by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Whether you’ve been decluttering your home or sorting through photos, chances are that you pause when you find items that summon memories. Although you know that, logically, your memories are stored inside you, not in an object, after a while the number of sentimental items may seem to pile up.
If you’re downsizing, you may realize that items you’ve been holding onto because you had the room in your old home will claim too much space in your new, smaller home. And, of course, you might not want to leave your adult kids wondering why you kept so many meaningless things (to their perspective).
Instead of holding each item in your hand, drawing on your memories, and debating the object’s merits, look at sentimental items in a new way.
Collecting Treasured Memories
Instead of starting with the item and thinking of the memories connected to it, instead begin with your memories and only then consider if there are items that reflect your past.
When you select items connected to your best, happiest memories, then the items in your home are more than decorative tchotchkes, they are meaningful reflections of the journey you’ve taken through your life.
Look down this list, inspired by Peter Walsh’s book, Let It Go, and think of a favorite memory associated with the time, place or person. Don’t worry if you can’t do this in one sitting, it’s fine to return to this exercise over a week, a month, or a few months.
Write down your memories so you aren’t making the effort over and again to remember the details. (And you can then share these written stories with family.)
Think of favorite, happy, meaningful memories. You can’t get rid of your sad, negative memories, but you don’t need to hold onto objects that make you feel horrible.
You aren’t limited to a single memory for each category. However, if you have twenty favorite vacations, imagine that you’re at a party and someone has asked you to choose one. You don’t want to monopolize the conversation by talking about every vacation you’ve ever taken, so you pick one.
Connecting to Treasured Objects
Look at each memory on your list and consider if there is some item that connects to this memory. The item doesn’t have to be elaborate. A tee shirt may be the item that best reminds you of wonderful experiences with friends in college. When you think of your grandfather, you may immediately think of his pipe, which you have tucked away in a drawer.
You may not have a memory for a category, and you may not have an item or photograph associated with every favorite memory. Maybe you tossed an item years ago or it was destroyed. You don’t need to locate a second-best substitute.
This activity is intended to help you narrow your collection of keepsakes to those associated with your best memories. However, if you’re comfortable tossing (or passing along) a sentimental item, you don’t have to keep it no matter what memory is connected to it.
Also, you may find that taking a photograph of an item or holding onto a token of an object helps you to honor your sentimental items.
Preserving Favorite Photos
You may own the collar worn by your favorite dog while keeping several photos of other pets you’ve share your life with. You may have a digital folder filled with hundreds of pet pictures. However, only two are printed and framed.
Curating your photos allows you to tell a story about your favorite memories. Which photo best supports your memory of your island vacation – the picture of a palm tree with the ocean in the background or the picture of you and your friends, arms wrapped around one another, standing beneath that palm tree, the ocean in the background?
Just as you don’t have to keep every item just because it summons memories, you don’t need to keep every photo, print or digital.
Keep the Best and Most Meaningful Items
Using the technique described above, you don’t start with the items and then think of the memories associated with the items. Instead you recall memories and then find something that reflects and connects to that memory. (Or, you may realize that you don’t need to hold onto an item as a link to a memory.)
Sorting through sentimental keepsakes isn’t easy, so take your time when you need to and enjoy the process of reflecting on the best events in your life.
Click here to subscribe to emails and receive the free 7-day e-course, Distraction-free Decluttering, and learn the formula for focusing on and finishing any decluttering project around your home.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.