Are your possessions possessing you?

By on May 31, 2012
My recent trip to Japan highlighted an aspect of living in man-made environments that is becoming more of an issue here and internationally: clutter.

As humans who live more sedentary than nomadic lifestyles, we have gotten into the habit of accumulating things. However, as we acquire possessions, our relationships with them change over time, and if we do not regularly reevaluate how we feel about our belongings, they can become clutter rather than treasures.

The fact is that physical reality has constraints. A home remains constant in size – so does furniture. As a result, a space will only hold as much as it will hold. (Hardly a Nobel Prize-winning awareness, one would think, but stay with me here.) A bookcase can only hold as many physical books as it is designed to hold. If your home has enough things and you continue to accumulate things, you will run out of space. Space is finite (on Earth, anyway).
This reality, however, is challenged by a society that has ritualized gift giving at birthdays and holidays yet not the release of possessions in equal measure. Realistically, for every piece that comes into your space, another should go out. If we have gift-giving holidays, why do we not have object-releasing holidays? Unfortunately, our society isn’t very good with endings – breakups, divorces, and death are all viewed as negative and are emotionally charged – and as a result, we resist ending our relationships with possessions with which we may have had an enjoyable past, even if the present is less fulfilling. We generally want to hold on to the positive feeling we had early on in the relationship rather than acknowledge the reality that we may have grown apart. Giving up a formerly prized object can be akin to losing a loved one.

Photographs are particularly fascinating. We take photos of important and enjoyable occasions and display them as a reminder of that time. What happens as we run out of space? Do we replace the photos with images of newer experiences or simply forget about updating them? Wedding and family photos are especially problematic. When one continually displays old photographs without relating them to newer ones, the present moment is filtered through past hopes and expectations. The wedding becomes the benchmark by which present experience is judged – or rather, the hopes and expectations you had at that time about where you’d be by now highlights the disparity of where you are now, which creates a less-than-ideal experience in the here and now.

The challenge is borne by the desire to highlight our emotion in physical form, with ‘the bigger, the better’ as a sponsoring thought. When one has paid for a large photograph of a wedding or a baby, one wants to keep it in order to maximize one’s investment and to continue to experience the joy that was had at that time. It seems hard to justify throwing away an object that sizable and costly. However, dividing the cost by the number of years you have owned it and then again by 365 clearly shows that it has most likely paid for itself at the cost of a fraction of a penny a day. The reality is that the photograph is not your relationship – it is not your wedding, and it is not your child. In fact, its continued presence limits one’s actual experience of the emotion that it seeks to perpetuate by affirming that a past experience was more important than your present and continued evolution.
In my recent consultations, clients were able to recognize that displaying photographs of their children only until the age of 5 (when they are now closer to 20) because they ran out of space was not helping them relate to their kids as the young adults they are now. Others were able to, in a matter of minutes, release formerly prized handbags that no longer suited them and their style (one client tossed over 10 bags in a ‘to donate’ pile in a single minute). They all found that the energy of releasing was self-replicating: once they began the process, their natural instinct was to continue, to help increase their in-the-moment alignment and well-being.

Benjamin Franklin devoted time to his daily schedule to ‘put things in their places.’ Only ten minutes a day could create a joyful ritual that would support giving thanks for what we have. Every season (at least), re-evaluate what you possess and whether you are still using it well. Consider what you can release each time you accumulate a new object, and get into the habit of maintaining that balance.

May all your possessions serve you fully in present time.

Mark Ainley is a Contemporary Feng Shui Consultant based in Vancouver. A former resident of Tokyo, he consults internationally for home and business owners. He may be reached at or visit

About Mark Ainley

Mark Ainley is a Contemporary Feng Shui Consultant and Emotional Stress Consultant living in Vancouver. A former 5-year resident of Tokyo, Mark consults with clients internationally to help them design living and work spaces in alignment with their goals. He also provides consulting in emotional stress management, as well as in the connection between facial structure and innate behavioural and communication patterns. He can be reached through his website: and