7 Steps to Dealing With Sentimental Clutter
How many of us have boxes of unsorted photos in the corners of our homes? How many of us struggle with the desire to preserve each painting, Popsicle-stick creation, and pinch pot cranked out by our kids? You're not alone in the desire to hang on to objects with emotional value, but breaking free can be quite rewarding.
Learning to Let Go
Julie Holland, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, assures us that the urge to hold on to meaningful possessions is normal. "Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear," she says. Organizing consultant Ellen Madere, says it's about working with the emotional aspects of the process, not against them. Here are her steps for conquering the challenge.
Step 1: Box It Up
Step 2: Enlist Help, If You Need It
Step 3: Work in Short Intervals
Step 4: Take a Picture (It Lasts Longer)
Which brings us nicely to every parent's bugaboo: children's artwork. The art writer Casey Ellis (brilliantly) suggested that I tell my kids I was creating a catalogue raisonné of their work. This is a fancy term for a complete list of an artist’s output. It sounds impressive, and it means that the original pieces, after being scanned or photographed, can be farmed out to collectors (a.k.a. Grandma) or recycled. Their memories live on in my Flickr pages, to be admired at the kids' leisure. (So far, that means never.)
Step 5: Save the Best—Toss the Rest
Marisa Cohen, a writer who lives in New York City, cherished her children's baby clothes, as well as her own kicky urban–single-girl outfits. Clothes are sweetly painful proof that time waits for no one. Teeny babies become towering tweens. But Cohen had to learn to open her hand. "I've hung on to three things," she says. "The green T-shirt I was wearing the night I met my husband and the baby hats my daughters wore home from the hospital. I keep them in the bottom of the under-bed boxes where I store off-season clothes. So twice a year, when I'm switching from winter to summer or vice versa, I hold them, have a moment, then put them back."
Step 6 : Give Things a New Home
Of course, not everything can be given to friends or family. Often one person's junk is—let's face it—another person's junk. So ask whether items are really wanted before you hand them off. If you get that "Oh, please no" look, donate the belongings instead. There are national organizations that would be grateful for your stuff, "but even better is giving where you live, for use in your own community," says Madere. If you're not sure where to give, a Google search of your ZIP code and the type of facility you would like to donate to should yield options.
Step 7 : Know Your ABC's (Always Be Clearing)
So what happens to sentimental items that make the cut? Madere advocates bringing them into your day-to-day life. "If it's a stack of dishes that mean a lot to you, give them space in your kitchen and box up your own for donation," she says. For less practical treasures, like mementos of a loved one, find a small cabinet and tuck them inside. Unlike a box in the attic, this setup invites spontaneous reminiscing.
And back to my dad, the frogs, and me. We donated the plush amphibians to a children's hospital and almost everything else to the Salvation Army. I kept a dozen tiny ceramic frogs and one little brass rocking chair, because, you know, there's just something about a frog in a rocking chair. For a while, I kept them in a little box on my bookshelf, but recently I've been letting my girls play with them. They know the frogs belonged to their Zayde, a man one child barely remembers and the other never knew. When I watch them acting out little anuran scenes of courtship and school days, I'm glad those frogs got a whole other life. Sure, they're getting a little chipped, but they're being loved by a new generation.