If you ever find yourself stuck with decluttering, but you’re not sure why, there’s a good chance your clutter stories have something to do with it. In this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show, I share a story of a bracelet that’s more than a bracelet—and I think it might just open your eyes to a new perspective.
In This Episode:
- When stuff is more than just “stuff”
- A heartwarming story with an important lesson
- The key to successful decluttering
Featured In This Episode:
- Get your free Mindful Decluttering guide: simplyfiercely.com/freeguide
- Read the blog: simplyfiercely.com/blog
- Connect on Instagram: @simplyfiercely
- Clear Your Clutter opens in Jan 2024–get on the waitlist: simplyfiercely.com/clearyourclutter
- Read Ineke Blakeman’s story
Subscribe to The Simply + Fiercely Show
Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.
When Is a Bracelet More than a Bracelet?
Hey, everyone, it’s Jennifer here, and welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show.
Today’s episode is something that I have been planning on recording forever. It’s inspired by an article that I read way back in March and I knew that I wanted to talk about it, but it never seemed like it was the right time.
Fortunately, now that the Simply and Fiercely Show has moved to weekly episodes I finally have a chance to dig a bit further into the nitty gritty of decluttering and simplifying. A big part of that is exploring the concept of clutter stories.
The concept of clutter stories and understanding the stories behind each
This is going to be familiar to anybody who is in my program, Clear Your Clutter, but to sum things up, as a general rule I think there is more to our stuff than meets the eye.
So yes, of course, you know stuff is just stuff, technically, but when we’re decluttering, there are stories, there are things in our past or lived experiences. And this impacts our relationship with these items that we may or may not declutter. That last bit is quite important. I just wanted to point it out because when you think about it, clutter is very subjective and oftentimes very confusing.
From my own personal experience, and from working with many clients from all over the world, I know that sometimes it’s just conflict when we have an item in our home that we care about and love, but at the same time, we also know deep in our heart that we want to declutter.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. I know for me, it’s very confusing. It’s almost like you’re being torn in two directions. And obviously, yes, of course, that’s going to make decluttering hard. I know for myself, I spent a lot of time really steeped in indecision.
Part of this process is seeking out what you want to do with your clutter. Do you want to keep it? Do you want to let it go? And if so, how do you let it go?
It’s understanding your clutter story. What is your relationship with this specific item? And then once you start to break things down, once you understand that meaning, it’s going to be so much easier to make informed decisions.
The article about a woman who wants a charm bracelet.
Okay, so that is going to bring us back to this article in question, which by the way, I will link to in the show notes.
But let me start by saying that this article actually has nothing to do with decluttering. Instead, it’s about someone who feels very, very attached to a bracelet.
I’ll read you the headline: Ineke Blakeman longed for a charm bracelet throughout her life. 60 years later, a stranger made it happen.
So this is obviously a bit of a feel good piece. I came across it on Facebook and if I’m going to be completely honest with you, what actually drew me to the article was almost a fear of the comment section, if that makes sense.
I’m not sure if you’re on Facebook very much, probably good for you if you’re not, but if you are, you’ll know that sometimes the comments section on a Facebook post, especially a news article can be one of the most toxic places.
And when I saw this headline I was imagining how people could be very unkind. I was picturing people making fun of this woman for spending 60 years dreaming of a charm bracelet.
Those unkind comments could come from people who might be a bit minimalist leaning. Because on the surface, just from the headline, I know how this comes across. I can see how the whole ‘it’s just stuff a crowd’ could jump on this woman with comments along the lines of ‘imagine being so materialistic that you spent 60 years wanting a bracelet’ And to be honest, I did see that kind of comment on Facebook. Sadly, that is just often the toxicness that is there, I suppose.
Article – Ineke Blakeman longed for a charm bracelet throughout her life. Sixty years later, a stranger made it happen
Why Jen thought of getting inspiration from the article and recorded this episode?
The reason why I wanted to record this episode, and I think that it might surprise some people because clearly, I’m a minimalist, is actually because I wanted to defend Miss Blakeman.
I completely understand why she was so attached to this bracelet. I also believe that understanding her story and approaching it with compassion is a valuable lesson when it comes to decluttering in general.
So for those of you who are regular listeners, you’ve probably heard me say this before, how important self-compassion is when it comes to decluttering. If you’re new here, then please, I invite you to imprint this concept onto your brain.
The more that you can show up for yourself with self-kindness and respect, the easier it is going to be to declutter.
Having said that, I know that that’s often really hard to do, which is part of why I am breaking down this story about a bracelet.
Okay, so I know that so far, that might sound like a bit of a whirlwind, a bit all over the place, but stick with me. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to get rid of certain things, then I hope this episode is going to open your eyes to some new perspectives.
The story of Ineke Blakeman’s longing for a charm bracelet
Let’s go back to the article. It begins with Miss Blakeman wanting a charm bracelet, which in her words, was a luxury. A lesson she learned very early in life was, “Not all things are available to all people.”
Right off the bat that really strikes a chord with me, possibly with you too.
If you’ve ever experienced any financial insecurity in your life, there’s definitely that feeling that there are some people who have things right and other people who are the “have-nots”.
Then the story takes another turn. Miss. Blakeman is at a birthday party, it says she’s about nine years old, and she wins one of these silver charm bracelets that she has always wanted during a birthday party game.
