Decluttering When Everything Feels Special

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

If there’s one thing us humans are good at, it’s attaching meaning to objects. As a species we seek meaning in everything we do, but also everything we own.

We place meaning on everything from old toys to pieces of furniture, to old cinema tickets and birthday cards. People with hoarding disorder can also become attached to things other people would consider rubbish such as food wrappers.

The problem with putting all this meaning on objects is that in the end, so much is deemed special, that nothing really is. Nothing can stand out.

When you first start decluttering, it can be extremely off-putting when it seems that you love everything. But, do you, really?

Is that box of art supplies cherished, or are they part of your fantasy self who’s a master artist and always makes time to paint? Is that bag of old tennis rackets serving you now? (pun intended) or was that when you played a decade ago?

As time passes, what we find important and what we treasure changes. We often fail to recognise this when it comes to our stuff because we either just store it away in fear that we will want it ‘one day’ or we get so used to seeing it that we become blind to it.

We remember our old feelings for these objects but don’t bring those feelings into the light of the present day. Instead, when we finally look at them we start remembering the past and confusing our old feelings with our current ones. Or we confuse our feelings with memories of the actual event and attach it to the object.

We keep objects as mementos because deep down we fear that letting go of the object will also mean losing the memories. I can tell you from my own experiences that it’s just not true. Precious memories will stay with you no matter what. Even if you no longer have the object, there’s dozens of other things which can trigger memories such as smells, people, events, places and feelings.

I have a small shoe box that belonged to my nan. Inside it are old faded photos she held dear. But it’s not these photos that trigger the memories for me, it’s the box itself which still smells of nan’s furniture! When I smell that, I remember every nook and cranny of her bungalow and of the amazing fun times with her. If I didn’t have that box, simply the smell of mashed potato brings those same warm, happy memories to the surface (I loved her mash!).

The key to decluttering sentimental objects lies in the ability to separate the memory from the item itself and to realise that the item isn’t the person, the event, or the place.

Saying that, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few special pieces that make you happy every time you see or touch them. I have a lovely memory box where I keep my memories, but once they start being unable to fit, I know it’s time to go through it and assess if everything in it is still important to me.

If it isn’t, I gently let it go, knowing that I’ve made more space for the special moments in the future rather than adding to what was already there.

If you’ve just started out on your decluttering journey, it’s always best to leave sentimental objects for last while you work on the easiest things like out of date paperwork, excess decorations you bought in a sale, or clothes that don’t fit.

To declutter in a lasting way, you need to exercise and build up your mental and emotional decluttering muscles, and therefore, the decision making skills that come into play when doing so.

The important thing is simply to start, and to realise that happiness doesn’t come from the stuff you own, but the life you craft for yourself. Experiences, relationships, and living true to your values are things you can never put in a box or put a price on.

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