The last culling segment of the KonMari method, in my Great Tidy-My-Life Project, involves sentimental items. This was a pretty quick segment for me, and not nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. Supposedly, this is because by now, my decision-making skills and joy-finding skills are honed. I don’t think that was the case here, though, particularly as I feel like I’m still in the process of learning what makes me happy.
I am extremely attached to memories. I’m not a hoarder or a packrat, and I don’t keep everything that has the slightest sentimental value. However, I’m the sort of person who, for example, took twelve rolls of film to France with me for my six-week study abroad program in 1999, and ended up buying an additional thirteen rolls while there. To give another example, I’ve kept nearly every picture taken with/of ex-partners or ex-friends. I may not want to be with them anymore, but those are still my memories, and I don’t treat that lightly. In other words, I can be a bit insistent about holding onto things, and a little stubborn about letting things go.
At the same time, my grasp on old things isn’t a way to cling to the past. I don’t hold onto pictures of an ex or letters from a childhood friend because I wish I was still in that time period, or with that particular person. Not in the least. I have pictures of people I have no desire to ever see again, and it makes me happy to see those photos. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone else, but for some reason, holding on to particular things actually helps me to separate myself from my past and put it behind me. And I don’t hold everything forever. When an object loses feeling, then it’s time for me to let it go. Every few years, I dig through my memory-objects and let go of those that no longer feel like part of my life.
Still, there was a lot to go through. I decided to save all the electronic stuff (you know, the 10,000+ photos scanned into my computer…) for another time, especially since I just culled through all my photos a couple years ago when I digitized them all. Not including digital files, keepsakes still took up a great deal of my space:
- several large Tupperwares
- one giant Tupperware (trunk-sized)
- a traveling trunk that I’ve had since college
- three large boxes, each one designated for a different child
- a closet shelf full of albums, journals, books, yearbooks, etc
- a large bag of old artwork
Items in these locations included so much: childhood picture books, funny school reports and projects, the first bound book I put together in fourth grade, my competitive swimming medals and ribbons, old letters, memorabilia from my favorite band, coin collections and foreign money, my childhood My Little Pony collection, the hand-drawn decorations from my wedding reception, etc. It also included some of the most ridiculous keepsakes that I’ve continued to keep purely for their ridiculousness.
Example: I have a white rock that is scribbled all over with pencil. Why did I keep it? Because back in either fourth or sixth grade – I can’t even remember – that pencil was given to me by a boy I liked. That scribbling came from a pencil once owned by a crush. I’m not even sure which crush. All I know is that the marked-up-rock is so ridiculous that it became a part of who I am today, and every time I look at that stupid thing, it makes me giggle. It became more than a lovelorn keepsake, just by the pure measure of me keeping it for a couple decades. On par with this example is the phone number that a friend, Stephen Camlin, gave me at the end of second grade, because his family was moving that summer. I never saw or spoke to Stephen again, but I still have the note for the sheer ridiculousness of having it.
It didn’t take me long to realize something important while going through keepsakes. They were doing me no good stuffed inside a box or trunk. I love these things, and I want to be able to see them far more often than a glance over ever year or two. At the same time, I don’t need to set a penciled-rock on my dresser, or tack a nearly-thirty-year-old note to my wall. You know what I can do, though? Take pictures. I don’t need the physical object of some of these things. Seeing them pop up on my screensaver or desktop background – both set to rotate my photos – will bring me joy every single time.
I used this method a lot: old art, old stuffed animals that the boys loved as toddlers, old baby clothes, all my old medals/awards, old comics cutouts, old pillowcases and elementary school shirts long past ever using again… These things live inside me, yes, and now they will live in my computer, too, popping out to remind me of these things that make me smile despite how old, musty, broken, worn, and useless they’ve become. These new photos will bring me so much joy, and take up no physical space at all, and won’t be hidden away in a box somewhere. It’s wonderful.
The one place that did give me pause on this part of the journey was my My Little Pony collection. When we lived in our last house in Texas, there was a shelf lining the top of one wall, with a picket fence decorative edge. (It was there when we moved in, along with a lot of other chintzy things…) I kept my ponies and other keepsakes up there, where I could see them every day. When we moved to Boston, I put the ponies in a box, and there was never any place to put them in the apartment we rented. I brought them back to Texas with me, and they’ve stayed in their box. I figured that I hadn’t missed them, and I should let them go out in the world to make others happy.
I lined them up, took their photo, and put them into the donate pile. I felt wretched doing so, and Jason said, why didn’t we just build our own shelf, like in the old house, and keep the ponies? It was a wonderful idea, and so I pulled the pony-box out of the donate pile. Later, I realized I hadn’t gone through my collection one by one. When I did so, I discovered that only ten of the thirty-or-so ponies actually brought me joy, and I kept those ten, letting the others go. That didn’t make me feel wretched at all. For a moment, though, I’d forgotten that I couldn’t go through things in batches. I had to touch them one by one, and really, that made a world of difference.
All of my keepsakes are important to me, and so my way of getting rid of these was slightly different from in other categories. I could thank my clothes and books, and send them off with love. With my keepsakes, though, I couldn’t just say thank you. I had to kiss every single one of them, and hug them to my chest, and tell them how much I loved them. Maybe that’s silly, but I felt so much better when I did it, as if it was time to truly say goodbye.