Clutter Clearing: Mastering Mixed Associations

Objects hold associations with their history. Those associations can be positive, negative, or mixed depending on the feelings associated with their history. Items with positive associations are valued, hold positive energies and can attract more positive into your life. Items with negative associations hold negative energies and can attract more negative into your life. To achieve good feng shui in your environment it is recommended that you check out the associations of everything in your space, and eliminate items with negative associations.

Every now and then you’ll discover that an item holds both negative and positive associations. Following is a story I wrote many years ago that demonstrates how a single item can hold both negative and positive associations. It shows that I intuitively understood the power of associations before I had been exposed to feng shui principles.

The Yellow Birch Table

The squatty table, made from an 8 inch thick slab of yellow birch perched atop three logsIMG_1613 of the same hardwood, is one of my prized possessions. Its story speaks to the life and death of my relationship with Dave, my first husband, and to the birth of a new, empowered self.

 In 1981, after two years of marriage, Dave and I moved to Vermont to help my father start a maple syrup and sheep operation. Together we worked closely with Ed McPhee, a local logger and hired handyman. Without a particular request or prompting, Ed offered to give us a slab of yellow birch to make a table. I had wondered if he was trying to connect with Dave, and if in fact he’d follow through on his offer.

As it turned out, Ed was as good as his word. He presented Dave with a thick, rough slab of yellow birch. If it had been left to me, I would have let it sit, given that I am no genius when it comes to anything that involves a power tool. Dave, however, set to work sanding and sanding and sanding the slab by hand. He seemed to enjoy watching the table top emerge from the rough hewn surface. I was impressed by his commitment of time and energy to the project. When the top of the slab had been softened to his standards, he searched for and found a slender yellow birch log that he cut into three pieces. He carefully carved the end of each piece to fit in holes he’d cut into the underside of the slab. He inserted the legs into the holes and the slab became a table. It weighed 85 pounds.

When the table was done, Dave presented it to me as a Christmas gift. I was surprised and touched to find that his hours of effort were a labor of love for me. At that time our relationship seemed on firm footing and the table was a visual symbol of our love.

We left Vermont the following summer with the table dismantled and wedged into our VW Rabbit. There was no question about whether the table would make the trip. It was a treasure, a piece of Vermont that we took with us, a reminder of that unique experience and the closeness between Dave and me that the isolation of that setting fostered.

Dave and I returned to Salt Lake City, Utah and lives we’d left behind when we embarked on the Vermont adventure. Unlike the time in Vermont, Dave and I went our separate ways each day. We assumed we’d continue to maintain the closeness we’d enjoyed in Vermont, but within six months there were obvious signs that our marriage was in trouble. In time I learned that Dave had had an affair and was unsure whether he wanted to remain married. I was devastated by his exit from our commitment to one another, and chose to separate and divorce.

When it came time to divide our possessions, the yellow birch table came under scrutiny. I had assumed that it was mine, given that it had been a gift. Dave had other ideas. He argued that it should be his, because he’d labored hard and long to bring it into being. 

One gift of our separation and ultimate divorce was that in the process of surviving that painful experience I learned to stand my ground with others. After years of succumbing to the wishes of almost everybody in an attempt to avoid rejection, I learned to figure out what really matters to me and assert both my wants and my rights. I cut my teeth on that journey of growth by letting Dave know that he’d get that table over my dead body. I informed him that the table was precious to me because it was the only gift he’d ever made for me. What I didn’t way was that the table represented a time when I had mattered to him and I wanted to remember that.

So, when I moved from Utah to Virginia, I left Dave behind, but the yellow birch table came with me. It now has a place of honor in the middle of our family room. It continues to draw groans from even the strongest men who have helped move it from place to place. It reminds me of a chapter in my life that was special, of a time when I thought love with Dave would last, and of the beginning of my emergence as a woman who knows she matters.

When items hold both positive and negative associations the challenge is to determine which association is strongest. In the case of my yellow birch table, it holds Dave’s energy and the energy of our relationship, which meant the world to me, associations that could stir feelings of loss and grief because of Dave’s betrayal and the death of our marriage. However, the strongest associations are of the friendship and generosity of Ed, of the very special year we spent in Vermont, of Dave’s efforts to show his love with a unique gift he made himself, and of my first major success holding my own despite the objection of an important person in my life. All those associations are positive and carry enough weight to offset the negative associations. Beside, I LOVE the table. It is unique and a powerful symbol of the woman I have become despite pain and life’s challenges.