"Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear"*
I'm writing this in response to a recent guest blog post which touched on the subject of "sentimental clutter" (for lack of a better term), those items that evoke such strong memories we can't bring ourselves to throw them away. Although I'm not suggesting "The Part-Time Minimalist" throws away these precious items and her plea for forgiveness was in jest, I appreciate that minimalism sounds like it would have no place for items you don't use. So I hope this post helps debunk that myth.
From the hopeless romantics to the hardcore minimalist, we all desire to hang on to those comforting objects with emotional significance to us. Even Marie Kondo, (who if you haven't heard of her is basically the Queen of Decluttering,) has a lime green novelty t-shirt from 2005 that she only wears around the house but it "sparks joy" as it reminds her of an amazing convention she went to. So if the Mother of home organising says it's OK then it must be.
We are all sentimental creatures deep down and feel that if we throw away these meaningful and usually irreplaceable objects, we’ll somehow be losing the precious memories that go with them. In reality true memories will never fade, even if you haven't kept the objects that trigger them. The important point here is the emotional aspects of these things. If you can't physically bare to throw something away then it's not clutter and for goodness sake don't do it! You'll regret it and probably blame me! This is not the point of this site or decluttering in general. Instead a urge you to find a beautiful way to honor the memory it preserves by giving it a proper home.
The litmus check: What's the purpose of this object? If you don't know what it is, what it's supposed to evoke or why you have it in the first place then it should go. Do quickly check with other people in your household it's not of significance to them before you do so! Does it have genuine emotional value? If not then I probably wouldn't keep it. Do I like it enough to display it? I'm more inclined to keep something I will display (better yet, use) as I probably love it more and have more opportunities to be a spontaneous reminder than something that lives in a box. Would it be more valuable to someone else? If you know that someone else in your family would appreciate an item more because they had a stronger connect to that memory or person it would make a great gift. If you think it might but you're not sure then ask them so they don't feel obliged to keep it.
Ask a friend to help I say friend because mums can cloud our thinking because they want to keep everything from your childhood because it's hard to watch you grow up and fly the nest. A friend can help you remember to ask the above questions, drag you out of boxes of photograph and old diaries and if they are tech-savvy they can help you sell your things on eBay or help you scan and file documents that you don't need hard copies of.
Keep only the Best If you have lots of baby clothes or items from a specific era of your life, consider keeping one piece to represent that memory and pass on the rest. Try and display them if you can, baby shoes add a darling personal touch to a shelf or nook and can be enjoyed by anyone who visits your home. If your items are hard to display you store these clothing items with your "out of season" clothing you will come across them during your annual switch over and admire them. There's even a chance they may come back in fashion and they can see the light of day once again.
The same goes for any collections you might have inherited or started yourself. You are bound to have a favorite teacup or teddy bear. Pick the 1 or 2 you love the most and put them pride of place where you can admire it in a nice clear spot. Give the rest to charity or distribute an inherited collection throughout the family so they can all have a piece in their home.
Give things to those who will cherish them It's easier to part with sentimental objects if you can see them being used by others but be careful when you distribute.
Not everything you're getting rid of will be gratefully received by friends or family so ask if they would like it before you give it to them a new piece of clutter for them to find a home for. If you get any reply that is not "Oh I've always loved that (insert item here)", then donate it instead. They will thank you for it.
Take a photo I admit that a digital photo is not the same is having the actual item but sometimes it's a great reminder of something you simply cannot keep. If you have to move house and can't take a large piece of furniture with you or have to sell a whole house after a loved one passes away, you might want to photography them before letting them go.
Any photography you do take with this purpose should be uploaded to your computer an saved so they don't accidentally get deleted off your camera and you can easily browse through them later.
Make a photobook or scrapbook
If you have boxes of photographs, children's paintings or love letters that you don't have room to store, consider making a scrapbook of your favorites and bin the rest. I'm going to start a scrapbook over the winter and will let you know how it get on.
I'm you're not naturally crafty or short on time you could convert them to a digital format by scanning them or use an online service like gophoto.com who can do this for you. You can then upload them to a photo sharing site or make glossy coffee table books. What a lovely way to preserve these memories in a way the whole family can enjoy rather than in damp and dusty boxes.
If you want to read more about dealing with sentimental clutter then I recommend this interview in the Guardian with Marie Kondo herself.
* Julie Holland, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine