How to Simplify Your Stuff and Honor Your Memories

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Courtney Carver of Be More with Less

“I have memories – but only a fool stores his past in the future.” – David Gerrold

As you simplify, you will notice that the most important stuff is left. This applies to kitchenware, toy boxes, closets and even to your sentimental treasures. Often times, the most difficult stuff to get rid of, is the stuff soaked in memories. We become attached to things that remind us of our past, and our loved ones. Your great grandfather’s pocket watch, your first pair of roller skates, or your son’s artwork from kindergarten, all transport you to another time, and usually fill you with lovely memories. Unfortunately, because you don’t want to clutter your home with stuff, these treasures are buried in boxes in the garage or attic, only to be rediscovered during a move, or a trip down memory lane.

I must admit, I am a sap and a sentimental fool. I get teary driving past a wedding, hearing stories about my grandparents or cooking one of my favorite dishes from childhood. In my life, I have saved notes from the 4th grade, albums from my first rock star crush, my daughter’s first bathing suit, heart shaped rocks from hiking with my husband and jackets my dad gave me that never fit, but were so cool, because they were his.

How do you get rid of the stuff that means so much, and evokes so much emotion, in the name of minimalism and simplicity? There are several ways to simplify the sentimental. Each concept includes focusing on what is most important and honoring your history.

Share the love. Unless you are on a mission to live with less than a certain number of things, why not display some of your sentimental items? Less does not mean none. Paring down your objects of memory does not necessarily mean ridding yourself of them all. Instead, paring down your sentimental items allows you to focus on the most meaningful. Chances are, the things with all the memories are in a box in the garage or attic. Sort through those boxes and choose the things that mean most to you and your family and display them. Sometimes we hold onto things to hold onto people that have left our lives. Honor the ones you love by sharing what was theirs.

After all, a box full of memories stashed in the basement is far less meaningful than 3-4 specific items displayed proudly in your home. So go through that box of mother’s things in the basement, select the 3 that most represented her life and the influence that she had, display them proudly, and remove the rest.

Make it useful. Did you save the china that your parents received on their wedding day or a special necklace that was passed down to you? Why not use it? Donate your everyday plates and eat off the dishes that mean so much. Wear the memorable piece of jewelry every day instead of waiting for a special occasion, or forgetting about it completely. You may come across things that you can’t use and don’t want to keep, but someone else will find your sentimental items to be quite useful. Use them or pass them on.

Put it in the cloud. If you have been saving printed photographs, documents, receipts and other paperwork for years, it might be time to digitize your docs. Sort through it all and toss the trash. Scan the rest or hire someone to do it for you, and organize in folders. From there, back it up through Dropbox.

Shoot your stuff. When you are uncluttering, save the things that mean the most to you, and take a picture before letting them go. Preserve the memories inspired by stuff through photography. Group items creatively or take pictures using the things. For instance, if you saved a baseball hat from your childhood little league team, take a picture of your child wearing it. Create a digital photo book with images and descriptive text, so you can enjoy your memories without the clutter. A book like this makes a beautiful gift to someone else in the family who wants to enjoy the memories without the clutter.

Tell your story. The most powerful thing we can offer is our story. As you simplify your life, you will come to the realization that the most sentimental things aren’t things at all, but stories of the people and places we love, and how we spend our time. Write about the things you love, instead of holding onto them. Start a family blog or keep a personal journal. Your words may start out describing your mother’s watch, but turn into a beautiful story about an afternoon the two of you spent together.

Approach each area or section of your life the same when it comes to letting go, and revel in what unfolds. Not only do you make room for the good stuff, but you can clearly identify what is most meaningful to you. Instead of filling boxes with the things that define your life, spend more time creating your life, giving to others and sharing your story with actions, thoughts and gratitude.

What other ideas do you have for shedding sentimental stuff?


Courtney is a writer and fine art photographer. She writes about simplifying and living life on purpose at Be More with Less. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Laura says

    great post. This is one of the most difficult areas for me. Often, I need a visual reference to access detailed memories and spark new ideas. Thankfully I now do this mostly through digital photography. Journaling more would be valuable too. It is a process…

  2. Katie says

    This is difficult for me as well. I just started the process a few weeks ago of becoming a minimalist. I am somewhat of a sentimental hoarder convert, so this is going to be a hard and long process at times. A lot of stuff has been very easy to get rid of. And I have been very proud of myself. But when it comes to the sentimental stuff, that’s of course more difficult to part with. I did take some large steps this week though. My husband and I have decided not to have anymore children. So I started gathering all my daughter’s baby clothes and other necessary newborn items for friends of ours who are having their first baby (as luck would have it, it’s a girl as well). Also funny enough, she is my size, so I was able to give her my maternity clothes as well. I hate the idea of all these useful times just sitting in storage, going unused. It was such a wonderful feeling and they were so grateful to receive them…. as of course we all know how expensive baby items can be. I kept a few outfits of hers, like the one we took her home in the hospital, knitted sweaters and some other special ones, but I hope to be able to part with some of them as well soon. It would give me more joy knowing that another child was benefiting from them. I will get there, just one step at a time :)

  3. Katie says

    I have discussed the few family heirlooms I have inherited with my mom. Since they are an important part of our family’s history, I have decided to dedicate a space for them as part of my overall minimalism effort. At a future date, I plan to have the conversation again.

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    We had a local minimalism meetup last night and one of the things we discussed was yearbooks. What to do with our yearbooks from 10,20, 30 + years ago … none of us feel right just throwing them in the garbage or recycle bin. I made the suggestion that we all get together in the summer, make a bonfire, and have a sort of burning bowl ceremony to get rid of these kinds of things that we no longer want.

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    When my mother and father died, I organized all of my mother’s jewelry…a few special pieces and a lot of great everyday jewelry/accessories that she wore all the time.

    I gave one special item to each of the granddaughters to wear at her funeral and to keep.

    Later, at a family function 6 months or so later, I brought out a big bag with all my mom’s other stuff…earrings and bracelets and scarves that smelled like her perfume and belts and trinkets. All my cousins and aunts got together, tried everything on and chose a few items to keep.

    Now, whenever I go home, some cousin or aunt will show me that they are wearing something precious of Aunt Mary’s.

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