Reader Brittney submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I appreciate being uncluttered. It’s the only way I can stay organized and focused on the tasks I enjoy doing. My greatest obstacle is memory clutter. My family moved all my life. I live far from my loved ones and see them once in 5 to 10 years due to financial restrictions. As a result, I have boxes of family photos, cards, high school and college mementos, childhood drawings, well-worn childhood dolls & toys, yearbooks since middle school, etc. I irrationally keep these things to fill the loneliness I feel with my loved ones scattered around the world. But the memory clutter is suffocating me. How do I minimize this memory clutter without emotionally scarring myself.
I know how to display photos, but what about all of this other stuff? How can I possibly display and store such varied items in a one-bedroom apartment without looking like a junk shop? Help!! Thanks, in advance, for your desperately needed ideas.
A great question, Brittney. Sentimental items are difficult because some of the trinkets are clutter and some aren’t. One thing is for certain, though, keeping and displaying all of it doesn’t work for your space.
Start by sorting through all of your items and tossing out the junk. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find items that you can’t even remember why you’ve kept them. You might not have a lot of these types of things, but it’s best to get rid of the obvious clutter first.
Once the obvious clutter is gone, go through your items a second time. Sort the items into three piles: 1. Can be photographed or scanned and still have the same impact, 2. Definitely want to keep and display on my shelves, 3. Can’t yet decide what I want to do with the item.
For items that landed in the first pile (photographs, memorabilia, drawings, cards, etc.), set up a light box for the non-flat items and take pictures of them. Then, either scan all of your photographs or have a company scan them for you. Once all of the items are digitized, make digital scrapbooks of all of the images.
Next, make room in your space for the items you chose to keep and display on your shelves. Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to dust and sacrifice space to store. You will likely find a few important pieces are worth displaying and more valuable than having everything out on your shelves. You notice objects more when they’re not in competition with dozens of other objects for your attention. Shadow boxes are a great idea if you don’t want to use shelves for these items. Group like items with like items, and aim for quality, not quantity.
(For advice specifically about yearbooks, check out this post and its comments: “Yearbooks: Worth keeping or clutter?“)
The third pile — those things you don’t yet know how to handle — are always the most difficult to process. I recommend putting them all in a box, writing a date six months from now on the lid and on your calendar, and putting the box on a hard-to-reach shelf in your closet. When the date six months from now rolls around, photograph or scan every item that you didn’t touch a single time over the six-month period. You were able to live without the items for six months, which means you can live without them physically being in your space. An image of the item should be all you need in the future.
Thank you, Brittney, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to you as you go through this process. Also, check out the comments with more suggestions from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.