OH, the things that we keep. The other day, I found myself in our storage room, digging through bins and boxes. I was in the mood to get rid of stuff, in my ongoing effort to create more breathing space down there (I admit - it’s an obsession). Although I was tempted to go through the kids’ boxes, I knew better than to do it without them. I had to take a hard look at my own stuff.
Take baby steps. Over the last few decades, I have whittled my own memorabilia down to just one medium-sized box. It’s been a process (I started with several), and letting go has become easier from one year to the next. Now it was time to reduce the mementos so they would fit into a small, more manageable container.
Enjoy reminiscing. Part of what I enjoy about the decluttering process is revisiting the past. It’s funny how we forget things. Like the comments teachers wrote on our college assignments (“with some structured instruction, you could become a brilliant writer” – I think that was meant as a compliment). Or what our high school friends wrote in our yearbooks (“to a most inventive, original, gutsy girl” – I never saw myself that way). These can give us clues about our talents and attributes. They’re a way of excavating our true self – the person who perhaps got buried under responsibilities, a real job and a mortgage. That’s probably why it’s taken me so many years to whittle down my keep-sakes.
But when the time comes to go to a retirement home (hopefully many, many years from now), I don’t want to be dragging in plastic containers full of my past. By then, I plan to have streamlined my bin to just one small shoe box.
Overcoming fear. So here’s what I did – maybe it will give you some ideas if you’re tackling your memorabilia stacks soon. I had several plaques awarded to me for past accomplishments (like getting the highest mark in Marketing 101). They were bulky and heavy. So I photographed them and then tossed them. I felt a small pang of fear, I won’t lie. Accomplishment is one of my top values, and one of my biggest attachments. But when that voice inside my head said “if you toss them, you won’t have any proof left of how smart you were”, I rebutted “oh yes I will, because I’ll have the pictures of my certificates in a folder on my computer, and I can look at them any time I want, without having to go in the basement and dig through the bin - so there!” (I’m very long-winded when I talk to myself).
Try this simple trick. This simple step, of photographing bulky items and then tossing them, allowed me to reduce my things to fit the smaller container. Mission accomplished.
Here’s another tip: When I was in high school, I was into buttons. Not the sewing kind - the kind you pin to your shirt with a message on it. I had accumulated quite a collection. Rather than keep them all, I decided to just keep a few that brought back fond memories – like the one I bought at my first concert. Do you have any collections? You don’t need to keep the entire collection – just pick your favourites.
Decluttering makes everyone’s life easier. What are you most attached to from your past? It’s okay to keep some of that stuff, especially since it probably ties into your values. But if you can take some small steps towards reducing the volume, you can make space for more current, relevant stuff. And it won’t be such an ordeal when you want to revisit the good old days – just open a digital file or photo album. Also, when it comes time to exit this life, wouldn’t it be comforting to know you’re leaving enough to be remembered by, but not so much that it burdens those you leave behind? A little morbid, I know, but as a professional organizer, I have seen families agonize over what to do with this ‘inherited clutter’ – especially overwhelming while they are grieving.
Something to keep in mind. Decluttering is not just an act of self-care; it’s an act of love towards those closest to you. So if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.
• Hellen Buttigieg is a Certified Professional Organizer, life coach, TV host and owner of We Organize U. She is the author of Organizing Outside the Box: Conquer Clutter Using Your Natural Learning Style. For tips on organizing your home, your office and your life, visit WeOrganizeU. com and sign up for Hellen’s free newsletter.