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Mental health: The art of letting go, or: Is it okay to love objects?
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Mental health: The art of letting go, or: Is it okay to love objects?

Nora Hille
Die Kunst des Loslassens-Artikelbild

“You got something, you’re who”. This phrase reflects our meritocracy focused on status symbols, consumption, material things and their possession. But is it actually okay to love things? And what does that do to us mentally? An exciting topic, closely related to the theme of “letting go”, which many people want to tackle with their New Year’s resolutions.

Love people and animals

First of all, I love people: my husband, our children, my brothers, my close friends and confidants. But I also love other living beings. Our two fluffy long-haired cats that are so wonderful to pet. Petting pets affects our well-being, both physically and mentally. Stress is reduced, because blood pressure and pulse rate decrease and our brain releases more of the neurotransmitters oxytocin and serotonin. [1]

The Art of Letting Go Cat Gracy
Our cat Gracy

My favorite possessions

But I also love my countless books. Our cozy home. The family photos. My car, which is almost always in the garage, but for me means the promise of freedom. And I love my acupressure mat, which I have had for half a year and on which I can relax so wonderfully in the evening.

But I and most others have accumulated a lot more than that: the statistical average German owns 10,000 items – and more are added almost daily. [ 2] What an extremely high number!

The transition object: our first love for an object

Even infants and toddlers often fall in love with cuddly things that can give them an enormous amount of support. Cuddly blankets or stuffed animals thus become indispensable companions for many children, usually between the ages of four and twelve months, and help them to cope with transitions in everyday life, such as the transition from wakefulness to sleep or the morning farewell at daycare. In these and other challenges, children almost automatically fall back on the support of their favorite object, which, starting from the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott, has been called the “transition object” since the 1950s. This helps the child to process feelings of loss regarding the mother, because as the child grows older, it realizes that the mother exists independently and that it has no omnipotence over her. [3]

Insight into family life: Transition object of our son

Photo Susu Article-The Art Of Letting Go
Susu the little stuffed dog

Thus, the importance of transitional objects cannot be overstated; they are often kept into adulthood. In our son’s case, it was a small stuffed dog, spotted white-brown-black with long floppy ears and a loyal look, which I had bought cheaply at a bazaar. After his nap, our son came running into the living room and discovered the freshly washed and still somewhat damp puppy on the radiator. He walked right up to it. Took it in his hand, beaming all over his face. A conversation ensued as to what the dog’s name might be. We parents made a few suggestions, the last one was Susi. Then he looked at us with his big brown eyes and said, “No, that’s Susu!”

A companion in all situations

From then on, Susu was everywhere: in kindergarten, at noon and in the evening when sleeping, on the way to the supermarket, when going out with the buggy. I was panic-stricken that the little dog lady might get lost. That’s why she got a fancy red leather dog leash that we bought at the toy store.

There are many positive memories associated with Susu. It gave our son security when he was out without us. In the evening in bed he probably told her his worries and she ALWAYS understood him. And he has had many an adventure with her: I remember a scene when Susu fell into the toilet at kindergarten, came home soaking wet, and then had to go through a spin cycle in the washing machine with plenty of disinfectant. In the meantime, our son is 14, but the little stuffed dog still lives in his bed – and in his heart.

What happens psychologically when we love things?

But what does it do to us when we love everyday objects as adults? First, it means that we charge these things with emotional meaning. Their possession gives us security, a good, warm feeling. And that, in turn, makes it harder for us to let go of those items at some point, even if we no longer need them. Too many objects in our home can thus gradually take away our breath.

Things and property

weigh down your soul

Longing for freedom

One extreme: Messi syndrome …

As an extreme example on one side of the scale “loving objects” one can consider (besides objectophiles) the clinical picture Messi syndrome, which often hides obsessive-compulsive disorder with a mostly neurotic fear of letting go. Every item is important, nothing can be thrown away anymore. Even empty food cans or old newspapers seem valuable and are hoarded. The origin of this behavior may lie in an intense experience of loss (death of a family member, separation, or the like).

Poor is not the one who has little,
but the one who can’t get enough.

Jean Guéhenno, French writer, 1890-1978

In the sense of this quote, someone who accumulates more and more objects or even garbage as an external form of wealth is a person with a bottomless hole in his soul. There is a pain that is numbed for a short time with each new object, but cannot be cured by more and more possessions.

There are also objectophiles who believe themselves to be in a love relationship with an object, sometimes even feeling sexual attraction. They believe that their feelings are reciprocated by this beloved object.

… the other extreme: minimalism

On the other hand, there are minimalists and the “simplify your life concept”, based on the idea of burdening one’s life with the possession of as few useful objects as possible. The Tiny House movement and the “100 Things” concept are vivid examples of this other side of the scale.

Intermediate conclusion objects love and mental health

An object has no feelings and cannot love us back, no matter how fluffy it is, no matter how cute it looks, no matter how well we might like it. As an interim conclusion and with regard to our mental health, it appears that the question “may I love objects?” must therefore be formulated differently. Yes, of course I am allowed to love individual objects that have a special meaning for me – as long as it does me good, doesn’t get out of hand or even becomes obsessive. But it is just as important to be able to part with objects so as not to end up suffocating in their abundance.

So the question should be:

– What objects to love do my soul good?

And I would like to add:

– What items are cluttering me and my life?

My reference to the topic

I chose this topic for the current column because I myself have difficulty letting go of objects. But why is it so difficult for some of us in our everyday lives to part with items that we have demonstrably not used for a long time? And why is “cleaning out” for others an easy task, a real liberation?

