Last week I tackled my most dreaded type of clutter: sentimental stuff.
You probably know the sort: Papers from high school. Every card I’d ever received. Notes and blurry photos. Figurines and varsity letters and nametags from events I’d all but forgotten.
Yep, I’m not just a packrat. I’m a sentimental packrat.
Man, do these things grab hold of me. Do you have this problem? It’s like they’re a part of you. Every hand-signed card embodies the person who gave it to you. Every trinket holds the memories of an entire event. How can you possibly let any of it go?
Here’s what I did.
Sort Your Stuff
First, the way to approach this kind of clutter is the opposite of how you approach a big purge of less sentimental objects. Don’t go with your gut and act quickly, even if you have a huge pile of personal nostalgia staring you down.
Why? Because when you’ve invested so much emotion in something, your gut is going to tell you to keep it. You won’t actually get rid of anything.
Instead, take a good look at each paper, photo, card, or trinket. We’re going to sort them into three piles:
- Let it go: these are the things you can’t believe you kept. They’re easy to let go of once you really look at them.
- Archive it: these are things you’ll keep an image or digital copy of while letting the actual thing go. You want to remember them but don’t need the object thing.
- Keep it: these things are staying…at least for now.
Once you have your piles, here’s what you do with each.
Let It Go
This one’s easy. Recycle, donate, gift, sell, or toss as appropriate.
You have two options here. For flat things, like photos and papers, you can scan them into your computer and keep a digital copy. For three dimensional objects, take a photo to remember them by. Save all these files in one folder (mine’s called “Memorabilia”). When you’re done with this pile, get rid of each item in whatever way feels right.
If you’re already planning to pack these items back up, think again. Let’s make sure you really need them all.
Start by sorting this pile into sub-piles by theme. If you’re dealing with greeting cards, sort them by sender. Knick-knacks: put similar items (angel figurines, or cat-themed objects, or picture frames) together. Old trophies by the activity you got them for. You get the idea.
Now, look at each sub-pile in turn. Do you really need every greeting card your aunt ever sent you? I had nearly 20 cards from my grandmother, who passed away almost five years ago. I thought I needed to keep every piece of paper that held her handwriting. Instead, I realized I was happy to choose a few cards that included more than just a signature, or that were special in some other way, and let go of the rest.
How about every trophy you received in high school? If you really want to keep a physical reminder, can you pick your favorite overall or for each activity and get rid of the others?
The idea is to pick out a representative (or several) of each category — a favorite, the most meaningful, whatever — and let it speak for the whole memory. You’ll be amazed by how little you need to keep.
(Some would say you don’t even need to keep those few reminders. I may get there someday, but I’m not there yet. And that’s ok.)
It’s an ongoing process.
I know I have more sentimental clutter hiding out somewhere. But next time I encounter it, I’m better equipped to deal with it.
How do you deal with sentimental stuff?