It’s time to take a trip down memory lane; this time to confront the emotional and sentimental objects in your life.
Sentimental objects are things which typically have memories attached or represent a happy or sad time in your past. For example, you might be keeping your old prom dress, a trophy you won back in school, or jewellery from an ex. The hardest ones to deal with, however, are those you obtained from departed loved ones.
Before we go ahead, I would like to point out that there’s nothing wrong with keeping one or two objects of sentimental value to you, but once you own more than you can count on one hand, that’s when it starts to become emotional clutter which can keep you from moving forwards.
Most sentimental objects end up in attics, crammed to the back of drawers or line our shelves with an aura of wistfulness and guilt. Mine were mostly in the attic, hidden away in boxes which were buried under other boxes.
Last month, I started thinking about my old typewriters I kept as a kid because they reminded me of the time I first started writing. At the time they were painful to get rid of because of the words I had punched onto paper, but I’ve since realised that getting rid of my typewriters never made me any less of a writer, nor did I need an object to remind me of who and what I am.
However, I kept other piles of sentimentality stashed away.
I kept old school work because I liked to look back on positive teacher feedback to be reminded that I was a capable human. I also couldn’t bear to throw away years of work.
I kept boxes of old Christmas and birthday cards, some of which I didn’t even remember the names written in them. I even kept cards from where I was first called ‘Sister in Law’, and ‘Daughter in Law’, because it felt amazing to be accepted into my fiance’s life.
I kept objects from past relationships, even old jewellery which had long since tarnished.
I kept a Dick Turpin mug which once belonged to my uncle and which I was terrified of as a child. We made it into a constant joke as I grew up which is why I kept it – to remember the smiles and laughter we always shared.
I kept my old Woolworths uniform because I had been so sad when it shut down.
I kept my old school shirt from when I left school. It had yellowed with age and gone damp from being kept in the attic. School was not a place of happy memories for me, yet I clung to the memories with this top.
When I became minimalist and finally confronted my sentimental items, I felt so light inside that I could have floated away. For the most precious objects I ordered a beautiful ,small memory box to keep them in.
With a small memory box, I would be far less inclined to fill it with every passing moment instead of the warmest, most treasured memories.
Here’s how you too, can release the anchors of the past, and let go of the guilt:
Cards and letters
We tend to keep cards and letters because they remind us of the people we care about or once knew in our lives. Some even remind us of significant milestones in life such as moving house, having a baby, or passing exams. Others might be written by people who have passed away.
We imagine we will revisit and read them in years to come, but of course, we never do. Over the years these written treasures stack up and take up lots of space in your home and your heart.
With cards and letters the best thing you can do is to go through each one slowly. If you no longer remember the person whose name is in the card, or they’re no longer relevant in your life, recycle them.
It’s amazing how fast time passes and how our lives change so dramatically in that time, not just with circumstances but with people and feelings.
You don’t need to keep cards from milestones in your life such as passing an exam or moving house. They would’ve made you feel great at the time, but if you got rid of them, does that mean you’ll no longer have your qualifications or the roof over your head? Of course not!
If, however, a specific card or letter warms your heart, you can do what I’ve done, and keep them in a photo album alongside photos of the person or happy times. Not only will they be protected, they will present beautifully for your pleasure in the future.
You can also keep them in a memory box for those days you’re feeling especially nostalgic.
Objects from loved ones
Objects from loved ones can be some of the hardest things to deal with, so if you struggle, take your time to evaluate each once. Don’t rush and don’t feel as if it all has to be dealt with in one day (unless that’s how you operate and you know that leaving it would lead to procrastination).
Accepting that part of your life or that a person is no longer in it is difficult, but when you let go of the objects that are tethering you to those times, you will instantly feel as light as a passing cloud.
For the longest time I kept an old teddy bear keyring that my childhood best friend had bought me from holiday. We grew apart once we went to secondary school (which upset me a lot at the time) and I held onto that bear until I was in my late twenties.
As soon as that bear was donated to the charity shop, I found I didn’t even think about it or feel the guilt I imagined I would.
Stuff from people who have passed away will require deeper contemplation. In my previous post, I talked briefly about furniture belonging to passed away loved ones.
