Ask the Organizer: China

Today, we’re going to visit china — not the country, the dishes.

How many of us registered for that perfect china pattern that we carefully selected as young brides? Or inherited from mom or grandma, even great-grandma?

This week’s question comes from Cheryl, a close friend of mine for the past four years. Here is her China Dilemna:

Help! I can’t seem to let go of the formal china

I received as a new bride 30+ years ago!

I haven’t owned a china cabinet in 5 years, so it occupies a big percentage

of the available storage space in my very small condo. Each time I move, I carefully

transport it to the new place—and promptly store it again. I never use it.

And while it’s a pretty and expensive pattern, it definitely doesn’t fit who I am now.

Can you help me become china free?

Cheryl added later in an email, “I ‘think’ it might have something to do with the fact that the china is the nicest item I own. I could never replace it later ($$$) even if I wanted to – which I don’t! I feel like this shouldn’t be so hard – but I know you’ll straighten me out.”

Most organizing quandaries arise from either Heart issues or Home issues.

Guilt, fear, shame, sentimental values are all heart issues. No storage space, awkward closets, and 5 people living in a one-bedroom apartment are Home issues. China typically becomes a Heart question because of its strong memory value.

These are the fairly cut-and-dry factors that I see in Cheryl’s story. The china . . .

  • “Doesn’t fit who I am now”

  • “Takes up too much space”

  • “Don’t use it”

  • “Don’t want to replace it”

It sounds like some dishes need to move to a new home, right?

The one factor Cheryl stated that caught my attention is this: “I think it might have something to do with the fact that the china is the nicest item I own.”

There’s the hook.

That statement rings of value — there is something Cheryl values, or Cheryl learned to value from someone else — that has created a strong connection to those dishes. Her statement raises several Heart questions I would ask:

  • Do you feel somehow that in the past thirty years you have failed to acquire other nice things? Maybe there a silent comparison in your mind to who you are now and who you were when you got the china . . . and you’re not measuring up somehow? (And my next question would be: Who’s telling you you’re not measuring up? Did you create this standard or did someone model it for you?)

  • Are you afraid of letting go of the china, purely because of the dollar value it represents? Knowing that you have expensive, lovely china in your possession can fill a need for security, even though you don’t value the china itself. Are you hanging on in case you needed to sell it because you fear being without it as a resource?

  • Did you possibly adopt someone else’s value for expensive china because it makes you a worthy woman/hostess/wife/homemaker? Is this a value you genuinely believe in? Do you feel comfortable breaking away from their value system and creating your own? (Which is just as valid!)

  • If you look hard at your current life, what are the parts of you, your home, your family, your work, do you cherish? What gives you a feeling of satisfaction, of purpose and meaning? Does your china contribute to that? Or do you have other parts of your life that have proven to be much more valuable and have no connection with beautiful-expensive-china-sitting-in-storage?

  • Does the china represent a best part of your life? Does having it make you happy and bring you good memories?

  • If the dishes were gone, how would that make you feel? Or more accurately, what would you fear? (This is probably the most important questioning of all!) Putting yourself in the position of “what if I get rid of it…” can trigger emotions or fears that will give you a clue to the root of your hesitancy.

If Cheryl were to walk through the last bullet point and she found herself thinking, “Oh, I’d hate it! I’d hate knowing that I don’t have that china sitting there waiting for me if I need it to sell later!” she’d know that it represented financial security. If she imagined letting go of the dish set and felt like a failure, she’d need to explore how someone in her life connected beautiful china to being a successful woman and homemaker.

No matter what answers any of us give to the questions, we would all find ourselves in the same position: Okay, now that I know why I’m hanging on, what do I do?

You have to choose between the reason for hanging on, and the reason for letting go.

If my reason for hanging on is financial security, I have to face my fear of lack and my distrust of God’s provision. I may have to forgive some folks in my history for “proving” to me that I can’t trust anyone to provide for me.

What the heck does this have to do with china? Everything. It has everything to do with Dad’s tools sitting in the garage, the desk we inherited from the great aunt, the baby clothes still sitting in attic containers while Junior is in college, and the coin collection that really isn’t worth anything now but it might be someday.

We hang on.

We hang on because we’re afraid, we’re uncertain, we don’t trust, we want to avoid failure and shame. Or we simply don’t know what to do.

When you find yourself hanging on, ask the hard questions. “What am I afraid of?” and “What will happen if I do let this go?”

More often than not, you’ll be fine. And if you ask the hard questions, and find the root of some of your fears, you are primed and ready for greater personal freedom. . . with or without the china.

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