What is it about guilt that makes us hold onto that ugly lamp that great aunt Sarah cherished, when it brings back ill feelings every time you lay your eyes on it? Guilt is such a powerful emotion, capable of turning even the most decisive of individuals into a waffling flip-flopper.
In my opinion, underneath that guilt lies fear - fear of forgetting great aunt Sarah, fear of our own memory loss, fear of our own mortality. And so we keep that ugly lamp hidden in the basement until we’re gone and the next generation is faced with the task of dealing with the stuff we didn't want to deal with.
So how do we navigate this guilt, you ask? Well, this will be different for everyone, depending upon one's guilt tolerance level.
I have a low guilt tolerance level (i.e. I don't hold onto guilty feelings), so I'm fortunate in that very few physical objects have a death grip on my heart strings.
But not everyone is a heartless robot like me.
For those of you who struggle with what to do with family heirlooms, take it one step and one piece at a time. First, consider letting go of any piece of furniture or decor that you strongly dislike. Give yourself permission to let it go. Doing so opens up physical space as well as freeing up the emotional clutter you've been collecting internally. Ask another family member if s/he is interested in owning great aunt Sarah's lamp. They might be thrilled you asked!
If none of your family members want the item, don't fret. You've already made the decision to let it go - it's just a matter of determining where you'll take the lamp (or bedroom suite or costume jewelry or any item that pushes you into the guilt-zone) so that someone else can benefit from great aunt Sarah's design sense.
Decide which nonprofit thrift store's mission aligns best with your philosophy and happily donate your item(s) knowing someone else will love great aunt Sarah's ugly lamp.
Repeat this process until all that remains are pieces you actually love, want to keep and will incorporate into your home's decor.
When you are able to release the stuff, you will also release the guilt. Trust me, you'll feel so much better after you do!