Wholeness Healing Today

Emotional Attachment to “Things”

When I was working on my counseling program, during the Marriage and Family class, we learned different theories and identified roles that we had played in our families according to the theories. I was immediately struck by one, and I subsequently identified myself as a “legacy keeper” within my family, although with an amended definition.

So what do the legacy keepers do? Well, they end up with all the junk no one else wants to take home! Okay, so that is not quite the truth, although many times, in looking at the decorations in my home, one would think that is true. So I wish to look at the concept of the legacy keeper, why those things are important, and what we can learn about the importance of our families through the items we choose to keep.

I am the oldest child of three and admittedly have been the one who strives to keep and maintain family connections. I enjoy learning about most facets of family history and often attach sentimental value to the keepsakes of relatives. I remember stories told about the family by family members, so often, the objects have some sort of draw for me. And that is probably why “things” from our families are important. I have the “family” books, those that someone has put together of all of the family history available at that time. I ended up with all of the “paper” items and pictures of my paternal grandparents and now my maternal grandparents. I am the oldest of my father’s family, but not on my mother’s, but in looking at some of the things she had kept, she too was interested in family history, so that is why she probably was given the historical memories of her parents. Someone has to keep them for our family to stay connected, to know where we came from, and to assist in our personal identification and protect the legacy that is our family.

The heirlooms (those of monetary value and those of sentimental value) are how we identify how we fit in our families of origin. Legacy keepers end up with items that have been handed down from generation to generation, along with the stories that accompany and explain, as we search for who we are and how we fit in our families. And it is important that we as parents and grandparents are able then to pass along the heirlooms and the stories to our children, so that sense of family remains. Each child identifies with something different, each item holds different value to each person, so often the stories are varied and perceptually altered, depending on the perspective of the person.

It has been said that it is hard to know where you are going until one knows where you have been, and that maybe is a good justification for legacy keepers to collect family items. Those items are proof of what a family did, where they were, and what was important to them. I think it is also a way of staying connected to our roots, a way of drawing us back to our family of origin, which is so important to understanding why we do things a certain way, why we think the way we do, why our values are so imbedded in our personalities.

I also came to this article after reading several of our past articles on cleaning out and simplifying our lives, so then I am finding all of this “saving” juxtaposed with the “clearing” and how to make that work in our lives. That brings us to the question then of “What is worth saving?” When we de-clutter, what about those things that are collecting dust and which our children and grandchildren will have no interest in? I first responded, “Well, give them to the legacy keeper in the family now and let him/her worry about it!”, but of course, that is only solving half of the problem, and in my case, filling up my house. So what do we do with those things to which we have an emotional attachment, but which are also part of the clutter we have amassed? Prioritize yes, but are there still things left? And as family patriarchs and matriarchs die, so increases the problems of housing the family legacy.

I do believe that part of balancing this emotional attachment and the accumulation of things is to share it with those younger, while explaining the significance. With my mom’s death, we were left with over 20 photo albums, and that is a lot to add to any family. Plus she also had my dad’s parents’ accumulation of pictures, as well as her parents’ accumulation of pictures. One weekend my sisters, my oldest cousin, and I went through them all, taking some for us and making piles for other relatives and friends who would enjoy them, but also marking some to make copies of so that we too could share those family memories with the rest of our family, as it is so difficult to have everyone in one place as families grow. And it struck me then that perhaps a way to de-clutter would be to commit all paper things (pictures, documents, newspaper clippings) to a CD that could be shared at a later time.

We are an integral part of our families, and they were instrumental in making and guiding us to be who we are today, and the emotional attachment we have to the “things” in our past really helps to solidify our connectedness. I believe that the emotional attachment we have to the family items helps stabilize us as we go out into the world, helps to “root” us to the core of our beginnings, and really helps us to identify the essence of our independent selves. We become independent selves, but we are still rooted to our families, still connected to our “safe base”, and the items that we have assigned emotional value to are reminders that we do belong, that we are loved, and that we always have someone to “go home to”.

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  • Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
    Licensed Professional Counselor
    Advanced Clinical HypnoTherapist

  • Deb England began working part-time for Wholeness Healing Center in September 2004 and began full-time in May 2005. Deb practices primarily in the Broken Bow office and one day a week in the Grand Island office. Previously she had completed her practicum and internship at Morning Star Alliance, working in the Broken Bow and Grand Island offices.


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