Decluttering Emotional Attachments: Should I Keep My Mother’s Paintings?

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Q: I was wondering whether you would kindly give me some advice.

I’m sure my problem is common to many people, and yet it is not really addressed on the internet anywhere.

My problem is that after my mum died two years ago, I, as only child, had to deal with all her stuff (most of it I have donated). However I am confused emotionally about her framed finished paintings she did – I haven’t been able to get rid of them although I don’t think I want them. She was very violent to me when I was a child and never close to me emotionally. She gave me away when I was 8.

Yes, I have the ‘just in case’ feeling about them. They represent my mum to me as I know how much blood, sweat and tears she poured into her paintings. But they are her ‘essence’ and I know this is magical thinking.

I don’t have a dad or any other family members. So I can’t pass the paintings to family.

Feng shui and decluttering websites say to get rid of anything that doesn’t make you smile.

Her paintings don’t make me smile. If I take photos of them then sell/donate them – will it be a good thing or will I regret it in years to come? It would be the ‘final separation’. I don’t want them stored in the attic or anything like that.

Sent by Kate

Maxwell: Dear Kate,

Your instinct to let them go is right on, regardless of your mother’s behavior, and I would honor it. It is very hard to separate from parents, especially those that have been very hard on us, as the guilt can be huge, but separate you must do if you are to take care of yourself and move on in your life.

Your notion to take pictures is great, and I would go a bit further and even sit with the pictures and shape a little ceremony for yourself around this final severance that you are undertaking.

My father passed away this past Christmas, and I went on a retreat – a Vision Fast – in the California mountains last month. During the four days we were all camping solo and fasting (only water) we were encouraged to shape our own ceremony around letting go and honoring those things and people that have died for us recently. For my father I found myself chanting out loud and burying a tree branch. I was filled with emotion and deeply feeling both his importance to me, that I was now alone, and that it was all okay. I made up the whole thing and felt, only for a split second, that I was ridiculous, as it quickly became very real and meaningful. The intention and my actions were all that mattered.

So, I would encourage you to go a little further with your mother’s paintings. She is clearly a very charged and negative person for you, but you are now in a place to shape that separation and make it real for you. More than simply giving them away, honor your deep feelings for her, mark the passing and move on not just from the artwork, but also the feelings.

I know you will do a great job. 🙂

Best, Maxwell

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