Three houses ago, we moved for the “last time.” (Haha.) But three houses ago was when I cleaned out my bedroom at my parents’ house, and took everything I wanted to keep. Most of that stuff was books; even back then, I knew I didn’t want to be moving books constantly. I waited till we were settled, where we would be living “for good,” and then moved the books, along with more sentimental stuff like notes and letters from friends, papers I wrote in school….you get the idea.
Over the course of the next few years, I lost my grandparents, and gained more sentimental things: this time, furniture related. (I joke that our house is decorated in “acquired traditional.”) Now, though, I was becoming more aware of how overwhelming all this “stuff” could be, because I was helping to clean out the houses, and I was becoming much more deliberate in the choices I was making. Do I want my grandmother’s corner cabinets from her dining room? Yes, please! Do I want nine-tenths of the other furniture? Absolutely not.
Two moves later, I was finally able to look at some of this “keepsake” stuff and be a bit more harsh in my evaluations: our lugging it around so much had a lot to do with my change in attitude towards all of it. One afternoon I forced myself to go through boxes of old photos and was able to pitch three-quarters of them. I’d been taking pictures since middle school, and who wants pictures from middle school? Ugh. I read through old notes and letters, and was horrified at how obnoxiously self-centered I was: trash it. I went through my binders of papers written for school: out.
One over-arching rule dictated my ruthlessness: does this make me smile? A few photos, a few notes and letters, yes, absolutely! They brought a smile to my face every time I looked at them. But after moving pounds and pounds of papers, over and over, I thought I was ready to let go. Once they hit the recycling bin, I kept waiting for the sense of panic I sort of expected: What have you done?? You got rid of that?!? But it never came. Instead, I was surprised to find that I felt more relief than panic. We’re not planning on moving again, but that’s a lot less stuff to have to deal with if we do.
I think that rule is a good place to start when dealing with sentimental clutter: does this make me smile? Most of my paper stuff had been carried around for so long that lots of it meant very little to me anymore, and once I finally made myself go through it, it was remarkably easy to plow through quite quickly.
What if everything makes you smile? What if you’re knee-deep in sentiment and all of it “makes you smile,” but you’re overwhelmed by the amount and know that you need to give some away? Take a picture. If you’re really crafty you could make a scrapbook full of “special” things, and write why they’re special–and then pass on the things. If you’re not so creatively talented, keep the photos stored on your computer and look at them whenever you want a smile–and then pass on the things. (A screen-saver of “special things” could be great–a continual scroll of things that make you smile.)
I’m definitely not one of those people who thinks you should get rid of everything. There comes a point, though, where it really is too much, and I think we know it when we get there. That is the time to do something about it. Preferably before your sixth move.