How to Let Go of Sentimental Stuff

I can get as excited about pretty office supplies and a sale at The Container Store as the next person, but truth be told, I'm more interested in the deeper meaning of why we do what we do. Why do we keep what we keep? Why do we hold on to things that don't serve us? Is it really just because we "don't have time" to clean up our homes or is it more complicated than that? What does the state of our homes say about how we feel about our lives? I believe that our homes are a mirror for our inner lives and circumstances. That there is a direct correlation between how we treat our belongings and our internal dialogue of how we feel about ourselves, our past, our futures and our values. The other day I was watching some Youtube videos on decluttering (I told you I'm a hardcore nerd!) and one came through my feed that grabbed my attention and then seriously riled me up after I watched it.

Kathryn, aka DoITOnaDime, filmed herself decluttering some sentimental objects she'd been holding on to since she was a child. She asked herself some great questions and showed us how she decides what should stay and what should go. I was giving her an "Amen, Sister, preach it!" all the way through. You can see it here.

Then I read through the comments.

I know, I know, reading Youtube comments is a like walking through a land mine, but I just couldn't help myself. What got me riled up were the comments about how she was going to pitch her report cards and what a travesty that was! (She had an envelope full of them and after reading through a few said she was going to pitch 'em.)

Now, I'm a librarian and I get the whole "It's important for archival reasons, we can't just throw everything out and future generations will want to read/see that stuff" argument. And to an extent, it's absolutely valid. But what I see is people positively drowning in sentimental clutter that is sucking the life force out of them NOW. That is absolutely not a fair trade off.

Saving things for future generations is nice, but for the love of Pete, don't hang on to things because of this reason alone. Think of saving your sentimental items as a time capsule. Save the absolute very best, most loved, cherished and informative of your items. Pick the cream of the crop of any particular genre and let go of the rest. Seriously.

Life is for LIVING, not documenting and then putting in a box to rot and take up all your living space! People have basements, attics, storage units and entire bedrooms devoted to this stuff and I'll tell you from experience, it can take a really long time to sort through all of it.

Save Grandma's recipes, but you don't need to save every single one of them. It's ok to just save the family favorites. Those are actually a cool thing to have and future generations might get a kick out of them. But don't save every cookbook she ever owned, especially if they were mass produced or no one even used them.

It's not your job in this life to be the keeper of the stuff. If you have that role, feel free to abdicate it.

(I have ONE binder full of cool family recipes. I kept the handwritten, well loved ones. My Italian Grandma made loads of Polish recipes for my Polish Grandpa and his enormous side of the family--he was one of 11 siblings. Handmade Pierogi is hands down, one of my favorite foods and my most cherished memories of my Grandma. I don't care about the quiche recipe she clipped from the newspaper and never cooked or some grody jello recipe that was popular in the 70's. I only kept the very best, and because they're organized, I can find them and use them!)

The same goes for your kids school stuff. I know this is a very sensitive issue for many parents (hey, I'm a Mom too) but it just isn't reasonable to save every single piece of artwork, writing assignments or science projects, because you know what? Most of what they are doing is practicing their skills. It's like a pro basketball player doing lay ups and drills. Not every one of them needs to be documented. He or she is honing their craft. Is it cool to see snap shots from different time periods to see how they've grown and evolved? Totally. But it's just practice.

Our kids are doing the same thing. So saving a piece of writing and artwork from the beginning of each year and a few (!!!) of the very best projects they do during the rest of the school year is plenty of evidence of their growth and work.

And if throwing them in the recycling bin feels too emotional to you, remember they are not that piece of paper. Hell, they won't even remember that they did that drawing in a few weeks. It's ok to let things go and to enjoy the present moment. It's safe. We can't take this stuff with us and honestly, when your kids go off to college do you really think they are going to want every last bit artwork and math worksheets that they did? I guarantee you they will not.

So much of clutter is just deferred decisions and basically you are just passing off your lack of decision making on to your kids or other people in your life (sorry for the tough love there). I know it's hard to make those decisions but it won't get easier with time, it'll just get more overwhelming. When I work with clients I ask tons of questions about each item we come across. What's this? Do you love it? Do you need it? Do you have more of it? Does it represent something? Yes? Than is it a positive thing or negative thing? Etc..

It's really interesting how often we hold on to things that remind us of terrible periods of our lives, hardships, illnesses, divorces, deaths, and yet, we feel guilty letting those things go even though it brings us pain.

You know what I say about that? Screw that stuff. Seriously. Why in the world would you want to be reminded of something traumatic in your past? Clear out that stuff and I know you will feel a massive burden come off of your shoulders because I've done it myself and I've seen it with my clients over and over again. Let. It. Go. It does not serve you.

Want some personalized help with this project? You can hire me if you live in Atlanta or we can work via Skype anywhere in the world (I’ve worked with peeps in 9 countries and counting). Don’t go it alone. You’ll get it done waaaaay faster with help and you’ll learn how to get organized and STAY that way in the process!

We also hang on to things that have been passed down in our families even though no one particularly loves or cherishes those things.

It's a little like the joke about the wife who cuts off the end of the ham during preparation because her Mother did that and her Grandmother did it too. Turns out that Grandma was cutting it off not because it was a special way that made it taste better, rather, she did it because her pan was too short. (Better telling of that joke here.)

Think about the deep down reason why you're keeping something and that truth can literally set you free.

What do you think? What does your mind instantly bring up when we're talking about sentimental clutter? Everybody has some (Including me. I have tons of family photos I need to process. Ugh.). The trick is to sift out the true treasures and to release the clutter.