Note: This is a guest post by my friend Cori at Hey Let’s Make Stuff. Welcome, Cori!
I’m so excited to share some of my favorite decluttering tips with you for Ann Marie’s 40 Bags in 40 Days decluttering challenge. While my blog celebrates my love of making all sorts of things, I am also a zealous declutterer. Our home is on the smaller side, I work from home, and we have twin toddler boys and a 120lb Bernese mountain dog—all of which often makes for tight quarters!
I find that most decluttering comes naturally to me, but there’s one category of things that I have a much harder time with. And I bet you can relate.
Am I right? Photos, letters, gifts, souvenirs, keepsakes. Getting rid of sentimental things is hard for almost all of us. Today I’m going to share three of my favorite tips for keeping the sentimental clutter at bay while still holding onto the memories these sentimental objects bring to us.
Lose Your Sense of Duty or Guilt
We often hold onto things not because we love them or the memories they evoke, but because of two other less-than-noble reasons: duty or guilt.
Duty and guilt are two sides of the same coin when it comes to decluttering. Often we are “gifted” items that we then hold onto because we feel guilty getting rid of them. Grandma gives you her good china she used for every holiday you can remember. You hold onto it because either you feel like it’s your duty to pass it along to your kids or because you feel guilty giving it away.
But you don’t actually like the china. You know you’ll never use it. It sits in a box in your hall closet, taking up valuable space until someday, you’ll foist it on one of your kids, where it will sit in their closet, unused. Repeat forever.
Gifts and inheritances are just one example of things we keep out of duty or guilt. Another big one is things you paid too much money for and now don’t use—but can’t get rid of because you feel guilty that you spent so much money in the first place! Break the cycle and donate these things to places that will actually use them. Let go of the guilt. Let go of the duty.
Keep the Best and Toss the Rest
Other sentimental items can be a bit trickier. We have an enormous box of family photos that came to us when my husband’s grandmother passed away. This box has sat in our closet for months and I know we need to tackle it.
Sometimes we think of decluttering as an either/or proposition: either you keep it or you toss/donate it. But with collections, you can often keep the best and toss the rest. We’ll go through that box and pull out the best photos, the ones that evoke good memories, and get rid of the rest. Stacks of blurry photos of half-remembered relatives aren’t doing anyone any good.
This works for all sorts of collections of sentimental things. Have a hundred antique thimbles you’ve collected? Save your favorite three and sell the rest to a collector who will appreciate them. Have every prom and bridesmaid dress you’ve ever worn? Choose one and have it altered into a cocktail dress you’ll love and actually wear, and donate the rest to a program that gives low-income girls dresses for prom.
By keeping the best—and only the best—pieces from a sentimental collection, you can hold onto to the memories of all the pieces of the collection, without being suffocated by the enormity of it all.
Make it Digital
Paper clutter is the worst for me, and it’s only going to get worse as the boys get older and start bringing home artwork and papers from school! For a long time, I had mountains of old photographs, essays I’d written, old art projects, and family letters that I couldn’t seem to part with.
My go-to decluttering method for paperwork and photos is to scan pretty much everything. Really, I don’t need the physical copy of most things—a digital copy will do, and it’s often easier to find than sorting through boxes of papers and photographs. And because I have a specific way of dealing with digital clutter, I am able to keep everything organized and easy to find. An added benefit is that if you back-up your computer in the cloud, you will never have to worry about losing these precious things in a fire or other catastrophe.
Of course there will be things that are just better in paper form (though I would still recommend scanning them for safety reasons). Hand-written letters from your great grandmother, an old photograph from your parents’ wedding, or a sketch that your kid did that you particularly love. But as you go through your paperwork, know that the memory isn’t the piece of paper itself. It’s what’s on the paper. It reminds you of a person or a place or a time. And many of these memories exist just as vividly if you see a digital image rather than the actual thing.
If you find yourself with a lot of a particular kind of digital document, you can always turn those things into a physical book using an online service like Blurb. I plan on doing this with the boys artwork someday—I think it’s a good way to catalog their efforts without having to keep piles and piles of papers in a box somewhere.
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One of the best thing about going through your sentimental objects is that it actually gets easier to part with things the more often you do it. You start to realize what is truly important and what you really don’t need. The nature of items becomes more clear — a handwritten letter from your favorite aunt is more valuable than a drug store birthday card with her name scribbled at the bottom. The more you declutter, the easier it gets, I promise!