If we were to make a scale running between “cold hearted bitch” and “tears up at every Disney movie ever made”, then set me up with some Kleenex because I am most definitely a nostalgia loving, sappy, kid at heart. Even for those who would consider themselves more “practically minded” than me – the person who kept every sketchbook I ever filled as a kid (spoiler: they were all filled with pictures of horses and ‘fashion designs’ – all named after birthstones or zodiac signs. The fashion designs… and the horses) – I think the idea of tossing out irreplaceable childhood mementos and memories can be pretty daunting. I mean, I can’t just go out and get some Tazos if I decide I want to get into it again, can I?
And of course, as I would point out with all aspects of minimalism – if you want to keep all of those mementos, then you do you – there is of course no right or wrong here, BUT, what if you do decide you don’t want the entire space under your bed to be occupied by Beanie Babies and souveniers from a theme park that doesn’t exist anymore? Well, here’s what I did – what worked for me, and what I regret.
Method One: Put things away in a cupboard? (AKA the “Out of Sight Out of Mind” Method)
The first thing I did came right at the start of my decluttering journey, and to be honest, didn’t work that well for me (I mean, there’s probably a reason everyone advises to leave photographs and sentimental items until the very end, but hey, I’m a rebel). I chickened out of even dealing with all the ornaments and trinkets I had amassed from 18th birthday gifts and the like, and instead I put them all in a box and we shoved them at the back of a cupboard somewhere. Some people like this approach, the idea is that you put them away for some months and then if you don’t miss them, or feel anything when you take them out, then they go bye-bye. Of course, the cupboard we shoved the box in happened to also house the Christmas tree, so when my box of precious, irreplaceable items came back out it was during the annual Christmas Tree stress-athon (“Which cupboard did you put the tree in?” “How should I know you put it away!” – Christmas is not Kenny’s favourite thing in the world.) We plucked the box out by accident, thinking it housed the sparkly reindeer (as you do). So, as I looked back through my items it was less of a ‘well thought out reunion’ and more of a quick rifling through newspaper and trying to make a split second decision before the “high up cupboard” was closed again and out of my reach (I do not ‘do’ ladders, for everyone’s sake). In amongst this I sort of realised that this just hadn’t worked for me, because I hadn’t dealt with the emotions associated with the items before I put them away, I just had that decision to make from scratch when I finally took them back out, which made the whole excersise seem a bit pointless (and we never did find the sparkly reindeer last year). It took me just as long to decide how I felt about things then – and at a much more stressful, less convenient time – than if I had just gone through the process properly in the first place – because of course I didn’t actually want to keep the ceramic owl I painted when I was six, I wanted to ‘keep’ the memories associated with it, so physically hiding the owl didn’t help – it was never about the owl.
Method Two: Taking Photographs of Items and Then Getting Rid of the Actual Items (AKA Let’s Get Digital, Digital)
Another thing people suggest doing if you have a bunch of bulky items that you only keep because they remind you of something or someone, is to just take a photograph of those items and then toss the giant stuffed bear/vase you hate/hat that hasn’t fit you since you were eight, and hey presto, a giant box of memories can be condensed down to the size of a flash drive. It sounds great, and for some things I did like this – like, for example with my childhood sketchbooks, I took a bunch of photos of the meticulously labelled sketches I made of outfits for each of The Spice Girls (trust me, they have no idea what they’re missing out on here), and stored those digitally and then was able to get rid of those books and believe me, that felt great, they really did weigh a ton and take up hella space, but… that was about all I liked it for. During my degree (which is in art), I primarily kept visual journals, and again, these things were so bulky that they took up about half of my bookcase, and I mean, how often did I even look at them? So I did the same thing, I took photos and then tossed them, and boy, do I regret it. These pages were layered and textured – they were tactile and meant to be interacted with – the emotion that I felt both for and from them, came from physically touching them and seeing all those layers of writing, of scribbles, of images, and in reducing them to a 2D photograph I robbed myself of ever really getting to “experience” those pages as they were meant to be experienced again. The same is true of some stuffed animals I got rid of – it wasn’t what they looked like that held the magic, it was the feel of their ‘fur’ or their particular level of squishyness if you gave them a hug, and a photograph just doesn’t give you any of that.
Ultimately, I regret getting rid of my journals – if I knew then what I know now, I would have kept them. With the teddy bears and everything else, I think ultimately I would have let them go onto new homes (and new hugs #sappy), but I think I would have less emotions about it now if I had made a clean break – thanked them for their service and released them with love – rather than trying to kid myself that I could “keep ahold of them” through the photographs. You cannot have your massive Eeyore and eat it, or something like that.
