Determining if a sentimental item is clutter or a treasure

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Trash? Or treasure? Photo by, used under Creative Commons license.

The always-helpful Unclutterer put together a helpful rubric on determining what to keep and what to trash as you go through spring cleaning:

As you’re sorting through your sentimental items to determine what is a treasure and what is clutter, ask yourself:

  • How will I store this item? If you will store it in a way that shows you value the item (archival quality materials, stored per archival quality recommendations, or cleanly on display to enjoy every day), keep the object as a sentimental treasure. If you plan to store it in a cardboard box in your basement, get rid of the sentimental clutter.
  • Is this item associated with a happy memory? Keep only objects that bring you happiness. Life is too short to surround yourself with sorrow and pain.
  • Is this the best item to evoke the most powerful sentimental memory? If you have five objects associated with the same memory, consider reducing your collection to just the best quality item. When it comes to physical possessions, too many of something can detract from the overall impact. You can stop seeing the proverbial forest for the trees.

Check it. This is good knowledge. Read the entire article at Unclutterer

How do you decide what to keep and what gets binned?

Comments on Determining if a sentimental item is clutter or a treasure

  1. This is always quite the feat for me. I’m deeply sentimental, and it’s something my mother really ingrained in me; save everything–you’ll miss it someday!
    The more I move, though, I just have to stop and ask myself if I can hold onto this memory without the item. And the answer, of course, is yes. I can remember special times in my life without having a tchotchke to hold.
    That said, I hold onto items that are visually interesting and something I can and will display, or something that can go in my scrapbook.

  2. This is great, and so timely for me (outside the whole Spring Cleaning thing). I’ve learned to take pictures of the things I’m tossing, so I can still invoke those memories and emotions.

    That said, next up to tackle is my digital clutter. 😉

    • I did this too. My parents cleaned out their basement when I bought a house and brought pretty much everything that I ever owned out to me. So I took a weekend and went through it. Great memories, but I don’t have the space to store all this stuff. So I took out my camera and started snapping photos, then donated, recycled or threw out the stuff. I kept a couple of boxes of stuff that I REALLY wanted to keep, but I think I should go through them again.

      • I read an article last year (I think maybe it was somewhere here at Offbeat Home?) where someone suggested that if something is only being kept for the memory, then take a picture of it and then give away the object. That suggestion gave me the courage to get rid of several piles of Sentimental Stuff. I still see the stuff in my iphoto library, but it takes up zero space. I haven’t had any regrets.

  3. Oh, I disagree with #2. Painful memories and experiences exist, and I believe it is not right to ban them from your life. A journal written during a though time or an item given to you by someone you loved but sadly died may be painful or sad, but still valuable and worth keeping!

    • I would say it depends on how the item makes you feel now.

      I have a lot of stuff that reminds me of less positive times in my life, but I also feel something positive about it. Like stuff that used to belong to my Granny or a rock I collected during a hike up a volcano where I think I got altitude sickness (I didn’t know it existed at the time) and was really miserable and angry. It was a shit time but I look back on it as an achivement.

      On the other hand I also used to have a tiny china rabbit given to me by an ex-friend. Used to because one day I finally realised the only thing that rabbit reminded me of was the massive falling out we had. Every time I saw it I felt angry so I was trying to hide it. Until it finally occured to me that you don’t have to keep gifts just because they’re gifts, especially gifts from people you don’t like and will almost certainly never see again. I sold it on ebay and I like to think it’s gone on to create happier memories for someone else.

  4. As a child we moved alot and all my treasures were thrown out with each move…so I tend to hold on now.What I’ve started doing is picturing my son going through my stuff when I’m gone..if I picture him being befuddled by the object…out it goes. The show Horders is always a great inspiation!!!

  5. I almost agree with the second. I have objects from when my daughter passed away. They are the only objects I have for her. They are a constant reminder of her short time here with us and are not happy reminders. They are stored in a box, not on display.

    There are exceptions to every rule, I guess.

  6. Here’s what I did when I was doing a big de-cluttering, recently:

    When I came across something I knew I had to get rid of, but I liked the memory or feeling it brought on, I took a picture of it before getting rid of it. Now, in with the stuff I didn’t get rid of, I have a photo album of the things I did get rid of. It takes up about 6″ of space in one box, instead of being several more boxes of stuff.
    Now I can look at the really weird, super-ugly sculpture my brother made in metal-shop in 10th grade, and it still makes me smile, but I don’t actually have to have it taking up space in my home.

  7. Every time I throw something semi-sentimental away I think ‘You’re going to regret this’, but then I realise that I cannot remember a single thing that I’ve thrown away. Not one thing!
    Also a good idea is to take pictures of things before getting rid of them, that way if all you want to do is invoke a memory then a photo of the object should do it in the same way.

  8. I had a huge problem with this packing up for my second year of college this year, cleaning out my room. My thing was, if it was only a memory, it wasn’t useful. Unless I used it or it served some purpose for others, out it went. A lot of things I clung to were little sentimental things that added up, so I just did it and threw them all away. Now I feel such relief.

  9. Argh, you know what clutter-impulse is my downfall? The “what if I have kids?” thinking. My income is unlikely to be even moderate rather than low due to health problems, and witnessing my parents’ marriage taught me the value of breaking up rather than living in misery, and of course there is always the possibility of the death of myself or my partner, so I can’t count on another income. In that case it would be so much easier if I had a stack of my own stuff, particularly books and basic toys as they wouldn’t be so subject to peer pressure, to keep costs down.

    I guess I’ll file that kind of stuff under “Good reason to believe it may be useful one day”.

  10. My husband and I have moved a lot during our marriage so we have reduced out worldy possessions considerably.

    If it is still in a box from last move and we haven’t opened it in a year we toss it. It can’t be that important if forgot about it. For us a lot of these items were books so we pared it down to the ones in the best condition that we reread often. The rest got donated. This method has worked well for us.

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