Recently, we received a pair of emails from readers who find themselves in unenviable circumstances. Both are dealing with financial and health difficulties that are making it very difficult to maintain and afford a storage space that’s full of precious, sentimental items. It’s not a good situation, and again, one I imagine many readers can relate to. While I don’t have the perfect answer (and I really wish I did), I’ll share my thoughts here, and I encourage you, fellow unclutterers, to do the same in the comments. Hopefully the readers who sparked this post will find something in my words or yours that helps. Let’s start with very small steps.
A thing a day
A few years ago, we wrote about a technique called “A thing a day,” which first came to our attention via the Unclutterer forums. The premise is simple: eliminate one item per day until you reach a manageable cache of stuff.
Of course, it needn’t be a single item. You could do five items per day, or ten. You could wait for the weekend and pick a dozen items to part with on a Sunday. I mention it here for a few reasons. First, it’s not emotionally overwhelming or especially physically demanding. These two readers are dealing with a lot right now, including an urgent need to get on top of some items in storage. Also, the methodical elimination of several items could get you to a place where the storage facility is no longer needed, thus saving you some money. Of course, it’s not always that easy.
Both readers expressed that there are many sentimental items among their stuff. Parting with sentimental clutter can be very difficult. Sentimental items usually don’t fall into the category of “If I haven’t used it in [x] amount of time, I can throw it out.” That’s because utility has very little to do with why you’re keeping that object. So how do we part with these things? I’ll refer you to a post we published in 2011:
Remember that clutter is anything that distracts you from pursuing the life of your dreams. If you have so much sentimental stuff that it is causing a stressful mess or taking up room in your home for things that matter more to you, you will want to cull the clutter. But, you don’t have to get rid of all your sentimental stuff. At least for me, some of the things I keep for sentimental reasons are objects that reflect what I value most. My grandmother is one of my most favorite people on the planet, and having her rocking chair makes me smile and remember all the wonderful times we have shared. So, I keep that exact chair. However, I don’t keep every card she ever sent me or every gift she ever gave me because I don’t have room to keep everything and the chair elicits the happiest of all the memories.
When deciding on sentimental keepsakes, aim for quality over quantity. I loved my grandfather dearly. He was a tremendous artist. Today, I have a pencil sketch that he did hanging on my wall. The same picture hung in his living room when I was a kid, and I always admired it. Today, it’s the perfect — and only — physical thing I have to remind me of my grandfather, and it’s all I need.
Lastly, see if you can employ help from family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. A person who’s empathetic to your situation could help with reducing the need for a storage facility, the labor of going through a lot of stuff, and the anxiety of keeping it all in line. Even cataloging what you own by writing it all down can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
I hope this was helpful. Now I turn it over to you, fellow unclutterers. What advice would you give these readers? We welcome your comments below.