Nostalgia Rethought

I am an extremely sentimental person. If someone were to write a note that said "hey Kels" I will keep it forever (and longer). In truth, I have notes from my wild middle school days that express random thoughts of my youth. I love to collect and reminisce and many of the objects I have, no matter their size or monetary value, carry great emotional weight. They hold memories of laughter, joy, and even tribulation that I have shared with loved ones and they are uplifting when I see them.

I am proud of that attribute, but sometimes it can become excessive and has accumulated more than I intended. I like to be organized, to live a streamlined life, and from an initial look it seems I've accomplished that. Yet open up my dozens of boxes and suitcases and it suggests otherwise. It has begun to feel like a weight, things that I wish I still appreciated as I used to no longer hold the same impact. The discovered problem is this: I refuse to let go of those items for fear of letting go of the memories they hold. I won't speak that as the definition for everyone, but I imagine many people come across this in varying degrees. It is the struggle to decide whether to discard or keep. A quick question: can one be an organized hoarder? Is that a contradiction in terms? If that definition could exist, I think it might fit me well.

I write on the subject to work out ways of redefining emotional value to objects and their effect my every day living. There is a reality that I do not always acknowledge, that months, even years, go by before I open my boxes full of sentiments. Is their value lessened by the fact that I rarely recognize them? And yet, when I do open those boxes and slow down a moment to take a walk through my past, I am reminded of the good and the challenging of all of my experiences. Then sometimes another reality occurs, I can't remember the story behind the object. I try to search for the information, the where, when and the why and sometimes they elude me.

So in my search to find a balance I have found a few ideas along the way...

1. If looking at the object doesn't incite a strong feeling, consider letting it go, and know that it is OK to let it go.

2. Is it possible to recycle the item to a new purpose?

3. An extension of recycling...displaying those sentimental pieces as a piece of art . I am in process of making a collage of encouraging notes from co-workers as a lining in a coffee table tray. 

4. Give away the items to a charity or company that will allow them to be used anew for someone else. In this case one man's treasure is another man's treasure re-purposed. After my mom passed away from Breast Cancer 2 years ago I donated her wig to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and gave many of her clothes to an organization that supplies homeless women with professional clothing to get back into the workplace. Though those items were significant in remembering her, I felt I could honor her more by letting them go so as to serve someone else.

5. When the process seems overwhelming? Bring in a friend or family member who you trust and who can provide an outsider's perspective on the items. Sometimes their judgment can bring some enlightenment where you might otherwise not recognize it. 


I was also curious to see what others have shared about the process of letting go of sentimental items and I came across a blog called Be more with less. The article is titled On All the Sentimental Stuff and Clutter, written by Courtney Carver. She made a wonderful point that really resonated with me. She said she didn't want to justify holding onto those items by asking “how is this not hurting?” rather than asking “how is this helping?”. It is not selfish to consider these items as they mean to you now rather than how they meant in the moment of acquiring them (I recommend checking out her post here. And if now means they don't hold as much significance then the impact of the original giving has diminished. It is not that they have necessarily out used their purpose, but they are ultimately not the memory, but a emblem of sorts of that memory. 

The conclusion I've come to is sentiment is a healthy, beautiful thing. It is also healthy and beneficial to organize or declutter a discordant home. But sometimes the two do not meld easily with each other. In other words, fear of losing that sentiment stands in the way of creating that desired organized environment or that desired peace of mind. You may keep all of the things neatly tucked in interesting containers (as I do), but if it is more overwhelming than enjoyable to open those up (as I often feel) then I believe it well to relinquish. And it's a continual process. For some the scope is small and the end goal seems tangible, for others it is epic and overwhelming. I encourage anyone who is seeking to hone an otherwise chaotic environment to take it slowly and be gracious to yourself. A love for things is great, but a love for living life beyond them is even greater. 

Warm wishes,