Sentimental clutter plagues our attics, basements, closets, garages, and desks. These sentimental trinkets can keep us from moving forward with our lives physically and emotionally. If there is so much of the past taking up space in the present, there isn’t room to grow.
The article “What is nostalgia good for?” from BBC News discusses a recent report from the financial services firm Standard Life, the book Get It Together by Damian Barr, and research conducted by psychologist Clay Routledge at North Dakota State University that may provide insight into why we accumulate so many sentimental items and have even greater difficulty letting them go:
“Most of our days are often filled with with routine activities that aren’t particularly significant — shopping for groceries, commuting to work and so forth,” says Mr. Routledge.
“Nostalgia is a way for us to tap into the past experiences that we have that are quite meaningful — to remind us that our lives are worthwhile, that we are people of value, that we have good relationships, that we are happy and that life has some sense of purpose or meaning.”
Unfortunately, keeping everything from the past can have a negative impact on the future. From the article:
But Mr Barr warns the past can be fun in measured doses and for the right reasons.
“You shouldn’t revisit it as a way of avoiding the present or not thinking about the future. If you spend too much time thinking about the past, you are simply not going to be prepared for the future socially or emotionally.”
While highlighting the benefits of nostalgia, a 2006 report in Psychology Today magazine has warned that “overdoing reminiscence” risks an absence of joy derived from the present, and a reliance on past memories to provide happiness.
Thinking about the past could also trigger painful emotions, such as grief for lost loved ones or feeling like a has-been if recalling a distant career success.
Since we get a bump of happiness from sentimental items, it’s okay to keep a few of the prized possessions. Make room for the handful of valuable-to-you pieces of nostalgia that aren’t actually clutter. Get rid of the rest of the stuff that holds little-to-no value, though. A quilt from your grandmother might be an object you keep, but a stick you picked up one day in her yard might be something you should trash. It’s impossible to keep every object that comes into your life, so keep what is truly important (not clutter) and clear the rest (clutter) to make room for your present and future.
A few tips for ways to let go of sentimental clutter:
- Snap a digital photograph of the item and keep only the image. Save these pictures securely online in a program that allows you to keep notes about the image (like Flickr or Picasa).
- Write a journal entry about the item before you get rid of it. The act of writing down the memory will let you think about the experience, which is usually more valuable than the object itself.
- Invite friends to a Nostalgia Night and video tape your conversations about the items. If your friends wish to take any of the items home with them, let the object go to a good home. What is left afterward can be recycled, given to charity, or thrown in the trash.
- Make a deal with yourself to only keep sentimental items that will fit in a specific acid-free storage box or scrapbook. Deciding what will make it into the box or album can be a new happy memory itself.
Be sure to check out the full article for more insights into nostalgia.