I have a friend approaching 60 whose home is full of mementos. She’s nothing like a hoarder, but every surface – coffee tables, side tables, cabinet tops and counters are all crowded with objects gathered over the duration of her life.
I once picked up a little “snowball,” a globe full of liquid that clouded with fake snow when it was shaken. It had been there as long as I had known her. When I asked where she got it, she just shrugged and said, “Oh, I’ve just had that thing for years.”
Obviously, it had no special meaning to her. It was just a thing that sat around, gathering dust. She probably no longer even noticed it. It was, in fact, just clutter. And that’s the problem. As we keep getting older, we gather a plethora of objects, more and more of them. Some are souvenirs from vacations in other states. Others may be old shoes or a piece of clothing that cost so much, it seems too expensive to toss or donate. Another item gathering dust may be a stack of old catalogs or magazines we once put aside to look at later, only we never got around to looking at them. There they wait, forgotten, just taking up space in their own special little pile.
Household mementos that grow over the years have become such a problem that they’ve sparked their own genre of best sellers, such as Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” In it, Kondo advises looking around at each object in your home (especially clothing in closets), holding each of those objects, and asking yourself, “Does this item spark joy in me?” Kondo then suggests that if the item makes you happy, put it away. If not, toss or donate it.
But some people disagree with that radical purging-of-things method. Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times notes in an article that “Professional organizing didn’t start with Kondo. The National Association for Professional Organizers, in existence since 1984, has thousands of members.”
Macdonald goes on to quote certified professional organizer Sue Ive of “Organize to Optimize,” who says “Kondo’s do-it-all- in-one-fell-swoop approach can burn out some people. It’s kind of daunting.” Macdonald says Ives suggests (decluttering) in a slow but steady progress: one area at a time, and keep moving.
Asking yourself if each object in your home “sparks joy” is a very subjective thing. If every surface in your home is so crowded that you have to move things before you can use that space, it might be better to ask a more personal kind of question, such as “In five years from now, will I be glad that I kept this? Or will it still be there taking up space and sparking no use or emotion in five years?”
There are many items we keep only because we’ve already kept them for such a long time. They are objects which have become like part of the family, such as a stuffed animal that was won long ago at some amusement park, or shelves of books we will probably never read again. Aside from the familial attachment, there’s another aspect to keeping things: We don’t want to toss them out, even to a donation center. We want it to be personal, we want our memento to be “adopted” by a good home. This is where it gets hard, in taking time to think of where you want these non-treasured objects to go.
Books really do sell at donation centers such as The Salvation Army and other thrift stores. Books you’ve enjoyed over the years but may never open again can be donated or given to friends, with your personal review. A stuffed animal can be spruced up by gently washing it, sewing up ripped seams, and then giving it to a friend’s child who will love this new toy.
In fact, the biggest emotional help in getting rid of meaningless mementos is to not think of it as “tidying up,” but as creating space. A clean counter top with no distracting figurines or colored bottles scattered on it will spark your creativity and provide visually peaceful space.
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