Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, February 2008

Sentimental Roadblocks 

Perhaps the most important reason I got into Organizing is because I have found it to be the most important ingredient in accomplishing goals.  Being organized means being ready.  It means living in the moment and being able to take those important steps forward into a brighter future.  When we are surrounded by clutter, however, we tend to get dragged backward, into the past.  The accumulation around us tends to represent unfinished business, unrealized dreams, and good intentions we never had time for.  It represents guilt, inadequacy, frustration, and other negative feelings that hold us back from where we need to go.  There may be days when you’d like to just chuck it all and start fresh, but you don’t.  There are many different reasons why you don’t but the one I’m going to talk about today is what I call Sentimental Roadblocks.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with cherishing the past, but make sure you keep a special place for your keepsakes and that you limit them in fitting proportion to what’s important to you in the here and now.

If you are trying to clear through some clutter in your home and you keep running into Sentimental Roadblocks, here are ten useful tips to keep in mind.

1. Sort like with like first.  As with any other clutter decisions start out FAST and GENERAL.  Just place all potential keepsakes in a labeled box (or several).  Only toss the items you are sure about at this point.  The rest you will decide on later.  There are several reasons for this.  First, it is encouraging to get some quick wins, i.e. clear surfaces, clear floor, etc.  Second, once you have sorted like with like, it is easier to make decisions when you can you focus on one category at a time.  In this case you will be in “Keepsake mode.”  Finally, it is easier to make decisions when you see just HOW MANY keepsakes you have.  For example if you are looking at the odd Little League cap you may decide it is precious, but if you are looking at FIVE of them together, you will be more capable of just keeping the one you were wearing in the championship game and tossing the rest.

2. Allow a place for memories.  If you don’t already have a special place to collect your keepsakes, get one.  I like to call this place a treasure chest because these keepsakes are uniquely valuable to you.  In fact, because they are irreplaceable they may be MORE valuable than gold coins.  If a keepsake is something you would like to see all the time, then by all means display it prominently, perhaps on a shelf.  Otherwise give it a safe haven.  Give it a treasure chest.

3. Honor your treasures.  If a given object is important enough to keep, it should be important enough to keep WELL.  Protect this object to last, otherwise what is the point of keeping it?I’m always amazed at how many people keep newspapers as memorabilia.  Newsprint is not designed to last.  If you are keeping the newspaper announcing the Giants’ Super Bowl victory be sure it is well preserved and secured in your treasure chest.  Otherwise it will be either accidentally discarded or fall apart.  A great resource for preserving items like newspapers, photographs, baseball cards, etc. is www.lightimpressionsdirect.com.  If you find these products expensive, you might want to reconsider how precious you find that Giants Super Bowl Newspaper.  As a lifelong Patriots fan, you’ll get no sympathy from me.  (Sorry, I’m still in mourning).

4. Room to grow.  As with all storage solutions, be sure you leave plenty of room for growth.  You know you are not going to run out of new keepsakes.  So don’t settle for a treasure chest that is already out of room.  And if you are like Neil Young who expects  “TRUNKS of memories still to come” be sure you have an open corner in the attic to keep them.  The point is if you do not make a generous allowance for your keepsake needs, they will end up scattered in inappropriate places and compromise your here-and-now zones.

5. Get clear on WHO your keepsakes are for.  OK, this is mostly for Moms.  If you are keeping every piece of artwork your child has ever done, get clear on WHO you are keeping it for and WHY.  If you are keeping it for your kids then do yourself a favor and ask them if they want it.  Don’t be surprised if they say “I don’t want that junk!”  If you are keeping their artwork for YOUR memories, you will value it more if you just keep the BEST and preserve it WELL, than if you keep ALL of it, rolled up, creased, and dusty (maybe moldy) in the depths of your basement.

6. Keep the best, release the rest.  Just as keeping your BEST wedding photos in a safe album gives you the security to toss the duplicates and less-than-stellar shots, you will also find that securing your BEST keepsakes in one place gives you more security to toss some of the less-than-stellar keepsakes.

7. Empty the sandbags.  Not all memories are worth keeping.  Be sure you are keeping memorabilia that relates to POSITIVE or MEANINGFUL memories.  Life’s too short to be weighed down with bad memories.  Consider the model of the old hot air balloon.  If that is the vehicle to take you to new heights, you must release the bags of sand from the past that are preventing you from soaring.

8. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Be more liberal about keeping small memorabilia and more conservative with large memorabilia.  For example, consider whether or not a good photo of a large object can bring back the same good memory as the object itself. Rather than keep old T-shirts, that I will never wear again, I keep a binder of meaningful shirt fronts.  It not only takes up less space, but it easier to view.  And be more forgiving about a collection of matchbooks than a collection of large stuffed animals.

 9. Write it down.  If you can remember important details as you are reviewing your memories, write them down now, perhaps labeling the given object.  Your memory will not improve the next time you see this object.

10. Photos separate and simple.  When it comes to photos keep them separate from other keepsakes and collect them simply.  A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.  Keep extra photo albums with 4×6 slots on hand.  Sort your photos and just slide them into the slots by month and year.  Maybe you will have time to make a scrapbook or montage later and if you do, you will be far ahead of the game.  If not, at least you will have your essential visual memories preserved chronologically.

 Every time you find yourself asking “Where should I keep this?,” first ask “Why am I keeping this?”  If that “why?” can be answered with “because it brings back a great memory,” then store it well in a treasure chest, like the treasure it is.  This will help give you the security to let go of your less important ties to the past and allow you to focus more on moving forward.