But then, oh my gosh, this just broke my heart, it was a bit too big for her, so the adults at the party made her choose something else. This memory stuck with her for 60 years.
Is it the bracelet that she really wanted? (…How did the story resonate with Jen growing up as a kid?)
On the surface, I can see how that might come across as a touch materialistic. That’s probably why some people are judging her and I wonder if there was even a time that maybe Miss Blakeman might have judged herself. Because it is just a bracelet, right? Or is it?
Again, I don’t know the entire story but I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine that this bracelet meant something more to Miss Blakeman.
Maybe it wasn’t the bracelet that she really wanted but instead, it was a sense of belonging. That longing she felt when she thought “Not all things are available to all people”.
I don’t know about you, but for me, that is really haunting and I can just imagine, how she must have felt as a young child.
Actually, if I’m honest, I don’t really have to imagine. I grew up in a situation where we didn’t have a lot of money and on top of that, I felt very different from the people in my community.
I’m half Chinese and I grew up very close to my mother’s family which is the Chinese side. I had a Chinese family but I grew up in a very predominantly white neighborhood.
And even though I don’t have a memory of a specific item, like Miss Blakeman does with this bracelet, I can completely understand that feeling of not belonging. I felt like I was on the fringe, and I felt like having the right clothes would help me fit in.
I just want to reiterate that these are not Miss Blakeman’s words, I’m just using this story as an example to explain how our relationship with stuff can be complicated.
And then there’s a twist in the actual story that really reinforces this for me.
The twist in the story, a sense of belonging and community.
As the article continues, in 2022 Miss Blakeman is on a mini news segment here in Australia, where she tells the story about always wanting this charm bracelet.
This is where the heartwarming bit comes in.
Someone listening to her story is part of a group that collects these specific silver charms. This community does not know Miss Blakeman personally but they get together and they make a specialized bracelet for her.
On top of that, there are members of the community who get in touch with her and as the story goes, they end up creating this really beautiful friendship. So that’s the happy ending to the story.
For me, this reiterates that the bracelet was a symbol of so much more than just a bracelet, instead it represented a sense of belonging and community.
So when they say that 60 years later she finally gets the bracelet, yes, of course. But to me, it’s 60 years later and she finally gets the belonging and the acceptance that that bracelet symbolized all along.
So from the outside looking in, I’d guess that probably 99% of you listening to this understand this concept. That the bracelet represented community.
You’re probably feeling in your heart right now a lot of compassion for Miss Blakeman and everything that she’s gone through. It’s so easy to feel that compassion for someone else, isn’t it?
Compassion for yourself when decluttering.
But how often do you extend that same compassion to yourself when you’re decluttering and you’re thinking about your relationships with stuff?
That’s a good question, right?
Because here’s the thing. Yes, in this case, I would say with a lot of confidence that Miss Blakeman does not want to declutter her bracelet. And of course, I understand that.
I want to say this for the people in the back, anybody who needs to hear this.
I may be a minimalist, but I don’t believe that you have to get rid of things that you care about.
That’s not the point of decluttering.
But just to make this a learning example, let’s say that she did. What if she wanted to declutter the bracelet or something else in her life that means a lot to her?
Maybe her house is too small. Maybe she’s just editing her belongings because she feels overwhelmed by them. There are a million reasons why she could want to declutter, and those reasons are personal to her.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. What she might be feeling is this sort of duality that I talked about where she wants to let go of something, but she’s also feeling super attached so she’s just struggling with that.
Again, hands up, if you’ve gone through that.
I’ve felt that so many times and I see it over and over in my experience with my clients.
So what do you think is going through Miss Blakeman’s head in this imaginary scenario? My guess is that she’s probably not making that connection herself about the community. Instead, she’s probably telling herself something like, ‘Oh, it’s just a bracelet. It’s just stuff’.
She could be beating herself up about not being able to let go.
That kind of mentality, that inner voice in her head, is not going to help her with her decluttering.
But if you imagine switching gears, do you think it would be helpful for her to acknowledge her past? To acknowledge the symbolism that this bracelet represented for her? That symbolism, where it’s about the strong community and acceptance?
Again, this is imaginary and I feel like I need to state that I’m not saying that she should declutter the bracelet. But if she wanted to, I think that understanding her history and what it represents to her. Perhaps reflecting on all the ways that she’s part of an active loving community now, with or without that bracelet. All of these kinds of thoughts, when they’re fueled by understanding and self compassion, I think would be the key to letting go.
It’s not pushing herself into not caring. It’s not saying ‘it’s just stuff’ or saying that your memory doesn’t live in your items. No, in my experience, that isn’t going to work here. What she needs is kindness, compassion, and understanding.
That is the message that I wanted to share in this somewhat roundabout episode.
When I saw Miss Blakeman’s story, it really struck me because it’s such a beautiful example of our clutter stories or stuff stories. The story behind our belongings.
I also thought this was worth sharing because as I said, it’s so easy to feel empathy for someone else but not for ourselves.
I was only a few sentences into this article when it became abundantly clear to me that this bracelet was about so much more than a bracelet.
But I also know that I would find it more difficult to connect these dots in my own life with my own stuff. My self compassion does not come as easily or quickly, which is why we need these reminders.
You are not defined by your stuff, but your stuff can tell a story about your fears, your insecurities, your hopes, and your dreams.
These are your clutter stories. If you want to let go but you can’t follow through, this is where the work begins.
Thank you for listening, my friends, and have a great week.