The guilt of gifts and the burden of mathoms

My relatives like to give gifts. I come from a gift-giving family.

What this has meant over my life is that I’ve received a LOT of gifts which I’ve felt pressured by my family to keep and look after. I’ve done so meticulously. As the only daughter in the family I’ve also been the recipient of anything designated an heirloom.

I’ve received everything from dinnersets to diamond rings. While it’s all beautiful stuff, and much of it quite valuable I suppose, it has become an albatross around my neck.

Yes, I keep coming back to that albatross, don’t I?

alby

Because I never asked for any of this stuff to come to me. I didn’t ask for any of it. Worse still, because it was all heirlooms and belonged to people who are important to me and meant something special to them, I felt like I couldn’t sell it. Often I felt like I couldn’t even use it.

What if I broke a cake plate of Aunty Grace’s fifty year old afternoon tea set? What if I wore Grandma’s diamond ring and the stone came loose and was lost?

I’d never forgive myself.

I had not only my own lifetime’s worth of stuff piled upon me, but everyone else’s stuff piled on me too. It weighed me down. It felt heavy. Maybe right now you’re thinking how fortunate I am to have inherited and been given beautiful things, and how ungrateful I am to not appreciate them. I do appreciate them, really I do. Or I tried to.

But everywhere I went, the stuff had to go with me. I had to insure it. I had to transport it. I had to worry over it. I had to store it. I had to buy furniture for it to house it. It stopped being gifts and started being a curse a long, long time ago.

“I’ve realised the only person who could free me from my family’s expectations was myself.”

So this year, after a long time reflecting on it all, I decided that it was time for my family’s mathoms and I to part ways.

My aunt's tea set. It's on sale now, and if after three weeks it doesn't sell, it will go to the charity shop.

My aunt’s tea set. It’s on sale now, and if after three weeks it doesn’t sell, it will go to the charity shop.

If you love someone, let them go

It has been hard to let all these things, this stuff, go. I felt guilt the first time I sold a teapot at a Trash and Treasure that my mother gave me. I didn’t want it, I’d never wanted it, but she’d given it to me anyway. When she found out it was gone she was very hurt, and the guilt I felt was awful. I felt like I’d failed her – over a teapot!

I’ve been working through all these emotions and guilt associated with all this stuff and I’ve come to understand that whether my family dump guilt on me for getting rid of all this stuff or not, it’s not fair or reasonable for them to do so. It was all given to me, I’ve offered it all back and it’s been refused, so as far as I’m concerned it’s going out the door.

If you love someone, you can’t love them with strings attached. You can’t make them guilty over teapots.

Everyone makes decisions we don’t agree with. That’s what people do. Deal with it.

Finding my own freedom

I feel better now these heirlooms and gifts have started to move on to new homes. The only things I’m keeping are items of use and items I find personally beautiful and meaningful. I’m simplifying my life and the amount of possessions I own, and I feel like I’m opening the doors and windows to a very musty, dark old room for the first time in a long, long while.

I feel like a weight has lifted from my shoulders. I’ve realised that the only person who could free myself from my family’s expectations was myself. They couldn’t free me. I had to do it.

Letting go can be difficult, but the freedom and sense of lightness is so worth it. 

4 thoughts on “The guilt of gifts and the burden of mathoms

  1. your post says so many truths! In a far smaller way I have become the recipient of clothes, toys etc from friends and I struggle with letting go of some of these things. I often wonder what people’s true motives are for passing this stuff on? Is it because they don’t want it in their houses but can’t bear to make the step to pass it onto a charity shop, or sell it themselves? A friend once gave me half empty bottles of her kids’ medicines when she moved house because I guess she couldn’t bear to throw them away herself and believed she could assuage her green guilt by giving them to me – so it became my burden. It must be hard for you with all the ancestral guilt attached to these objects. I’m sure, though, you treasure the memories of these people in other ways rather than just in the physical things they have left you.

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    • It’s hard and, like you, I sometimes wonder about people’s motives in giving stuff. Do they do it because they think they’re not good enough unless they give us things? Or maybe it’s a way to obtain our love? Because they really ought to know better – we’re going to love the people we care about, without them ever giving us any stuff ever.

      Our world is so screwed up…

      I’ll blame it on our consumer society again. Because we get all these messages to express our love with stuff. And it’s so wrong, and so stupid, but we all do it. Is it the Seventh Day Adventists who don’t give gifts at Christmas? Maybe they’re on to something there…

      As for that friend who gave you half used bottles of medicines, maybe she was being kind, but in reality she was using you as a dumping ground. Get rid of the stuff the moment she gives it to you – don’t even let the dust settle on it!

      I don’t give gifts much these days. if a friend has a birthday, I’ll ask if I can take them out for a drink or a meal instead, and I gave my partner chocolates and some cider for his birthday, so he didn’t have to receive any more stuff – like me, he’s drowning in clutter. Things you can eat and enjoy are great presents! 🙂

      As for my kids, they’re both getting new laptops for Christmas, so they won’t be getting much else, if anything, and they know it. No more little plastic rubbish! Yay! 🙂

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  2. I think the most important thing you said here was that you offered it back and they refused – this means they don’t really want these items either and so have given that burden to you instead. If it was really that important they would have taken it back to ensure it remained within the family, instead they have not only transferred the stuff to you, but also the guilt of dealing with those objects.

    It was realising the guilt and difficulties which can arise from gifts which has helped me to begin giving gifts which can be consumed e.g. chocolate, sweets, soaps etc. I also intend to tell family members that they have my complete permission to declutter any gifts I have given them over the years, guilt free, as they choose. I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel burdened by my choice of gift which might have seemed good at the time but hasn’t, or no longer brings happiness to them.

    I hope you manage to overcome this guilt and keep only those heirlooms which bring you true joy and happy memories.

    P.S This blog post is on the same issue and I thought you might enjoy it or find it reassuring to know others feels the way you do too: http://www.aslobcomesclean.com/2011/04/letting-go-of-someone-elses-memories/

    -Roe

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    • I’m the same – these days when I give anything (especially when I pass kids clothing on to friends with kids of similar ages) I always make sure to tell the person to feel free to onsell or pass the items on to friends or charity if they can’t use them. The last thing I want is my friends feeling guilty or burdened!

      We do live in a world drowning in clutter, and it’s so much kinder to either give things that can be used or consumed, or just make arrangements not to give at all. I know this goes against our cultural habits of gift-giving, but times have changed, and we need to change too. The only ones who benefit from outrageous gift-giving are the shops and big corporations, and frankly, they can do without benefitting from our guilt and debt!

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