Edit Keepsakes With Confidence — What to Let Go and What to Keep
If you have a basement, a garage or an attic (and perhaps a storage unit, too) filled with boxes of stuff, you are not alone. It's easier to hold on to something than let it go. But the reality is, things have to go sometime — why not start making those decisions now, before a fire, a flood or future relatives make them for you? You can take control of your stuff, and your life story.
Here you'll learn how to confidently decide what is worth keeping for all time and what is not.
What to Let Go
Other people's memories. The program from your sister's high school graduation, favors from your friend's wedding, a pressed flower from your niece's baptism. Release yourself from the burden of keeping others' memories.
Freebies. Swag from conferences, wedding favors and workplace giveaways have no business taking up valuable space alongside true keepsakes. Make a mental note to kindly turn down freebies the next time they are offered to you, unless you really want them. So often we take something just because it is free!
Don't worry too much about how big this pile gets; these are tough decisions to make, and you can't get something back once it's gone. The goal is not just to get rid of stuff but to feel good about your decisions. You will be dealing with this pile, so it's not a cop-out; it's just buying you some time.
What to Consider Letting Go Next
Oversize mementos. Sports trophies and giant school projects come to mind, but perhaps you have some other bulky items taking up space in your storage area. If something is too big to fit in a file box, give some serious thought as to whether it is worth keeping. A photograph of the sports event, awards ceremony or science fair will take up far less room, and will probably feel more meaningful down the road anyway.
Grams certainly wouldn't want you feeling weighed down by her china set, would she? Be honest about your feelings about the stuff you have inherited. Are you ever going to use it? Do you love it for what it is, or do you love it (and hold on to it) only because you loved the person who gave it to you?
My advice is to honor your feelings but respect your space. This might mean keeping a single soup tureen (the one you remember from all those Sunday dinners) and passing the rest along to another relative who really wants it, or selling it on eBay. If you can't come to a decision quite yet, put it in the "later" pile.
For instance, consider taking a photo of your son holding that Thanksgiving centerpiece — you can still save the piece itself for a few years, and enjoy bringing it out as a table decoration, but when it begins to fall apart you can let it go without feeling bad.
What to Keep
Reminders of triumph over adversity. Remember how I said to toss photos of your no-good ex-boyfriend? Well, do that if you haven't yet. But if you have a photo of you on that awesome postbreakup road trip with your best friend, put that puppy in a frame! The most compelling stories include hardship; the key is to focus on how you have grown because of your challenging experiences.
The best representative example. You may cherish the memory of your wedding day, but you do not need to keep all 50 extra programs, every outtake the photographer sent you and an uneaten favor bag of Jordan almonds. Your favorite photographs and a few key mementos will hold more emotional power over the years than a giant boxful of wedding stuff. If you took 50 photos at a single birthday party, whittle them down to a handful that best capture the crowd and a few key moments.
And this applies to grown-up stuff, too! If there is a special piece of clothing that instantly brings to mind a delicious time in your life, go ahead and keep it, even if you know you will never wear it again.
One of my own most treasured keepsakes is my grandfather's hat. In so many of my memories of him, he is wearing this hat. I have a picture of myself as a little girl wearing the hat. And it still smells like his pipe tobacco — that's something a photograph just can't do.
As you work your way through all of your stuff, ask yourself of each item, Does this deserve a spot in The Box?
I urge you not to wiggle on this point. Don't make it two or three boxes. Just one box. Go ahead and keep a larger bunch of not-quite-so-important keepsakes in a different location, if you must, but when it comes to The Box, be ruthless. Over time you may come to realize that the stuff not in the box doesn't really need to be taking up all of that valuable real estate, and when you are ready, you can move on from it.
But having a single box of most treasured belongings is something wonderful in itself. If the rest of it disappeared, you would know it would be OK — that if this one box were left, it would be enough to be your legacy.