10,080 Minutes: How to Downsize Sentimental Memorabilia

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We’ve had so much wonderful feedback from our book “10,080 Minutes.”   Thank you! In our book we had discussed how risks and obstacles are the tricky bits that sometimes keep us from ever carrying out our dreams. Our downsize was a major tricky bit that about did me in.

A reader recently asked me a question that I answered with a big groan. Our downsize was very time consuming, physically taxing, and emotionally draining. The first two things were dealt with using time management strategies, while the emotionally draining part of downsizing was met with a box of tissues and a stiff drink.  What is so emotionally draining about downsizing?

Letting go.

Letting go of tokens that remind us of special people or events from our past.

Here is the question asked of me and I will do my best to answer.

“How do you get rid of/handle sentimental memorabilia?” Oh, was that a groan I heard from you too? See what I mean.

 

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Every nook and cranny of our basement (and every closet in our home) was packed with stuff: old baby toys, old computers, books, photos, videos, scrapbooks, children’s art, baby clothes, army uniforms, old clothes, wedding dress, prom and cotillion mementos, Christmas decorations, old furniture, and the list goes on and on.  Because I had to get rid of more than 75% of our belongings to fit in our current home in a very short amount of time, I had to remain focused.  While most of the stuff was a no-brainer to get rid of, it was the sentimental memorabilia that took the most time and emotional energy to go through and downsize.

 

How to Downsize Sentimental Memorabilia:

Make some rules before you start

  • Know the size of the storage space you will be downsizing into. This will place boundaries on what you are able to keep and make some of the decisions easier.
  • Pre-decide the number of items you will keep, or limit the items by size of container. For example: “I will keep 3 mementos from High School,” “I will keep what can only fit in this small box,” “I will keep one yearbook,” “I will keep a few of my children’s baby outfits/blankets, but they must all fit in this small bin.”
  • I will not store what my children will likely toss. Think of those love letters from an old girl/boyfriend, old photos, knitting patterns, National Geographics. They mean nothing to the kids. Whittle it down folks!
  • As you go through closets, boxes, or rooms, decide your work/rest cycles. How long is each work period? How long are your rests? How many of these cycles will you do in one day?

Preparations

  • Set up “keep” boxes or bins, heavy duty trash bags, “giveaway” bags/boxes, “10-second” box (I’ll explain below), and “shred” box. Have several “keep” bins so that you can quickly place like items together as you go.
  • If you have allergies to dust, take a non-drowsy allergy pill.
  • Box of tissues
  • Broom, paper towels, cleaning spray
  • Hand gel
  • Digital camera
  • Chair or stool to sit on
  • Water bottle- keep hydrated!
  • Healthy snacks- bananas, granola type bars, etc. You will work up an appetite.
  • Timer

Structure

  • Start on one side of the room or closet and move in one direction. I like to go clockwise.
  • Set timer for 90 minutes. That is the time I used followed by 10 minute rests. This kept me focused.
  • Clean as you go, that is what the broom and cleaning equipment is for.
  • It’s a dirty job, wash your hands on each break, hydrate and snack while on breaks.
  • At the end of 2-3 work/rest cycles,  carry the trash out to the garage or an specific place for it until the trash truck comes. Place all the giveaway bags, if they fit, in your car. When the Keep bins are full, close up and store.
  • When the entire job is complete, take digital photos  and make an itemized list of the giveaway items (for tax purposes) then get it all to a charity- take it there or schedule a pick up. Take the trash to the curb or to the local dump, shred or burn your shred items, and organize your keep items. It is best to place the keep items in plastic bins with locking lids.

Strategy

  • Blitz. In the blitz, you will touch each item only once so you must move quickly. Pick up an item and quickly place it in the KEEP, TRASH, GIVEAWAY, Or SHRED bin/bag.  Now do that again and again with the next bazillion items you have to go through.
  • IF you stall and hold an item for more than 10 seconds, place that item in the “10 Second” box and come back to it later. When you have hundreds of things to go through like I did, 10 seconds per item is a long time.
  • After your blitz is complete, go back to the 10 second boxes. Most likely you stalled with these items because they are sentimental and tugged at your emotions.  Of all the things that I went through to complete our downsize, it was the sentimental items that gave pause.  I did not say valuable. It was cheap baby toys, year books, old letters from family, that conjured memories of yesteryear. It will take some time to get through the 10 second boxes of items.  Keep the same discipline here as you did with the other items, but do allow yourself time to reflect and deal with your emotions.  So now what?

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How to Let Go

Remember the box of tissues up there on the Preparations List, well it’s time.  Whatever your reasons for downsizing, this is where things get tough. Here are a few ideas I had to remind myself when I went through my sentimental keepsakes.

  • I can’t take it with me when I die.
  • I have a very limited space in my next home.
  • It is only valuable to me.
  • I have paid to move, maintain, and store for these items long enough.
  • I can bless another person with these items now, such as baby clothes, baby crib, my cookbook collection, CD collection, or letterman jacket.
  • When I do die, my children will most likely toss these items.
  • I want to leave a legacy of memories, not memorabilia.

