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It’s a conversation that comes up regularly: “how do I decide what to hang on to and what to throw out, especially when it’s something sentimental?”

Be comforted, you’re not alone in wanting to hang on to ‘stuff’, the urge to hold on to sentimental possessions is completely normal. The problem is, we can be sentimental about lots of things, which can lead to clutter, and in turn, leave us feeling disorganised and stressed. So it’s great if you can get on top of it and simplify your space.

So how to go about it?

First of all, it’s important to tackle this when you’re in the right head space. It’s probably not a good idea to try to get rid of stuff if you’re going through a particularly emotional or stressful time, you may not be clear headed during the process.

Assuming all’s well, you can get started. Probably the most important thing is to ‘get your head straight’ about what you’re going to do. You need to be clear that you’re not your stuff, your stuff doesn’t define who you are. Your memories are in your mind, they’re not ‘things’. Holding on to stuff holds us back, letting go is freeing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying having things is bad, I’m just saying, limit the number of things you have.

So here are some tips…

We Live in A Digital Age

We live in an age where we can document things ‘digitally’. This makes de-cluttering so much easier. You can take photos and scan items, then store them on your computer (just make sure you have a good back up system – very important!).

How often do you really sit down and look at those old photo albums? Scan your old photos and you’ll be more likely to look at them. You can have them on rotation on your computer screen or on a digital picture frame.

Your kids’ artworks – nearly all of them seem precious, but the reality is, you’re not going to sit down and look at them on a regular basis (if ever). However, I do concede you also don’t want to just bin them all. So why not just take photos of the particularly special pieces, or ones that show a great change or leap forward in your child’s style/development, or that bring a tear to your eye. A simple snap with you iPhone will do the trick, then file on your computer. I do this all the time, it’s saved me from piles of paper, and endless contemplation and guilt each time I throw out a piece of art.

kids doing art

Photo: Artem Podrez

I also got a great tip from my son’s art teacher. I asked her how I should decide which items to hold on to and which to discard. In her opinion, in the early years, the only artworks that may be worth hanging on to are the occasional sculpture/pottery/clay items – but only ones that you really love and perhaps want to place on a shelf, next to your bed etc.

CDs: no need to keep hundreds in boxes or on shelves. Upload them to your computer and then once done, sell the physical CDs. Uploading takes time, but isn’t as onerous a task as you may think. Keep the CDs next to your desk and as you’re doing other things, just grab one, upload… grab the next, upload… and before you know it, you’re done. I recently did this and managed to get rid of about 5 large boxes of CDs. I now listen to them more often (they’re easily accessible in my iTunes), and I made quite good money selling them on ebay.

Photo: thh - the handbag hanger

If you decide you don’t want to upload them for whatever reason, no sweat, you can always look up an album or song on-line, just about every CD ever made is available somewhere on-line.

Some people can ‘rip off the Band Aid’ others can’t.

If you’re capable of it, it's great to put a day aside and just go for it. Grab that pile of magazines on the shelf, and give them to someone who would love them, or simply throw them into the recycling bin. Go through your wardrobes, pull everything out and get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the last year, that no longer fits, or that’s in less than ideal condition. Get your kids to pull out all their boxes of things, and start to sort out what they could give to other kids who may not be as fortunate as they are…. You get the idea. Just go for it if you can.

If you can’t, then taking baby steps is fine. Just start. You may recall the famous Chinese Proverb, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’… so don’t underestimate how important taking that first step is. If all you can bear to do is throw one thing out a day, then so be it. That’s one less item of clutter to deal with tomorrow, one less, the day after, and so on. In no time you’ll have made a dent in the ‘stuff’ and you’ll probably feel much more comfortable and clear about the process, so that eventually you’ll be able to throw out many things in one go with confidence.

Get help. If you feel the need.

Often it’s difficult to get rid of things on your own. We’re really good at rationalising why we should hang on to something. So if you can find someone whose opinion you trust, get them to help. Just be clear on what sort of help you need.

Are you the type to get carried away and perhaps throw out something you might regret later? (Maybe someone a bit more logical and pragmatic might be best to help you). Are you the type to talk yourself into keeping everything? (Then perhaps someone who’s a little tough and not too sentimental would be right). Or are you hopeless with technology and don’t know where to start downloading things, taking photos, or selling on-line? (The perhaps a super tech-savvy friend would be perfect).

Does it bring you joy?

So now that you’ve started, and you’re faced with the first really difficult decision – keep or throw? How do you decide?

A good thing to do is to simply hold the item and see if it sparks any joy in you. If you’re indifferent or ‘ho-hum’ about it, then let it go. Of course, if it brings you any negative emotions at all – get rid of it straight away. Only consider keeping it if it really brings you joy and you love to see it each day. It may sound overly simplistic, but believe me, this is a very powerful strategy for eliminating sentimental items.

Just the best.

We’re often inclined to hang on to things in ‘bulk’ – cards, old school books, baby clothes etc. Instead of keeping them all, try picking the ‘best of the bunch’. So each birthday, instead of keeping all the cards your friends and family gave you, how about just keeping the one that really meant the most. Then maybe take it a step further and capture it in a digital form (see above: We live in a digital age).

Lots of us cherish our children’s baby clothes. Again, no need to keep a box of them, perhaps just one to three – the best examples or the ones that spark the most joy (maybe the outfit you took your little one home in).

Box of precious baby clothes pieces that spark joy

Photo: Ron Lach

Who could use it.

Personally, I find it much easier to let go of things when I know they’re going to someone who really needs or appreciates them, and that I can envision using it. So before you hand them off, ask friends and family if the would like them; if you get that ‘oh no’ look/tone, then you know it’s just junk person; so move on and either throw out, donate to charity or to local organisations (perhaps your local school or library would love that old collection of Mr Men books that your kids have outgrown!), or if they’re potentially worth something to someone else, you may also consider selling them (my preferred sales channels are ebay and Gumtree).

In summary, it’s good to always have a mindset of ‘less’. So always be thinking about what you can clear or donate, not just during those annual ‘spring cleans’ and clear out sessions.

Give yourself permission to get rid of things you once cherished – the reality is, something that was precious in the past, may not necessarily still be precious to us now; so it’s ok to move on. Each year, have a good hard look at what you’ve been holding on to in the name of love; and be prepared to toss, donate or sell them. If an item is deemed ‘keep-worthy’, then take it out from under the bed, or out of that box in the garage and find a place for it. For less practical treasures, such as letters from a loved one perhaps, find a cabinet or draw and keep them inside. This set up allows for spontaneous reminiscing (unlike a box in the garage or attic).

I always feel invigorated and much clearer each time I get rid of things in my home and clear up clutter and create space. Give these tips a go, and let me know if they helped you at all. I’d also love to know if you have any other great ‘de-cluttering tips’ that I can share with other. Happy tidying.

“The more things you own, the more they own you…” Unknown.


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