“Not everything worth keeping has to be useful.”
– Cynthia Lord
Minimalism isn’t about paring your possessions down to a set number. It’s about stripping away the stuff that doesn’t bring value to your life.
Most of us cherish our keepsakes, but there’s a problem – we tend to keep boxes and boxes of them. Maybe even storage units’ full.
Will we ever look at all that stuff again? When we die, will our kids or grandchildren enjoy looking through what we’ve kept, or will they just call for dumpsters because there’s so much it’s overwhelming?
The key is to keep only mementos that are meaningful for us and for future generations.
As you know, I’m incapable of just clearing things out all at once. Although I enjoy the freedom of minimalism, my natural tendency is to hold onto things.
But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that by going through the same stuff multiple times, I get rid of a lot more stuff.
With everything – but especially with keepsakes -I’ve found that getting some emotional distance from the event helps a lot. For me, that means reviewing the mementos I’ve saved after some time has gone by.
The Quick Purge: Big Stuff
I like to begin with the larger stuff, because I quickly make a big dent in the project, and the excitement helps give me energy to complete the project.
Set aside some time in the next couple of weeks to quickly look through the non-paper stuff you’ve kept for sentimental reasons.
Why Did I Keep That?
You’re likely to find some things you have no idea why you saved.
Last weekend I threw out all the ribbons my German Shepherds won at obedience classes. It’s been years since they won the ribbons. Heck, it’s been years since they passed away.
While at the time I saved the ribbons, I felt an attachment to them and thought I’d want to look at them later, I don’t.
I also had two afghans I’d crocheted as a teen. One was a gift to my mom and one was a gift to my grandfather. I inherited both when my mom died. I don’t know why I thought I should save them.
Other than the fact that I’d given them as gifts, I didn’t even have any memories associated with my mom or grandfather. They had boxed up the afghans to keep them pretty instead of using them. So I brought them upstairs to use and enjoy.
Display Your Keepsakes
If you want to keep the rocks, shells or spoons you collected from vacations over the years, create a place to keep them where you’ll see them and enjoy them instead of boxed up.
Consider wearing your grandmother’s jewelry or making a quilt out of your children’s old clothes or your old rock-concert t-shirts.
Buy or build a shadow box to showcase your medals and ribbons, your wedding mementos or the outfit your baby wore home from the hospital.
Frame a few favorite photos or invest in a digital frame that allows you to rotate pictures. Put some more photos in a few albums or scrapbooks and keep them where people will look at them often.
You may have some items you want to keep from prying eyess or boxed up because they’re fragile, but try to enjoy as many of your memories as you can.
Stuff Your Kids Made and Other Gifts
If you have kids, you probably have a bunch of craft projects they made. Save a few that mean the most to you.
Consider taking photos of the others, as well as of some of the artwork on paper, and make a scrapbook. You’ll look at that a lot more often than you’ll look through dusty boxes in the basement or attic.
Gifts are a big problem for some people. Unless it really will cause World War III, just get rid of the stuff you don’t use and don’t like. Most people will never notice that you got rid of it.
A tip: If you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings, hide the gift. If they don’t notice after a reasonable time passes, you’ll know it’s pretty safe to get rid of it.
Letters, Cards, Kids’ Paintings and Other Papers
Unless you’re famous enough that your memoirs and letters will be scrutinized and published someday, limit the correspondence you keep. The reality is that no one – even you – is ever going to want to read through bins and bins of papers.
As I mentioned above, you may want to keep a few original pieces of art from each child, but consider taking photos of the others for a scrapbook, and then tossing the originals.
The boxes of schoolwork you saved for each child….No one wants to see those either. Save no more than a few sheets from each year of school.
There may be some categories of paper you can toss without much thought, but if you’ve saved a lot, this step is likely to take a long time.
I don’t have enough patience to spend hours on end going through things like this. If you’re like me, try to spend 15 minutes every day or two looking through things until you’re done.
“The only real treasure is in your head. Memories are better than diamonds and nobody can steal them from you.”
― Rodman Philbrick
We have a tendency to equate our memories with stuff. It’s true that our things often evoke memories, but when we have too much stuff, no one looks at it.
That means it’s not reminding you of anything – it’s just sitting in a plastic bin in the garage or in the attic or in the basement.
Your new minimalist keepsakes will bring you a lot more happiness than your old bins and boxes of stuff ever did.
If you have more than a few boxes or bins of keepsakes and can’t bring yourself to get rid of anything, you might want to read The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.
This book (which I reviewed here) discusses why we keep things, changing our faulty thinking and how to decide what to keep as you declutter.
How do you define minimalist keepsakes?