides people in clarifying priorities, gaining insight, setting up systems, and making the difficult decisions needed to conquer clutter, change habits, and take charge of their lives. She is the author of the home office organizing book "Neat & Simple Guide to Organizing Your Office", and the popular organizing and decluttering blog, Neat & Simple Living.
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