In this post, Carole Reed, owner of organising business HappySort, shares her insights into dealing with sentimental paperwork – items such as letters, cards and drawings that can be difficult to address when we are decluttering.
When talking about sentimental paperwork, I’m referring to letters, cards and drawings. These items are notoriously hard to deal with and many professional organisers recommend that you leave everything sentimental to the end of the decluttering process.
Julie Holland, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University talks about sentimental clutter being the “adult equivalent of a teddy bear.” Jennifer Baumgartner, a practising clinical psychologist who runs a wardrobe consulting business, notes that, “we infuse our junk with the spirit of a moment in time, associating the tangible with the intangible. Our junk becomes the object upon which we project our internal experience.” This is why some people find it almost impossible to throw anything away.
Try and think about this process as keeping the pieces that mean the most to you, not about getting rid of stuff.
If you have an enormous house with lots of cupboards and storage space, then holding onto a lot of things may not be a problem. However, the reality is that most of us don’t have the luxury of space so we are forced to streamline our possessions.
Many people justify holding onto sentimental paperwork by thinking they are preserving memories and connections, and they find that comforting. Holding onto something and then storing it in an attic or cupboard is not the same as preserving it. Such an item has no meaningful purpose; it’s just stored and often forgotten about.
If you don’t dispose of your sentimental items, one day your children or other family members will have to go through them. Try to teach your children good habits about only keeping the most precious and special items. Don’t burden them with the task, and associated guilt, of having to throw away the things that you found difficult to deal with.
If you keep EVERYTHING then nothing stands out; special things get lost amongst all the other things you have attached sentimental value to. If you keep back a manageable number of items that mean a lot to you, you can display them or keep them in a way that means you can still look at them and enjoy them.
Sentimental items can bring joy, but they can also prevent you from moving forward with your life. Why do you need to keep hundreds of letters from your first love? Choose one or two at most and discard the rest. People often keep things even though it makes them unhappy or guilty to look at them. Nobody needs to keep things that make them feel bad about themselves.
Sometimes we feel guilt over discarding sentimental paperwork. Perhaps there are cards from deceased family members or artwork from long grown up children. We fear that the memory of that person, or those times, will disappear with the item. In reality you are getting rid of the item, not the memory. You are not feeling sentimental or nostalgic about the object, but about the person, place or time.
There are many different ways of tackling this kind of project; here are some of them:
Much sentimental paperwork can be re-purposed, you don’t need to throw it all away. This is harder to do with paperwork than it is with say books, clothes or family heirlooms but it can be done. It can be a lot of work to repurpose something but hopefully this will be part of the process of helping you to realise whether an item is really worth keeping after all. Here are some ideas:
If this post has inspired you to get to work with your own sentimental items and you would like some help, you can find your nearest APDO-registered professional organiser on our Find An Organised database.