Humans are emotional creatures. We like to relive the feelings associated with past experiences and relationships, some good, some bad. We hold onto things like old yearbooks, letters from past relationships, mementos from trips we’ve been on, keepsakes of family members who have passed on, wedding dresses, prom dresses, class rings, you get the idea. Keeping these things isn’t wrong, but it is one of the main ways many of us clutter our homes. We are trying to hold on to the memories, people and experiences of our past through physical items. What many people don’t realize is that it doesn’t matter how many of grandma’s doilies you have around the house, it won’t bring her back to knit another one. Or keeping your old flame’s love letters in a box in the attic doesn’t make you the same person you were when you were 18.
Take a moment and look around your house at how many things you can see that serve to remind you of past memories and people. Now think about what you might have in storage that you can’t even see on a daily basis, that is just there for ‘IF’ you want to relive those days.
Why do we hold on to things when the joy and feelings are not contained in the item, but in your own mind and internal memories?
I think the answer is that we enjoy having tangible objects to remind us of days gone by, but we don’t think about how that effects our present as well. While it is wonderful to have a few very sentimental items displayed in prominent places throughout our homes, when we have items stored up in boxes, or that are contained in rooms and areas that aren’t used or seen, we are really just holding on to the past through clutter that we aren’t using or even enjoying. Some items we may keep because we feel like getting rid of them would betray the loved one who gave it to us, but has since passed away; even though we don’t use the item or even particularly enjoy it. Or, we may keep things because we think we are expected to, like wedding dresses, family heirlooms like china sets, silverware or antique furniture.
A close co-worker gifted my husband and myself a food processor when we got married, she then unexpectedly passed away within 6 months. I carried around that food processor for ten years, and my husband used it maybe 2-3 times total, before I finally gave it away. As I think about that now, looking back, and remembering my co-worker and her personality, she would probably think it hilarious that I held onto a kitchen item to remember her by, especially since she didn’t care for cooking all that much.
If we stop and think about it, sentimental items that should have a place in our life, probably already do. They are the pictures and keepsakes that we have hanging on our walls, displayed on our shelves out where we can see it on a regular, if not daily basis. This is where it should be. These are kinds of things that you display as you live an intentional life. Everything else, while it may still be special, doesn’t contain enough of a memory to continue to hold onto it, to allow it to keep taking up space in your life. Your goal should be to keep just those things on display that really have the most personal meaning to you, that represent your most valued memories. The number of those items should be limited to few enough that you can enjoy each of them separately and without distraction by a bunch of other objects on the same shelf, or hanging on the same wall space.
Ideas for letting go of sentimental, emotionally based items-
-Talk to other family members and find out if they would like to take the item. They may have stronger feelings and memories associated with the item than you do, and enjoy it more. If they don’t, then they shouldn’t mind if you gift it to some place that specializes in antiques, or to someone who will use it.
-Use the china and silverware. If you have a beautiful set of china and/or silverware, then use them! Don’t just display them in a cabinet, use them on a regular basis, or at least for all special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and holidays. Or, if you have too many settings that you won’t use, don’t be afraid to keep only one complete place setting to display if you really love it, and gift the rest of the set to someone else, or share a complete place setting with other family members who love it as well.
-If you love your wedding dress or baptismal dress, you can use a shadow box to display and preserve different pieces of it a long with a complete picture. The same can be done for doilies, afghans and other larger sentimental pieces.
Childhood and College Memories
-I would suggest the use of a hat or shirt box of some sort that you can keep old letters, school work, pictures, etc. in, then stack them up in a corner of your home, (on display), so you can actually go through them and enjoy them on a regular basis. If you find that you don’t look at them even then, it’s time to relinquish those days and let them go. If you have children, they will love going through those boxes on a regular basis as well, and will help them develop a love for your past as well, and maybe a desire to keep a couple of those items to display as their own when you are gone.
Go digital to preserve your memories. One of the great things about our age of technology, is that we have opportunity to scan any documents or photos and view them at any time. If you are having a hard time parting with things, take pictures of all of it, and upload them to your computer. You can pull them up at any given time to reminisce or print out to display. This is one of the best ways to declutter while still ‘keeping’ memories. I received a digital photo frame that I love to use display pictures of our family experiences and travels together, instead of purchasing mementos on each of our trips.
This step in decluttering is what slows a lot of people down, and it will take several rounds of decluttering before you can comfortably let go of some items you know deep down probably should go. That’s okay, just keep working on it. I still have my wedding dress in a huge box in my closet, and two boxes of childhood mementos, although I am going to take my own advice and use the hat boxes to keep them out where my children can look at them.
Remembering that our memories are contained inside of us, and can’t be taken away by letting go of the physical objects associated with them is a big step in the decluttering process. Once you’ve mastered it, you are well on your way to being a true minimalist!