Emotional letting go

Behind the phenomena of accumulating material possessions or, indeed, living out minimalism, there is another larger issue that directly affects our mental health: our general ability to let go emotionally:

Detaching from mental baggage, feelings of guilt or traumatic experiences means accepting them as having happened and seeing them as a thing of the past. [4]

If a person does not succeed in letting go of the psychological burdens described above, this has a direct impact on their quality of life. The same applies if you remain in situations that are not (any longer) good for you, such as an unloved job or a failed relationship. Here, too, letting go is necessary.

Symptoms of illness when emotional letting go is not successful

Without an emotional letting go, symptoms of illness can even arise such as…

Mental:

  • inner restlessness, circling thoughts/ruminations,
  • Concentration disorders,
  • Sleep disorders,
  • Sadness,
  • Despondency,
  • depressed mood or depression,
  • Guilt/rage/hate feelings,
  • Anxiety and panic attacks,
  • Displacement,
  • Addictive behaviors and substance abuse,
  • Self-rejection,
  • Self-esteem disorders, etc.

Psychosomatic:

  • Headache,
  • Back pain,
  • grinding of teeth at night,
  • Abdominal pain and
  • Digestive problems etc.

Letting go starts in the head

So letting go of a suffocating excess of objects, but also of stressful situations from the present and the past, is an important psychological process for our mental health and as a consequential effect also for our physical well-being.

This process begins in the mind, with the conscious decision “I’m ready to let go.” Once this decision is made and emotionally anchored, we can begin to let go at our own pace.

See Also

Working on our Mindset

Among other things, it is possible to work on expanding our own mindset (that is, our individual attitudes and the way we feel and act) with positive beliefs. On the topic of letting go, positive beliefs that are best practiced daily before going to sleep, for example, might sound like this:

  • Everything I need to be happy, I already carry within me.
  • With every object I give away, my inner freedom grows.
  • I feel relief when I say goodbye to things.
  • When I let go, I feel lighter and freer every time.
  • I allow myself to let go of old hurts.
  • I let go. Wounds are allowed to heal.

A particularly appropriate set of beliefs can be repeated as an inner self-talk while you devote yourself to sorting them out. This can strengthen your inner balance while you face the mental challenge of letting go.

Sometimes it can be helpful to first write down what you want to let go of (objects as well as emotions), and then take on these items one by one. And it’s perfectly okay to get support in the process, for example from a trusted person.

The 5 magic tips of the tidy-up expert Maria Husch

An online course can also be a good support for letting go of items and training a sense of order, for example from tidying expert Maria Husch. On the subject of decluttering, she reveals 5 magic tips [5]:

  1. Only start when you are really mentally well.
  2. Start with things that go easily (example scrap paper, clothes).
  3. Look for small, manageable projects (such as a drawer) and make sure to spend short periods of time (10-30 minutes), as this will help you achieve success quickly.
  4. Declutter where you feel comfortable (on the dining room table or sofa, not in the musty dark basement).
  5. The handing over has to be as easy as possible, if possible all things in one place (e.g. donation for flea market, social department store) and make sure that the sorted out things stay in your household for a maximum of 2 days.

How we feel when letting go succeeds

If we succeed in letting go – be it of a mass of objects suffocating us, or of burdensome feelings – this can be tantamount to a liberating blow: We are proud of ourselves and literally feel relieved.

Let go of ballast

feel lightness and the

Song of the wind

And what about Susu?

Even though our son is now 14, this little puppy still has a place in his bed. If that would be different one day (unimaginable), Susu would be allowed to move into my bed immediately. And that’s even if I should have mutated into a 100-item advocate by then.


[1] “Balance for the Soul. Animal Helpers.” In: Land & People. The country magazine of your daily newspaper. October 2021, pp. 40-42, p. 42.

[2] Source: https://psychologie-journal.de/minimalismus/1197/wie-viele-dinge-braucht-der-mensch/ (accessed 19 August 2022).

[3] Source: https://www.kinderfreundliche-sachsen.de/kinderarche-knigge/uebergangsobjekte-wichtige-begleiter-der-kinder.html (accessed August 19, 2022).

[4] Source: online article: Learning the fine art of letting go. https://diepsyche.de/die-hohe-kunst-des-loslassens-lernen/# (accessed August 28, 2022).

[5] Maria Husch: YouTube video Raumtalk #44 – Decluttering made easy – with these 5 magic tips you’ll finally make it. Published on March 8, 2018. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHXkF4Nc69w (accessed September 8, 2022).


About the author

kontakt@norahille.de | + Articles

Nora Hille was born in 1975, is happily married and has two children. She studied history, literature and media studies, worked in communications/public relations for 12 years and has now retired for health reasons. Today she writes articles on the topics of mental health and mental illness as a sufferer and experience expert. She also writes literary essays, poems (preferably haikus) and short prose. She regularly publishes her mental health column here at FemalExperts Magazine and is Editor of eXperimenta - the magazine for literature, art and society. Anti-stigma work is close to her heart: she is an encourager at Mutmachleute e.V. and is committed to Anti-Stigma-Texts against the stigmatization (exclusion) of the mentally ill in our society for more togetherness, tolerance and equality. In autumn 2023 her book "When Light Defeats Darkness" will be published by Palomaa Publishing. A book of encouragement about how to live a good and rich life despite bipolar illness - and the enormous challenge that this means every day for the inner balance of those affected.

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