Many people, when they first hear about minimalism, or as they begin their own personal journey towards it, typically run into this question: What do I do with the sentimental things I’ve collected over the years?
It is a question I am asked often. And an important one.
Here is my advice:
1. Remember that less is different than none.
No one is saying that you have to get rid of everything you have an emotional attachment to—but I do think you will find benefit in owning less.
Here’s what I mean by that: When my wife’s grandmother passed away a number of years ago, she came home with a small cardboard box of things collected from her grandmother’s apartment—items that reminded her of her beloved grandma. We then promptly put that cardboard box in the basement and would only notice it when we were cleaning up the basement—which rarely happened.
After we found minimalism and began getting rid of the stuff we didn’t need, we eventually ran into this cardboard box in the basement. When we did, my wife asked herself, “Okay, what am I going to do here?”
Eventually, she decided she would keep three things from the box, the three things that “most represented her grandmother.” She kept a candy dish. She kept a lapel pin, and she kept a Bible. The candy dish is now in our living room, and we see it every single day. The pin, she put on one of her coats, and she wears it occasionally. The Bible, she put in her nightstand next to her bed.
And now, because we own fewer things, they have brought a greater sense of value to that relationship. These items, now being used, serve as a more faithful reminder to us of her grandmother and her influence on Kim’s life. Less became better than more. This is often the case with sentimental belongings.
2. Your memories do not exist in the item.
The memories we cherish exist in our minds, they exist in our hearts and our souls, not in physical objects.
In our heart is where the memories live, where the influence of the person resides, or the accomplishment surrounding an event takes root. When we remove an item, we think sometimes we’re removing the memory—but we aren’t. The memories remain.
You may find it helpful to take a picture of the item before you get rid of it, just so you can look back and prompt that memory. But removing the item is not going to remove the memories.
3. Our emotional attachment to things can actually provide motivation for owning less.
Think of the sentimental things, and the things you have an emotional attachment to. They typically represent one of three things: 1) They represent an important relationship; 2) They represent an important accomplishment; or 3) They represent an important experience… so you bought the t-shirt to bring home with you.
These, you see, are the activities that add meaning, and purpose, and significance to our lives. Our relationships, our accomplishments, and our experiences. This is where the value of life resides.
But if all the things we’ve accumulated over the years are keeping us from relationships, accomplishments, experiences, then we should get reduce the number of things we own. Remove the burdens that are holding us back from those experiences, so we can enjoy even more of the things that mean the most to us.
Lastly, keep in mind, if you are beginning on your path to minimalism, and sentimental things is where you’re starting, you are going to have a hard time.
Let’s start easy, okay? Get rid of some of the things you know you don’t need. Go through your closet. Or go through your kitchen.
Begin removing some of the possessions you know don’t need to be a part of our life anymore. Remove those, and as you do, you’ll find increased motivation to own less. You’ll learn the lessons that will equip you perfectly for when you do get to these sentimental things—and you’ll be far more equipped to handle them effectively when you do.
Life is sort. Did you ever think about what it will be like for the people who must go through your rooms, attic, basement, garage, and rented storage spaces after you die? Is that intense, all-consuming labor the thing you want them to inherit from you? Will they appreciate that task and remember you fondly for it?
Or do you want to leave your gift of an easy transition for all involved?
Life is sort and short.
I have a ring from my grandmother…It means a lot to me! When she passed away 3 years ago this ring became something beyond any explanation for me…I am very terrified to even think about losing this ring! I have no idea if this is something normal or not…
Saeed, my wife inherited a ring from her grandmother that actually belonged to her great-grandmother. She had the ring re-set with a stone that she liked and it is now one of two pieces of jewelry she wears every day along with her wedding ring. Perhaps your grandmother’s ring can find use again for someone special to you!
Just a thought, there is so many sentimental stuffs in my spacious office. I have no intention to rid them, ‘cos they are giving the room a great atmosphere and helping me go through the day smoothly. I just don’t like to have an empty office with only fax machines, printers, or computers. Whenever possible, I choose to set a higher shelf for my pictures and clock, lights… would an empty office works best…just askin’
What recommendations do you have for dealing with my very organized (all in dated albums) but extremely large collection of family photographs? I must have 40 albums chronicling my two now-adult children’s lives. Help!
Michael Williams says
I’m facing the same thing on a smaller scale. I’m going to go digital by getting a photo scanner. Scan them in, upload to Google Notes or Microsoft OneNote, etc, and organize them into catalogs. Send links to anybody who’s interested, then everybody can have access instead of just the person holding the physical catalog.
Search google or Amazon for a photo scanner, some have easy feeders to help the process go faster.
I’d rather save them on CD’s but thanks, love the tips.
Betsy Jones says
I tried to do this myself, and it was like another part-time 20 hours + job!!!
Oh, Dear this was another story, when my grandchildren were grown up and now moved out, I missed them the great time and now I have a collection of memories to keep and I wanted to only preserve the latest. My target had so much choices on sale and this wasn’t at all a waste in spending. That was my most loved project for keepsakes and didn’t wasted my time.
Kathy Allen says
I took the time a few years ago to sit down and downsize my photo albums. I had duplicates or pictures that were similar to one another and I just kept one. Pictures that weren’t very good were thrown away. I now have half the albums I once did.
Could you gift them to your children? If they have children of their own their kids would love to look through them. If not, it’s always fun to look back on your childhood memories.
I sent my husband’s niece a small photo album of her wedding, because I also have digital copies. I put a note indicating in box that perhaps her 4 children would enjoy this. She was really appreciative to have that extra little photo album of their special day.
Margaret Miller says
My sons gave me a digital picture frame for Mother’s Day— you upload scanned photos and they stream one at a time via Wi-Fi. No need to keep the paper copies! I love looking at them as I work.
After living with chronic illness since 1986 that flared up acutely in 2010 and two major back surgeries in the past two years, my husband finally had me call in a professional organizer to help bring some order to our house. We have been married for 38 years and collected a lot of stuff!!! It has certainly helped having outsider eyes look at items and ask do you REALLY want to keep this? One day she explained why it was so hard… you never buy something because you don’t like it. We hit the garage this past week and came upon boxes of my mother’s things. She died from cancer when my children were in early grade school, so I feel she died before her time. She was my best friend besides my mother. The emotions that this has brought about have been overwhelming. On Father’s Day I took gifts to my daughter and her children of things I had found in the items. I was able to let them go and they were all thrilled to have something of her’s. I have also been able to look at most of the items and decide if there is a use for them or if I should give them away. I never would have been able to do this before we brought in our wonderful organizer. Sometimes you need an unbiased eye to get you started.