Reader Mary submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I’ve noticed that one of the main pieces of advice you give to people looking to reduce or corral sentimental clutter is to photograph it and then toss the original item. I have to admit I am baffled by this. I cannot think of a single “memory” item I have retained where simply having a photograph of it would be as valuable as having the original. This does not include things like photographs and documents, where scanning does make sense to me since it’s about the information, but not the physical object–I’m talking about 3D objects. Could you give me some examples of the types of items you have found photographing useful for? Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can let go of the sensory experience of holding a memory in my hand.
Mary, my guess is you are better at letting go of things than I am. Your home probably isn’t being overrun with items you deem sentimental. You likely only retain an amount you can manage and honor appropriately. The reason the advice is baffling to you is because you can’t imagine replacing your valuable sentimental items with a less valuable photograph, which is healthy.
The problem I have — and many of our readers, too — is that we want to keep all items with any sentimental attachment, even the stuff we don’t value more than a photograph. Before I started my uncluttering journey, I had every handbill anyone had handed to me on the street when I was on a vacation. They were sentimental, because they reminded me of the vacation, but they weren’t the most valuable trinkets from my vacations. I actually value a photograph of these handbills more than the real objects, so the decision to photograph and get rid of them was simple.
The decision to replace a sentimental object with a photograph should be based on your answers to the following questions:
- Would an image of the object recall the same memory as the physical object?
- Would you value an image of the object the same as the object or more than the object?
If “yes” is your answer to both questions, photograph the object and get rid of it. If “no” is your answer to both questions, find a way to feature the object in your home. If your answers are split, take a photograph of the object and store the object in a taped-up box in your garage or storage space for six months. If six months have passed and you’ve never accessed the box to look at the object, you should be fine with just keeping the photograph and getting rid of the original object.
Thank you, Mary, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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