Every season, I make it a point to try and get rid of things that are cluttering my home.
Usually, these are clothes, books and various household items. As I shared, my grandmother was a hoarder, so my need to live clutter-free is no doubt a partial reaction to my up-bringing. However, for a long time, there were some things that I just could not even think of going through much less actually throwing any of it away.
These were the things that I dubbed irreplaceable: journals, school reports, letters from old friends and lovers, etc.
It wasn’t an easy task but this past weekend, I got rid of approximately 5 pounds of such objects, some of which had lived with me for more than two decades. Psychologically, I felt a lot lighter as a result.
For those interested in making a similar cull, below are three helpful tips.
1. Find and lay out the things in question.
While this sounds straight forward, it can be hardest part of the task. Most of these things are out of view and hiding in hope chests, attics or back closet shelves. In some cases, we may not even remember why we decided to keep these things.
Laying them out in a brightly lit room is a good place to start. Items that are damaged need to be repaired or thrown out. There may be some things we once thought of as treasures but now think of as junk. Those are pretty easy to toss out or give away.
For the remaining things, go to #2.
2. Ask yourself and be brutally honest: Why am I keeping this stuff?
During my recent cull, I discovered I had 10 journals dating back to when I was in high school. I had kept them all these years because I wanted some sort of record of the past. However, when I thumbed through them, I was surprised at how little I had actually documented about anything taking place around me. Instead, about 90 percent of them were about past boyfriends, feelings of angst, and other things I was feeling at the time. That’s not to say that they were bad—after all, journaling is good way to get it all out. However, there was no reason for me to keep them.
Despite the occasional Walter Mitty fantasy, it’s highly unlikely that I am ever going to be a person of interest that is the subject of biographies. I also have no desire to ever write a memoir. All these old journals were doing was taking up space.
It was the same with most of my photos. While I love photography, my early attempts were pretty bad. My old analog photos of various friends taken in poorly-lit settings were not the sort of things I could see my heirs fighting over one day. Therefore, I saved the ones I wanted and tossed the rest.
3. Ask: do I actually want these things in my life or do I feel obligated to keep them?
When my grandmother died, I inherited many of her things including some odd items like her collections of true crime paperbacks, old desk ledgers, and a fur coat from the 1950s which was in excellent condition but too large and heavy for me.
I never would have considered keeping these things had they not belonged to her and when I was being honest with myself, it made no sense to keep them just because they had.
In conclusion, letting go in general is a challenge for most of us in general but can become even more so when it involves getting rid of things that we dub irreplaceable or that have lived with us for a long time.
While it’s up to each individual what to keep and what to toss, having the above tips in mind may make things a bit easier. Clutter isn’t just a physical distraction; rather, it has psychological consequences as well. Amongst the things I tossed were a box of letters and postcards from a previous relationship I had in my early 20s. Looking back, it wasn’t a good relationship. It wasn’t one that I particularly wanted to remember. Finally getting rid of the last remnants of it felt surprisingly good.
While we may not be able to change the past, at least we don’t need to have reminders of it taking up space.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Mark Wallace/Flickr