How to decide if it is memories or just stuff?

how to decide
How to decide if it is memories or just stuff?

Are all the items in your living space sentimental clutter or valuable memories that you simply can’t live without? How to decide if it is memories or just stuff?

As a life writer, this question sneaks its way into every interview I do with clients. ‘I keep nothing, it’s just clutter’ some say, whilst others tell me ‘It’s the memory it brings’.

Memories or Just Stuff

Material possessions are a way of recalling emotions of the past or reconnecting with someone who is connected to that item. Reconnecting with a special memory through a material object can be an amazing experience and leave you joyous and excited. Equally, if it is a sad connection, it can ignite strong negative emotions of hurt, anger or guilt.

At the end of the day, you are left with a lot of material possessions that consume precious space in your living environment.

From my own perspective, I didn’t realise I was a hoarder of every item and photo that had passed through my hands from the time I became a mother until I started writing my own life and resurrected all the ‘preserved jewels’ stashed in every cupboard, drawer, wardrobe or hidden box under the bed. These days I call them emotional memories and whether the evoked memory is good or bad, the associated item was something I could not part with. It was a load to carry.

Keep or discard

Holding an item allowed me to muse over a joyous moment in the past and to relive the pleasure, love or pride I had experienced. Even some memories that had escaped my short-term memory and were forgotten, were able to be resurrected and articulated with a ‘do you remember this…’.  This is one of the amazing things about our minds and human memory.

Equally, negative experiences and things you would prefer to forget can also gain memento status, losing none of their intensity from their years of isolation. This is something I always discuss with clients and give them choice on where they want to go with this memory.

Recently, a lady shared with me that she had ‘thrown everything out’ when her husband died. Therefore, she told me, there was nothing to preserve in terms of life story. I felt very sad for this lady as she had a wonderful life with her husband, raised beautiful children and travelled the world extensively. By discarding every photo, household memorabilia and personal items of her life with her husband, she triggered a negative barrier that has not allowed her to move away from the anger she felt when her husband passed.

How to deal with it all

From my own experience, I found the journey of writing my life, categorizing and preserving photos and treasured items very rewarding. Here are a few morsels I offer that may help others in this process.

  • Reflect on your individual items and let them take you on their journey so you can recognize where the sentiment for the object comes from. Only then can you decide the value of keeping or discarding.
  • Photograph the possession and document its story in a book. You can then discard the item knowing you have the memory and emotion intact.
  • Deciding what to keep and what to discard is often a practical decision based on storage facilities available, depreciation of the item and the actual value of the artifact be it emotional or financial. Perhaps you could value each item on a point score of 1 to 10. This would force you to confront your inbuilt emotional calculator and put a hard face to your attachment.
  • If you choose to keep the item, preserve it in a way that is meaningful and accessible. Don’t put it in a box at the back of the cupboard never to be seen until you repeat this process. If it can’t be displayed or stored satisfactorily, you have your answer.
  • Some people like to ask questions of the item such as ‘have I looked at you in a year, do I want to display you in my house, are you harboring emotions I would be best to discard. This also gives you an answer you may have been avoiding.

It makes you feel lighter

I have felt much lighter and free since I decluttered my life and yet I still have all my memories and emotional attachments intact in photographs and wonderful descriptive stories that will mean so much more to my family and future descendants than aged artefacts that I have treasured, but they may not.


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If you want help with documenting your memories, I am happy to assist you. I can turn them into a beautiful book that will last for generations.