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Us humans are such emotional creatures. We love to reminisce and relive the feelings associated with our past experiences and relationships.
Because we like to take trips down memory land and relive the feelings, we collect and keep all the stuff related to the memory. We keep prom gowns and yearbooks, letters and pictures, mementos and keepsakes, knick-knacks and do-dads passed down from generation to generation, and the list goes on and on.
Keeping these items isn’t wrong, but it does tend to lend itself to our overly cluttered environments.
And what most of us fail to realize is keeping these things won’t bring back the person entwined in the memory, the experience, or the person we once were. All of it is in the past and can’t be brought into the present.
How To Part With Sentimental Items and Honor the Memories
I’m a sap. I never used to be that way, but the older I get, the more I’ve become a sentimental fool. I’ve saved my daughter’s artwork from childhood, my parent’s cake topper from their wedding, rocks from walks on the beach with my best friend, jewelry from my grandmother and even my father’s sunglasses because when he wore them he looked like a clown and it made us all laugh.
Why do we hold on to these possessions when our feelings are not contained in the item, but in our memories?
We enjoy having these tangible items to remind us of days gone by. I know this is true for me since my mother has passed away. I recognized it when I was preparing for my move and was having to make decisions about what to part with and what to keep.
The question then becomes: if you’re on the path of living with less or simply trying to declutter your life, how do you get rid of the stuff that means so much, evokes so much emotion and that deep down you want to keep?
There are many ways to create simplicity and to simplify the sentimental. It starts with honoring what is important to you.
Simplicity Doesn’t Mean You Own Nothing
Just because you are on a path to decluttering and simplifying your life, doesn’t mean you’re going to throw out everything you own. What it does mean is that you’re now challenged with the opportunity to figure out what is significant in your life. Through this process, you can begin to uncover what you value, and then make decisions based on those values.
Often we have stuff stored up in boxes or contained in rooms that aren’t used or seen. In this case, we are just holding onto the past that we’re not using or enjoying. Maybe we feel we’ll betray the loved one who gave it to us or we keep things we are expected to hold on to, like family heirlooms.
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. I know for me this is true. I have these two curio type cabinets that hold all the keepsakes that are important to me.
These are kinds of things that you display as you aim to 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 then should be to keep just those things on display that have the most personal meaning to you; that represent your most valued memories.
Retain the number of those items 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.
Unless your goal is to own only a certain number of things, why don’t you display and share what you love?
So look around your home. What do you already have out that serves you as a reminder of the memories and people in your life? Now think about what is in storage and what you don’t see that is there stored away in boxes ‘IF’ you want to relive those days. Do you see the difference?
Other Ideas For Letting Go Of Emotional Items
Always talk with other family members first to see if they would like to take any items before you discard them. This includes Aunts, Uncles, and other relatives.
After my mother had died I offered this picture entitled “The Light of the World” to my mom’s last remaining sister in law thinking she might enjoy the memory of my mother in her home. She did take it and hung it in her bedroom. Something that you don’t have particularly strong memories for might be entirely different for someone else.
If nobody wants it then it’s an unspoken understanding that you’ll sell or give the items away to someone who will, and that someone may not be part of the family.
It seems we’ve all be faced with the prospect of what to do with the family china and silverware. Right now I have three boxes of my mother’s china upstairs in the attic and her silver in a drawer in the china cabinet. My daughter and I have gone back and forth about what to do with it. It’s cute and quaint and reminds us of mother. But if we keep it, it means we have three sets of place settings and honestly, how many do we need?
For now, I’m not sure what we’ll do with the items, but I know we’re not ready to part with them.
If you do decide to keep family china, don’t just display them but use them at the very least for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or holidays.
Another idea would be to keep one complete place setting that you display and give others in the family one too. This way everyone has a piece of the heirloom to cherish.
Wedding Dresses/Baptismal Gowns
Consider using a shadow box to display and preserve different parts of it with a picture. The same can be done for doilies, afghans, and other larger sentimental pieces. I did this with my grandmother’s crocheted artwork. I preserved my favorite piece in a shadow box and sold the rest.
Childhood and College Memories
What I love to do is buy some beautiful boxes that I can keep old letters, school work, pictures, etc. in, then I stack them up in the corner of my home where others can see them. This way anyone who’s interested can go through them and enjoy the memories on a regular basis. I find that during the holidays when cousins and such come by it’s an opportunity for us to share in old memories of our parents.
If you have children, they will love going through those boxes on a regular basis as well and will help them develop an appreciation for your past and maybe a desire to keep a couple of those items to display when you are gone.
If you find that you don’t look at them at all, then it’s time to let them go.
In this age of technology, we have the opportunity to scan any documents or photos we want and have them available at our fingertips. If you have a hard time parting with things, take pictures of it and upload to your computer. You can pull them up at any given time and reminisce all you want. You can even print out some of the pictures or items and display them too.
This is an excellent way to declutter while still keeping the memories you want to keep.
Decluttering takes time, and you won’t be able to accomplish everything you set out to do in one round. Some things you’ll easily let go of and other things you’ll find you need to hold onto a bit longer before you make a final decision like I’m doing with my mother’s china.
But always remember our memories are contained inside of us and no matter what happens, can’t be taken away by the loss of an object that was associated with the memory.