If you don’t already honor it, it isn’t special.
Okay, this is where it gets tough. Most of us have the ability and desire to get started on a decluttering project, but when we run into “discoveries” we get sidetracked with memories and a feeling of “I can’t get rid of this.”
Even when you find it in the bottom of a drawer or long-neglected and dusty in a closet. (“Oh, a matchbook from our great dinner in New York 10 years ago!”)
If an item is truly valuable to you, you will not lose track of it or forget about it. You will use it often or look at it regularly. Or you will know it is being saved and is securely packed away with a specific intention in mind.
These “discoveries” can derail your project faster than lightning. You sit on the floor with the contents of a few drawers around you and spend an hour wondering why you let this thing get here and what you will do with it now. Meanwhile, all the other stuff is still laying around and you run out of steam before you finish. So you just dump it all back in the drawers.
I’m not saying that every item of sentimental value should be thrown away – far from it. I’m saying that sentimental value is assigned by you in both word and deed, and if you have chosen not to honor and take care of a particular item in the past, what makes you think you will do it in the future?
These are the kinds of decisions that make decluttering such a tough process for most of us. We think by getting rid of an item that once meant something we are somehow getting rid of the memory. Not true.
Sentimental value is assigned by you, and when something is no longer sentimental it may just mean you’ve already processed those feelings and carry them with you (I recently had this experience with a special ring that was lost.)
Think about those love notes from your first boyfriend in high school. At the time, they were probably the most important thing you owned. And now? A sweet memory that exists even without the actual notes. The same is true for most of our “sentimental” items, and having too many reminders of things that don’t need reminding keeps us from valuing our current sentimental favorites.
You don’t have to agree with me on this, and I suspect a few of you will cling to your “discoveries” and vow to keep them up. That’s okay. I’m just asking you to be open to the idea that the item is no longer needed to feel the emotion or access the memory.
Here are a few tips for letting go gradually:
- Take a picture of the item and put it in a box to donate/recycle/sell. Look at the picture every day for a month and decide at the end of the month if you really still need the item. Is the picture enough?
- Share the item with a friend of family member who could still appreciate it. I have a set of china from my great-grandmother that I have only used once in 20 years. My mom has it now and is able to use it more often, and I get the pleasure of seeing it at holidays and knowing that it is being taken care of. I don’t need the china set to remember my great-grandmother (my favorite memory is actually her saying “good gravy!” when she was surprised, and I can think about that anytime I want, clutter-free).
- Write about the item in a journal and why you can’t let go even though you know you should. This is a great exercise in self-discovery.
We’ve now laid the groundwork for a month-long decluttering project. We’ve discussed how clutter impacts us, 5 strategies for decluttering, how to sell unwanted items, and the expiration date on sentimental value that most of us ignore.
The challenge this weekend is to:
- Decide which decluttering strategy(ies) you will use
- Determine how you will sell/recycle/trash your unwanted items and make a plan (set up a Paypal account, set aside a staging area in your home, have boxes available for sorting, etc.)
- Think about your definition of sentimental value and how you want to honor special items. If a “discovery” doesn’t meet an existing criteria, it will be easier to let it go.
On Monday we’ll start with a week-long series on kitchen decluttering. If you are in the Seattle area and want to learn how to cook for a day and eat for a month, the Incredible Chef is hosting a class at my home next Wednesday. Sign up here and you’ll be well on your way to an organized and clutter-free kitchen.