I have a bookcase at the end of my upstairs hallway. On that one bookcase, I have several items you could call sentimental “clutter,” but they make me smile everyday as I walk past. I don’t feel any sadness, obligation, or guilt when I see them. And to me, the bookcase is not even cluttered, it is homey!
The reason that this space is a “spark joy” kind of place for me, is because each piece was carefully selected. Each piece on this bookcase represents a “yes” answer, to three questions, I want you to ask yourself, if you are ever faced with tackling sentimental items.
In the picture above, you will see a representation of several happy memories that I hold dear. I have had the blessing of having wonderful people in my life! I doesn’t remind me of having lost them, only of the privilege of journeying through life with them for as long as I was able.
First, the horse head lamp, represents my father who went to heaven six months ago. He carved this lamp himself when he was a young man. As his horse-crazy daughter, it became my lamp in my childhood bedroom. Time went on and I grew up and moved out. Several years ago, we were clearing out my parent’s house to prepare them for a move and I was able to claim the lamp again. I treasure it now, more than ever! With this single item, I am reminded of so many wonderful memories of my dad. He was a talented woodworker, he supported his daughter’s love of horses, he supported me as I grew up to be a teacher like him, and as it “stands guard” outside of his grandchildren’s bedrooms it reminds me of what an involved and loving grandfather he was as well!
Next, the caterpillar bookends, represent my sister, who went to heaven, at the age of 14 when I was just 10. I idolized her, and her unexpected, tragic loss, rocked our family. She was hit by a car, walking home from school with a friend. When it happened, well-meaning, friends and family packed up her things and stored them away. When we were preparing my parent’s house for the move, I was able to help sort through her things. I was able to keep these bookends and books. She was very artistic and an avid reader. She painted the caterpillar, and the books were from one of her favorite series. Now, when I walk by, I smile at the reminder of what a wonderful sister she was. I have a vivid memory of her with her nose in her book as I interrupted to ask her to play with me. I am so grateful these are no longer stuffed in a box!
Finally, the books on this bookcase are representative of two different times in my life. The first is when I was a fourth grade teacher and I used to read 12 books aloud to my class each year. I loved watching their faces as the author would hook them and have them rooting for the safe conclusion of a favorite child hero/heroin. The even more special memory they represent, however; is the nights spent cuddled up at bedtime with our four kids as my husband or I would read aloud to them. If you think your kids are too old to be read to because they know how to read themselves, please reconsider. Children’s Literature is really rich and wonderful and sparks so many conversations! I will treasure every moment we spent together reading…they really do grow up too fast!
There are a lot of wonderful memories on that one simple bookcase. They aren’t obvious to anyone else, but that is part of what makes them special. Our family knows and that is what is important.
This works because the items are being used or displayed in a pleasing manner. These are items I chose. I kept these because they are special and few and make me happy! They aren’t creating clutter. Using sentimental items this way is so much better than the alternative. Unfortunately, sentimental items are usually forgotten in storage or in such a quantity that they interfere with space that could be used in daily life. This is when items carry burdens of guilt, sadness, or obligation.
So what can you do if you are faced with a house full of a loved one’s items or were just given a bunch of items that a loved one wanted you to have? Walk through the items and see what you gravitate towards. See if an item instantly brings a smile to your face or makes you laugh. Set those items aside as you continue through everything.
Now that you have narrowed the amount down, remind yourself that fewer is better and that memories exist apart from the items.
Now, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. Does it make me smile/remind me of specific happy memories?
An item always used at holidays or family gatherings.
2. Is it an item that immediately reminds you of your loved one?
A collectible or item specific to their job or hobby.
3. Where can you place the item seamlessly into your daily life where it can either be useful or decorative?
Picture where it will live in your house.
Once you can answer these questions, you know it is a good item to keep. You may be able to answer these questions for several items, but really work hard to limit yourself. Less really is more in this case.
If feelings of guilt, sadness, stress, or obligation are paralyzing you from getting rid of the rest, then contact a professional organizer. They can really help you sort through what is stopping you. Sometimes the authority of someone else giving you permission to let go of an item is what you really need.
Don’t forget that ultimately, this loved one, loved you! They want only what is best for you-not to burden you. Keep what will be treasured and let the rest go to others who will need it, want it, and treasure it.