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How to Declutter Memorabilia… Even if You’re Sentimental

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It was February 2012. I was a newbie minimalist, having just started my decluttering journey (and blog) two months prior. I was also a very busy working mom: teaching middle school full-time and coming home each afternoon to my adorable (and exhausting!) 2-year-old triplets.

Minimalism was helping me find a sense of calm and control in my crazy life. As I decluttered my drawers and cupboards, I felt the open physical space creating more open mental space. One Saturday afternoon, I gathered the courage to tackle the most difficult area… memorabilia.

I wrote a blog post about the experience. I’d like to share it with you, so you can see the emotions and decisions I went through as I took my first stab at decluttering the hard stuff.

I hope it helps all you busy working mamas as declutter your sentimental items!


February 25, 2012

I’m going to be honest: this was my least favorite decluttering project.

Memorabilia is hard for me to sort through. It is dusty, time-consuming, and brings up all manner of guilty feelings. But as I scooted awkwardly around these five (count them, five!) boxes in my attic the other day, I realized the time had come for my collection of memorabilia to go on the minimalist chopping block.

Let me briefly explain the origin of these tubs.

The three on the right were my own personal collection from high school and college.

The two on the left contained mostly childhood memorabilia. They were a “gift” (love you, mama!) from my mother this past summer when she was decluttering her own home.

The content of these tubs included, but was not limited to:

  • my baby book
  • my first grade report card, in which my teacher referred to me as a “great gal”
  • a half-finished scrapbook from a high school trip to Europe
  • less-than-sober college photos… quite a few
  • birthday cards from various friends and relatives
  • drum sticks from my high school drum line days
  • my Brownie sash
  • a book I wrote in my early years, eloquently titled “Why I Hate Brothers” 

Clearly, this was a motley crew, like most tubs of memorabilia, I suppose. It was jumbled, disorganized, and had been forgotten for years. I had my Saturday afternoon’s work cut out for me.

Memorabilia is sneaky. A cleverly-folded note from high school can easily bring back fond memories, tug at your heartstrings, and try to justify its existence. To avoid this, I repeatedly asked myself this question as I sorted: 

Who am I saving this for?

Or, as a good English teacher would say… For whom am I saving this? 😉 

This question is a good one, because, really…

Who wants to look at this stuff? My kids?  

Probably not. They might browse through a few photos of me in a high school yearbook, but I doubt they’ll ever pore over every certificate of achievement I received during my illustrious academic career. 

Myself?

Highly doubtful. I hadn’t looked at this stuff in years! In fact, I hadn’t laid eyes on most of it since the day I tossed it in the tubs. What makes me think I’d suddenly want to spend an afternoon browsing through every article I wrote for my college newspaper? 

My mom?

Heck, no! She dropped those boxes off on my porch like Oliver Twist on the orphanage steps.

As awesome as I am, I had to face the #1 memorabilia fact:

No one really cares much about it.

To soften the blow of fact #1, consider memorabilia fact #2:

That’s okay.

Why is it okay, you ask? Let me explain…

First, let’s all acknowledge… We are living in the present. Your memorabilia is your past. And as hard as it sometimes is to admit, the past is gone. So instead of spending hours looking through scrapbooks from long-forgotten trips, take yourself out for ice cream, call a friend, read a book.

Do something and do it NOW, because now is all you have. Carpe diem!

Second, this stuff is not you.

It is not your family.

It is not your friends.

I am not my Brownie sash, nor am I my varsity letter. Those are just things.

Memories live in your heart and your mind, not in your stuff. 

Finally, you are you, with or without the stuff.

I am still smart and insightful, even though I no longer have every A paper I wrote for senior English.

I still love to travel, even though I no longer have that half-finished scrapbook from a high school trip to Europe.

I still love my family and friends, even though I no longer have every birthday card those wonderful folks sent me.

Free yourself of your memorabilia, and live now!

Here’s a pic of me in the thick of it, sorting out the tubs. The box on the left was for recycling (I filled it up twice that day! My memorabilia contained a lot of paper.) The bag on the right contained trash, anything that couldn’t be recycled. The items in the middle were the lucky few things I chose to save.

How did I choose what to save? Good question, dear blog reader!

I chose items that represented very specific or important parts of my life that could not be saved in other forms. For example, I saved my baby book.

I also saved small parts of larger collections, like 5-6 articles I wrote for my college newspaper, instead of the 100 or so I had stored away.

But, in general, I just went with my gut, and kept asking myself…

Who am I saving this for?   

In the end, I winnowed my memorabilia down to this one, not completely full tub:

To prevent future memorabilia from spreading through my attic like pinkeye at a daycare center, I am limiting myself to this one tub. If the tub gets full, I will cull.

I’m also instituting an “interim tub,” a smaller shoebox-sized receptacle for items I am considering saving.  When the interim tub is full, I will decide what, if any, items move on to the permanent tub. This will allow me a little time to decide if something is worth saving or not. 

There you have it, folks! My first minimalist stab at clearing memorabilia. I will surely revisit this topic, as I have two boxes of wedding memorabilia and a large collection of photo albums that were not included in this project. But like all things in life, I am making progress one step at a time. 

How about you? Do you have tub (or five) of memorabilia that could stand to be sorted? Are you holding on to your memories in stuff, rather than living your life now? Can you spend a Saturday afternoon freeing yourself from some of these things? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! (And I’d really love to hear some of the crazy, funny things you all find in those tubs!)


I hope you enjoyed this look back at my first attempt to declutter memorabila! And I hope it inspires you to dig into your attic or basement, find some of those memorabilia boxes, and create more open spaces in your life!

Cheers to less stuff and more you!

PS Are you a busy working mom who wants to simplify your home but you’re overwhelmed with where to start? Grab my FREE Simplicity Starter Guide and let’s get a plan in your hand so you can start decluttering your home today!

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