How to Keep Sentimental Things, But Reduce Your Clutter

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What To Do With Your Sentimental Clutter

photo credit: Easy Giving

I went to a Catholic school through the 8th grade. Nuns enforced rules and punishment. It was a life of rituals, uniforms, memorizing prayers and strict education. I learned piano. I made lifelong friends. I won a National penmanship award. I kissed a boy for the first time. We hid on the back of the church steps and played poker during recess. It was a life that isn’t seen today. I went on to public school and became social. I met new friends, fell in love (several times), played sports, was a cheerleader, went to prom. I loved those years. My mementos let me relive those years of being young, having a strong athletic body, not being able to imagine myself at the age I am now, and dreamed of a future that resulted in a totally different reality.

My mom was my best friend. When i married and had kids, she was who I called first to share good or bad news, get advice, or just to gossip. We sewed together once a week in our BPFC (Be Prepared For Christmas) club. We shopped. We shared recipes. Mom died on my 28th birthday, when my kids were 2 and 3. I was devastated and it took me years to feel halfway normal again. Holding on to some of mom’s stuff, in an odd way, is holding on to a piece of mom.

I married at 21. We had a good couple years of marriage that produced two great kids. His job took him in and out of town. We grew apart. The marriage ended 9 years later. That was years ago, we remain friends, and each of us are happily remarried, but the things I’ve kept from those years are tied to a marriage and time when my kids were part of a two-parent family. So I feel I need to save those things to pass on to them.

I was a single mom for most of my kids school years. It was us against the world, creating memories, tackling life head-on, and living our lives to the fullest as best we could. Although those years were a struggle financially, they were some of the best years of my life. I’m proud of the adults my children have become, and I’m proud of myself for powering through some really difficult years that resulted in the relationship I now have with my kids. The “things” I’ve saved from those years are precious to me.

So… how do you get rid of sentimental things? First of all, who says we have to? I’m an extremely sentimental person and have trouble letting go…of anything. When I love someone (or something), I love it hard! I cry easily. My kids “I love you, mom” produces a lump in my throat. Seeing the 12th man set Guinness noise level records when watching a Seahawks (GO HAWKS!) game makes me cry. Holding a baby, ANY baby, brings tears to my eyes. I’m a sentimental hot mess. So I’m sorry to all the minimalists who advise getting rid of sentimental clutter because they’re just “things”, but there are just some things I will NOT and CANNOT let go. I say, if you’ve got the room for it, and it means something to you, keep it.

I do agree, though, that saving everything that holds a memory can get out of hand. So here are some ideas for choosing what things to keep, uses for the things you save, and minimizing the space needed to store those things you can’t let go of…

Sentimental Paperwork

Elementary school artwork and projects, report cards, detention slips, essays, etc. Letters, cards, and notes.

  • Pull out your favorite few, or one item for each school year. If you can’t dump what remains, pack them all in a storage container and label it. If you don’t revisit that storage container in the next few years, throw it away without looking through it again, or ask your kids if they’d like to have them.
  • Take pictures of your favorite ones. Store the pictures on a disc or jump drive. Make them into photo books and gift them to your kids.
  • Make a scrapbook or shadowbox.

Sentimental Clothing

Your wedding dress, the bunting your baby wore home from the hospital, the t-shirt you bought in Mexico, your grandma’s pillbox hat, your cheerleading sweater, your dad’s favorite belt buckle, your favorite jeans from four sizes ago.

  • If they make you happy, turn them into display pieces. Make a shadowbox with pieces of these items grouped with pictures of you/them wearing them. Turn all those memorable t-shirts into a quilt.
  • If you’re saving clothing you hope you’ll fit into again, GET RID OF THEM! Although they may be holding on to them for motivation, I don’t know about you, but if I get back down to that size, I’ll be celebrating by buying NEW clothes!

Sentimental Items

Your grandma’s china, your dad’s favorite belt buckle, the framed picture of your great-aunt, your mother-in-law’s wedding ring, your mom’s old cookie press.

  • Use it. Even though these are close to your heart, they are just “things”. Things are meant to be used. Memories of those things will remain with you forever. So, use grandma’s china. If you break some pieces, it’s okay. Mom would get a kick out of you struggling to make spritz cookies using her old cookie press, and you KNOW she’d be okay with you eventually replacing it for a new one.
  • Display it. Hang that old picture of great aunt Hilda. Pull out other vintage photos of relatives and group all these together on a family wall.
  • Wear it. Have dad’s buckle shined and polished. Wear it yourself or give it to your brother, husband, son. Use it as an embellishment on a purse or clothing. Wear the ring on a chain, or take out the stones and have it reset in a more modern setting.

Don’t let anyone guilt you into getting rid of things that are important to you. Give yourself as much time as you need to let go. I feel that allowing yourself moments to relive and revisit memories can be healing. It can ground yourself by giving you a chance to revisit your past and pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made. It can remind you of plans you had for your future, and inspire and re-motivate you to attain those dreams.

I say that if you’re thoughtful about which items to keep, take steps to preserve them properly, and organize and label any containers where they live, if you have the room to store them, then do it. Who are you hurting? I don’t think it  means you’re living in the past. It’s true that these things are just “things”, but things, just like smells, taste and touch, can morph you back to a memory or a time that is close to your heart. My mom touched that sewing pattern, studied it over a cup of coffee, made notes on it, and was excited to start sewing it once we were all tucked away in bed. My kids held the crayon that colored that picture of the three of us, carried it home from school and proudly handed it to me with their little 1st grade hands. I’ll be damned if I’ll let those things go.

Am I wrong?

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