Note: This is a guest post from Erica Layne of The Life On Purpose Movement.
A houseplant sprouted and transplanted from one my grandma had twenty years ago.
A rug my grandparents picked up on their travels.
A letter my mom wrote to me when I was born.
The pieces of clothing each of my babies wore the day we took them home from the hospital.
These are some of my most precious possessions. And aside from photo books and Christmas-tree ornaments, they also happen to be some of my only sentimental items.
If you’re surrounded by pieces that once belonged to someone you loved or that represent a different time in your life (keepsakes from your childhood, toys your kids have long since outgrown, or clothes that no longer suit your lifestyle), what value can all of those pieces really have to you?
Do you really see them? Do you run your hands over them and experience the memories they bring up?
Or do they blend into the background of your life?
What Is Habituation?
This is the law of habituation at work: The more you’re exposed to a certain stimulus, the less you see it.
For example, you could walk through a hallway in a commercial building and pass three fire extinguishers without ever registering them. You’ve walked past hundreds of fire extinguishers in your lifetime, so they barely make a blip on your radar anymore.
Your brain is wired for survival, so it scans your environments for things that are new and potentially threatening—not for things that are familiar and harmless.
Because of this, the things you have a hard time parting with are blurred and hidden by everything around you. They’re not adding value to your life because you’re not even seeing them.
To Your Brain, Less is Literally More
But once you’ve narrowed your collection down, you’ll actually be able to notice and give attention to the few pieces that are most meaningful to you.
You can feel the glossy texture and appreciate the weight of the baking dish that your mom used almost every day of your childhood.
You can mindfully spin your grandma’s wedding ring around on your finger, because you’re wearing it instead of letting it sit unnoticed in a box of jewelry you never wear.
You can smile at the string of seashells that hangs over your bathroom mirror—the seashells your dad picked up on his final trip to the beach.
The question you might be asking now is, how? How do I whittle an entire home full of collectibles and keepsakes down to just a handful?
I suggest you make a nostalgia album.
Gather up the special pieces in your home, and divide them into two to three categories. For example: (1) family heirlooms, (2) momentos from your life, and (3) keepsakes from raising your kids.
Take photos of each item, and then use a photo printing service to print a book of your sentimental items—your nostalgia album.
If you have a large number of objects, you may want to create an album for each of your categories. If not, each category can simply be a section in your photobook.
Once your nostalgia album is in your hands, you can simply donate, throw out, or recycle the objects in it—trusting that your memories lie in the experiences or the person, not the object you thought represented it.
Stop Overlooking the Things You Love
I hope the law of habituation helps you let go of volume in exchange for meaning.
Ultimately, the few pieces you keep will have more impact on you than a house full of things you once owned and… constantly overlooked.
Erica Layne is a bestselling author, podcast host, mom of three, and founder of The Life On Purpose Movement. She helps women build their lives on what they value most, so they can let the rest slip away—guilt-free. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or on her website.
Mostly true, but a bit oo extreme for me.
I feel some pull to save more for future generations. We have 3 adult children and Seven grands. Let’s say I saved 5 significant items or heirlooms, 2 won’t get anything. I have taken my role as keeper of the the antique China cabinet seriously. I have the dishes which were wedding gifts from both sets of grandparents. So 3 generations for me and the possessions of their great great grandparents for my grands. Wouldn’t it be something for each of those grands to get a cup and saucer when they are adults? ( I know, I know, they probably won’t want!)