There are some things we just can’t bear to throw away.
Many of the objects in our homes are ones we’ve kept because we associate them with treasured people, places, and events. Holding on to special objects helps us remember meaningful parts of our lives. But this can get tricky if you’re a person who also feels overwhelmed by lots of stuff in your living space.
How do we allow ourselves to hold on in purposeful ways without creating an environment of accumulation and clutter? And how do we begin to chip away at the stuff we’ve kept, especially when it feels even more special because it has already been saved for so long?
There are a lot of ways we can hold onto the meaning behind our sentimental stuff, without letting the objects themselves cramp our style at home.
Here are 11 strategies for managing memorabilia in your home
1. Give it time.
Unlike other household clutter, memorabilia requires more of a process when determining what to save and how to save it. The emotion behind sentimental objects won’t just go away when you haul the stuff to the curb. It’s ok to hold onto things for periods of time until you’re ready to go through it.
For example, if you have a box of stuff from high school, go through it every few years and sift out the things that no longer feel as special.
2. Wait for the right head space.
Separate memorabilia from regular cleaning and decluttering. Purge mode can be a force. When you’re trying to make big, visible progress with your decluttering, it’s easy to make hasty decisions about sentimental items that you later regret.
Instead, set the memory box aside and know you’ll get to it when you’re more in the mood to sit down with a cup of coffee and spend time discerning and micro-sorting.
3. Practice with easier stuff.
Instead of focusing on things that feel super precious right out the gate, try with items in the mid-special category.
For example, I have a hard time getting rid of anything my mom has given me, ever…and that’s a lot of stuff. Instead of tossing out hand-written cards or books with inscriptions, I focus instead on candles that have run their course, or tea towels that are stained and threadbare. I keep the really special items and let go of the rest.
4. Take pictures.
This is a great one for old writing, journals, notes, papers, and artwork. Keep a few favorites, and take pictures of the rest. Save them in a folder on your desktop and back them up. This way it’s easy to click through whenever you want to take a trip down memory lane, but there’s no physical paper in your home.
5. Keep a sample.
This one works well for clothing, blankets, towels, accessories, or anything cloth. Cut out a sample, and save it in a small box or stitch it into a keepsake mini-blanket.
Now, instead of having multiple storage bins of blankets and fabrics, you’ll have one patchwork piece to hang up or take out occasionally, where each square or sample tells a story.
6. Give it to the right person.
The baby swing, the hand tool, the musical instrument you never learned to play but can’t part with…sometimes it’s easier to let go when you know your items are going to someone you love and care about.
When you gift something, don’t attach strings and stipulations (that’s just another way of holding on). Also, make sure the recipient knows they are free to pass it along when they’re done. If those things seem too hard, hang onto it awhile longer and try again later.
7. Have someone else do it.
Sometimes we want to let go, but we can’t actually be the ones to do it. When you’ve done the sorting, ask a partner or a friend to decide what to do with the items. You can remain blissfully unaware of where your stuff ends up. You put it in good hands and it isn’t your concern anymore!
8. Add ritual.
A letting go ritual can be a powerful way to release old stuff. A prayer or meditation of thanks, lighting a candle, or just sitting in silence and taking a moment to hold your items and say goodbye can help. If the items are right, tangible rituals like burning, burying, or even breaking/smashing might help to get emotional closure.
9. Walk away for awhile.
Going through old things is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. When you start to get burned out, stand up and walk away. Get some fresh air, grab a snack or a fresh drink, and come back when you’re feeling ready again.
If you force yourself to push through when you’re tired, you may get too hasty, and find yourself wishing you’d been more discerning later.
10. Keep some.
Let yourself keep some! There isn’t any pressure to get rid of ALL sentimental stuff (or any of it, if that’s your jam). Ideally, the things you keep will evoke memories of joy and happiness, and will remind you of love and good times in your life.
We know our brains have a negativity bias, meaning we tend to remember and pay more attention to the bad things that happen to us. Holding on to the stuff that sparks happy memories helps us remember the good things from our lives.
11. Think before you keep.
Before you hang on to something, pause and consider:
How special is this item? Why do I want to keep it? Is this something I want in my home? Will it be hard to make let this thing go in the future? And if so, is there a way I can let it go now…before I actually keep it?
Try leaving the item instead of keeping it. If you absolutely need to hang on, do it. But at least then you’ll know you were mindful about it.
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