Reader Amy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer regarding sentimental items:
I do a pretty good job keeping my clutter contained. My partner is a clutterbug. We live in a small apartment in a big city and are preparing to move to a smaller apartment in a bigger city.
We have the clutter/anti-clutter conversation a lot, and our biggest problem is that even if we follow the display rule, it’s still lots of “treasures” all around our house collecting dust. What do you do with the treasures once you’ve decided which ones are display-worthy? We both rather like the idea of putting his treasures up on the wall somehow to keep it off the surfaces, and I am partial to having everything in one place, so there are obvious visual limits to how much stuff is allowed to stay (like shelves or some kind of cabinet).
What you’re trying to decide is if the sentimental items you’ve chosen to keep should be zoned together or zoned apart. Do you want a Sentimental Items District or would you rather they commingle with all the other design elements in your place?
I recommend starting with a Sentimental Items District. The first reason I think you should do this is just to get all of these pieces together on a series of shelves or in a display cabinet so you can really get a grasp on how much you have. Sometimes, when objects are spread throughout the house, they feel like a bigger collection than they actually are. Other times, you come to realize you have way more sentimental items than you intended.
Creating a Sentimental Items District is also a good idea because it forces you to be practical with how many items you can keep in your home. If you don’t have a single space that can display all your sentimental items, you’ll need to do some additional uncluttering to get your collection down to a size you can properly store. This is when the Unclutterer motto is a good one to recite to yourself: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” I also like the Sentimental Items District because it forces you to be realistic about the maintenance and upkeep of these items. How long does it take you to dust all of them? How much room in your apartment do you have to provide to keep them? Are some of these items more valuable than others (what did we push to the back of the shelf to make room for what we really want to see)?
After three or four weeks of living with your Sentimental Items District, sit down and talk about how you want to display these items moving forward. Did you miss walking past your championship bowling trophy on the way to the kitchen each morning? Do you think only having your sentimental items in one place makes your home less personal? Did you like it better when you could be reminded of different memories as you moved through your home? Or, are you happy with the Sentimental Items District? Does it help you to make better choices about what is worth keeping and what isn’t? Do you prefer to have the majority of surfaces in your home free of sentimental items? Or, is there a middle ground that will work best for you? Do you think you would like to have two Sentimental Items Districts — one for framed family photographs on the fireplace mantel and then everything else in the display cabinet in the dining room? You’ll have to figure this out together, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Starting with the Sentimental Items District, though, will give you the opportunity to stop thinking about this issue in the abstract and really see how it would work in a concrete way.
Thank you, Amy, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I answered your question, and be sure to check the comments for even more advice 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.