If it’s kept in an attic, it will eventually get warped by heat or damp and mildew, so if you don’t plan to use it, it’s better to pass it on rather than waiting for that inevitable moment you find it damaged.
Like with cards and letters, we cling onto such objects because of the memories and the people we associate with them. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a few objects like grandma’s sentimental necklace or aunty’s favourite teacup, but if you aren’t mindful you can end up with a shrines worth of stuff accumulating in your attic and other parts of your house.
When this happens, your home can end up becoming a portal to the past rather than a place to be present and aim for the future.
Rest assured, by letting go of the objects you’re clinging to out of guilt or fear of losing those memories; you won’t lose the memories and you aren’t dishonouring the person by passing their things on to people who could give them a second chance.
What would be sad would be to hide it away, unused, unloved and with an aura of stress and guilt attached. Objects that mean a lot to you should be being used or displayed in some way, or stowed in a small memory box, and if they aren’t they’re serving as nothing but an anchor which others will have to deal with when you’re gone.
You can preserve memories of sentimental objects by taking photos and either putting them in an album or storing it digitally. That way you can look back on the sentimental stuff and instead of taking floor or cupboard space it takes up data.
Remember: people aren’t their stuff just like you’re not your t-shirt or your CD collection. Strip your favourite things away, and you’re still the same person you always were, with the same traits, same people you love and same values.
You wouldn’t suddenly forget your uncle because they gave away their thirty-year-old vinyl collection, so why assume you will lose memories of them if you do so? The true memories are in your heart.
Family heirlooms are similar to dealing with objects from people who have passed away. That antique mirror may have been in your family for generations, but if you don’t like it or will never use it, try asking others in your family if they would like to take ownership. If not, that’s a sure sign that it can be donated or sold on.
Don’t keep the object out of guilt, just waiting for it to be passed on to the next generation who may feel obliged to keep it and continue the cycle of guilt.
Old hobby equipment
As the years pass our hobbies and interests can change. I used to be obsessed with fossils as a child and kept a tin of them along with some pretty stones I had collected on the beach with my parents.
I no longer collect fossils, and know that if I wanted to see some, there are plenty of museums near me to satisfy that itch.
With the pretty stones, I repurposed them into an eye-catching display on the window ledge in my hobby room. It just so happened that their pastel shades matched my colour scheme perfectly, as well having joyful memories attached.
Letting go of collections for old hobbies is freeing because it allows you to let go of your old self to fully embrace the present you.
For example; I used to like working out and applied for a gym membership, but my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome meant I had to treat my body much more gently. So I eventually let go of my workout clothes and now take weekly walks, instead.
You might simply lose interest in a hobby and that’s perfectly normal. If you’ve owned the related stuff for over a year and can’t see yourself going back to it, pass it on so it can be useful to someone else with that hobby.
When I was doing a clear-out of my attic last year, I discovered bags upon bags of maternity wear and baby clothes. In a strange effort to hold onto the memories of carrying my little boy inside me, I had kept those clothes, and then kept the clothes he wore up to his first year.
The sad thing was, some of them were too damp and smelly to pass on, even when put through a wash. And it wasn’t as if I’d ever gone up to look back on them, or that either of us would be wearing those clothes again.
You might keep sentimental clothes for similar reasons, or you might keep clothes as a reminder of when you were a certain weight, or attended a memorable event.
Clothes take up a lot of space and if they aren’t stored correctly, end up getting damaged or unwearable. Not to mention, they can cause endless frustration when stowed away and mixed up with all your current wear.
The bottom line is, if you don’t wear it, donate it. Make space for the new and the current.
And if there’s a special t-shirt you simply must keep but no longer wear, why not iron it and put it in a frame? It would make a deeply personal and unique decoration in any room you desired.
On a similar note, if you’re especially creative with crafting, you could cut up and repurpose old clothes into new objects.
The purpose of this article isn’t to get you to give up everything you love, but to help make the space in your heart and your home for the things that you do.
If I’ve missed anything or there’s something you would like advice on, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. It may even end up in the next post. Next week, I will talk about sheds and garages.