Method Three: Better Check Your Mum Doesn’t Want That Teapot
Marie Kondo cautions heavily about storing things in other locations – whether that’s hoarding 33 lipsticks in your desk at work or never fully moving out of your parents house; all of these items are still our posessions, even if they’re not physically in our homes. I totally agree with her there, and I did even go as far as clearing all my stuff out of the attic at my Mum’s – well, except the guitar, I mean, I feel like I totally might come back to that. One day. Not soon. But here’s the thing I learned with nostalgic items – it wasn’t just me who felt nostalgic about some of them. There were items I literally had boxed to go out to charity, but after mentioning them to family members they gratefully scooped them up – totally appalled that I would consider getting rid of them at all. The reason I didn’t feel like this was ‘cheating’ was because I had made my peace with these items and was ready to let them go, one way or another, but I’m not going to lie, it was easier to know they were going to my mum who would cherish them, rather than just releasing them into the big unknown. Of course, I have no idea if she still has the items (I mean, yes, of course she does, she is NOT into minimalism), but it did make it easier to let them go at the time. So while clearly this shouldn’t be your main method of letting go of items, it possibly is worth checking if that handmade felt Christmas tree bauble you made at pre-school means as much to someone in your family as it once did to you (Unless you’re a member of my family where my mum “forgets” to take my 23 years old felt bauble out of the Christmas Box, EVERY YEAR).
Method Four: Suck It Up Buttercup
I wish I could say that there was some easy way that worked for me; some trick or step by step process, but there wasn’t. I’ve taken several passes through my memories box at this point and honestly, I still don’t really have a shitting clue about what to do about a lot of it. I have days where I feel like my heart is being ripped in half at the thought of throwing some of these things out, and then I have days where I feel like my memories box is like a dangerous, emo, wormhole transporting me back to my teens – which it has to be said, were not great – and really, should I revisit those times? Is it healthy to keep the memories of these places and people alive? Is it healthy to not remember them?
Ultimately though, the best method that worked for me was just to sit down and really face the music, and go through it all, all at once. I had huge success in some areas – such as the afformentioned childhood sketchbooks – but I have not done so well in others – stuffed animals have faces, okay, so it’s harder, you have to like look them in the eye as you tell them you don’t love them anymore, oh jeez, here come the Toy Story 3 flashbacks…
Anyway, I have learned a few things along the way through doing this though, namely:
1. The memories that really matter to you, the people that really matter to you, you won’t forget, no matter what, so while I’m not suggesting that you throw out all the old photos of your closest family members and just keep the ones of you with random people at parties (that would be a hilarous photo album to show future children though), but just that if there are items you’re holding onto purely because you’re scared you’ll forget an amazing day, then it is ok to let go. You won’t forget.
2. You don’t have to get rid of anything. I mean this in both the short term and the long term. Marie Kondo talks of the importance of decluttering once and doing it so thoroughly and properly that it is not an ongoing process, and while for the most part I do think that makes sense, I also know I had good days and bad days (or good months and bad months actually) when it came to decluttering and if I had tried to force anything I would just have ended up building a Beanie Baby fort and defending it with my life – so yeah, in the short term, if it really doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right; stop the process for as long as you feel you need to. And of course, in the longer term, even if you feel commited to minimalism, remember that there are no rules attached to minimalism, so you can keep every certificate you ever got in school, or have every wall decked out with 100 photos, that’s all totally cool – if it’s what feels right for you.
3. Not all memories are good memories, and by that I don’t just mean the ones that are obviously not good – like the time I was chased by a gaggle of geese at a farm park when I was a young child. I still can’t hear that awful honking noise they make without practically hitting the ceiling. I’m also referring to memories that “should” be good, but aren’t – for me, for example, that was basically anything to do with school. My anxiety crippled my life during my school years and while I always did really well academically (well, I mean, PE doesn’t count right?), I found that any time I looked at a school certificate or souveneir from a school trip, or even photos from back in the day, all I really felt was the fear and the shame and the guilt associated with my anxiety back then. I could consciously remember the feeling of our choir winning the competition, or of getting an A in maths when nobody thought I would (I did do well academically in school, honestly, but there was a certain floppy haired boy in maths class, so you know) – but at the same time as I was trying to focus on those memories, I would also feel the bottom drop out of my stomach and all those bad feelings from the past come back, and ultimately the bad feelings were worse for me than the good thoughts were good. So I got rid of everything from my school days – at least this way nobody can hilariosuly print an old school photo of me in A1 size for my 30th birthday or something…
So that’s it, that’s what I tried and how it worked, and what I know now, which admittedly is arguably still not very much. For me, this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of shifting to minimalism, but I overall feel I’ve done pretty well in letting things go, but as you can hopefully tell from the hopefully artsy pictures that I have hopefully taken and sprinkled gracefully thoughout this post, I definitely haven’t gotten rid of everything either.
Ironically enough, for me the next step is to actually bring out more nostalgic stuff in the form of getting some digital photos printed (did you know we can do that??!?) and getting some memories put up on our walls. I very much like blank walls, but I very much like some of the people I’ve been lucky enough to know and some of the places I’ve been lucky enough to go to, too. The difference is that while sometimes I used to feel like I was living in a time capsule surrounded by so many memory triggers, now I can be sure to choose the photos of the times I really want to remember and then bring them out where I can enjoy them.
As always, if you yourself have gone through the decluttering process – KonMari style or otherwise – let me know what your experiences were, and hey, if you’re not into the thought of minimalism at all, let me know about that too!