“People are here because they’ve got baggage. I’m talking curbside check-in,
pay the fine ’cause it’s over fifty pounds kind of baggage. Get it?”
– Lauren Kate, American best-selling author
“Why the hell are we keeping all this stuff? Throw it out!”
I can still hear the exasperation in my father’s voice. My parents had decided to build my brother a new bedroom in the basement. That required, first and foremost, a major reorganization of the “stuff” that filled every corner of the space. Father’s plan was to throw everything out or burn it in a big bonfire down by the barn. Mom wouldn’t hear of it.
You see, Mom was a keeper. Wonderfully sentimental, she would keep every baby blanket, birthday card and piece of macaroni art we brought home from school. Father was a thrower and not sentimental in the least. If an item served no practical purpose, it was tossed out.
When it comes to building our self-esteem, it’s important to draw a distinction between what we choose to keep and what we decide to throw out. Great-grandfather’s pocket watch: keep. Great-grandmother’s cycles of guilt and manipulation: throw out. The passing down of family traits is rarely questioned. “He’s just like his father,” and, “She gets that from her mother,” are everyday phrases people use to describe family members. What if those traits are things like anger, depression, envy, self-denial, prejudices, or abuse? Do we still want them?
More than an inheritance, family baggage accumulates gradually over time and typically starts when we’re children. We were little, and they were big. They were our parents (or older siblings, coach, teacher, preacher), so we believed the negative stories, and eventually, the stories – this early programming – became us. We’re not kids any-more and the time has come to recognize and examine the family baggage we’ve been carrying and do some unpacking.
If we could see the emotional baggage we’re carrying, we might resemble a weary traveller coming home from a long business trip – weighed down by suitcases and duffle bags.
In her best-seller, Travelling Hopefully – How to Lose Our Family Baggage, American author Libby Gill says that one of the first steps toward losing your family baggage is to acknowledge its existence. Says Gill, acknowledging our baggage is not about assigning blame, it’s about taking responsibility. Chances are much of our baggage has never been viewed with a critical eye. We may be perceiving a “baggage laden” event from the age-perspective we were when the incident happened. We can’t change the events of our past, and we can’t change other people. We can, however, change “the story” and see our baggage by shifting vantage points.
Once we have clarity on the issues, we can begin to label traits that we want as keepers and those that no longer serve us as throwers. We can create a personal roadmap or action plan that will move us from burdened to free. If we can create a mental image of ourselves minus the undesirable traits, then we can act. It’s important to start with baby steps and keep each step measurable and specific. And to have those steps lead us to something with built-in accountability, so we’ll know when we’ve done what we set out to accomplish.
In the end, Mom sorted through and reorganized the items stored in the basement. I don’t recall anything actually being tossed out. Essentially, it was the moving of every-thing from one side of the basement to the other. Surveying the scene, Father just shook his head and sighed. In the end though, he did find enough room (and time) to complete the bedroom.
I remember reading once that everyone comes with baggage. The secret is to find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack. To me, that’s probably good advice.