Remember this…

  • By downsizing memorabilia, you will not forget the person/event who is attached to that item.  You will remember a wedding but is it necessary to save the invite, the church bulletin, or dried flower centerpiece? Ex.-  I found a stash of letters from my Dad that were sent to me while we were both away at school. I forgot about those letters, but have never forgotten the love my Dad showed me while away. I read the letters, cried at their tenderness (I am so sappy) and will never forget a line he wrote to me. “I don’t really have the time to write, so I’m making the time.” He still makes time for me! And then I tossed those letters. Sorry Dad!
  • You will not love the person or memory of that person less by tossing their letters or trinkets that you have saved from them. I took a photo of signatures, saved a few out of the hundreds of letters we had, read letters from those already gone, mourned them again (tissues), but did indeed toss those letters, old cards, etc. It was painful. I did save the letters Himself and I mailed back and forth from his deployment in Haiti- they are historical, document a slice of our early married life, and are few and take up little space.
  • Pick it up, put it down. The repetitive discipline of “pick it up and put it down”- meaning I picked up a stack of memorabilia and put it in the trash made the act of letting go less painful.
  • By choosing very few and select items, you will capture the essence of the person or event you are remembering. One little item, photo, or trinket can elicit an avalanche of memories which is so much better than an avalanche of stuff.

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Why Let Go?

Unless you want to carry this stuff with you until you die then pass it along to the next generation to trash or carry with them for the rest of their lives, you have to let go.  But here is how I felt after downsizing my memorabilia:

  • I feel lighter, like my world has drawn in closer to me and is smaller and feels more secure. What a burden it was to carry so much memorabilia always wondering what to do with it.
  • I don’t have to ever make a decision about certain things again. It is done and I have the time to do more important things.  Ex. For years I carried my high school letterman jacket with me. It had been to NJ, PA, NC, Germany, and VA- all that time in a box turning yellow. Every time I saw that jacket I spent energy trying to decide what to do with it. In this big downsize I finally threw it in the trash! Why not give it away? It was unwearable, it had yellowed, and smelled old.  Sentimental yes, usable no. I never have to labor over that jacket again!
  • Because I can’t read the future, it feels good to take a lighter load into it.
  • By letting go, I take on less. Because of the pain of letting go of all those mementos, I now save very little. I got very angry at myself for keeping all that stuff over the years, causing self-inflicted pain by having to let it go, that now I avoid mementos whenever possible.  On travel, my souvenirs are photos, a small and useful kitchen tool or consumable.
  • Knowing that my kids may toss this stuff makes me think, “why not do it now and get it over with?”
  • Let go earlier than later. Letting go at 47 years old by choice, than 80 years old by necessity or force (a sickness forces you into alternative living arrangements and all your stuff must go) is so much easier. Ask your older and wiser friends. I believe they will confirm this.

But What About?

  • Photos– digitalize these, or scrapbook the rest and label well for the next generations. This is my next very big task to take on.
  • Home Videos– Digitalize and Edit to shorter versions.
  • Historical Documents– Scan and file in sealed and climate controlled storage. If these are ancestry documents, consider entering them onto online resource sites.
  • Hobby Collections– stamps; coins; war memorabilia; handy-craft/artisan patterns, books, and tools; etc. If you are not currently doing this hobby then consider donating, selling, or loaning it to a museum, library, school, friend or family member who would use and enjoy the collection.

Note: If you are downsizing items that belonged to a lost parent or child, you will still use the techniques I shared above, but this time you may consider having someone close to you help you as this will be extremely painful and time consuming due to the pain of loss. It may be a while before you are ready, so give it time, ask for help, and know that the items you donate or share will certainly bless another person. 


Related Articles:

Big Red Kitchen to Manderley 2014

An Interview with Himself About Our Lifestyle Change and Downsize: Part 1

An Interview with Himself About Our Lifestyle Change and Downsize: Part 2

Not All Sunshine and Roses: Downsizing Sucks

Wherein I Define My Treasures

Surviving the Dream

My Heroes

Bonus!!: Himself’s article Less Clutter, More Confidence

The above tutorial is about my own personal experience on how I downsized over 75% or our belongings. If you have any questions about our downsize, please ask in the comments section. If you too have downsized, please share in the comments some of your own tips and tricks on handling sentimental items. The more we all can share with each other the better it can be for someone looking to downsize too.

Our book is still available for free Download until Nov. 18, please click on our Book Ad over there on the right side bar to be directed to the sign up page. Or if you would rather, it is available on Amazon => HERE!  Hope you like it!

6 Comments

  1. Monica
    Posted November 6, 2016 at 10:56 PM | Permalink

    I do love the sensation of feeling “lighter” after sorting and purging a box or a room. (I still have plenty more to do, though!) I really struggle to throw away my children’s art work or letters from my grandmother (who is no longer alive). I have so many good/happy memories when I look at those things. *** I’m curious if there’s been an item that you later really regretted disposing? ***

    • Robin
      Posted November 7, 2016 at 8:55 AM | Permalink

      So far I do not regret anything. But someday when my Mom and Dad are gone, I may be sad that I threw away a few things. But after some thought, it is best that I did what I did or I would have stuff everywhere and no room and my kids would be stuck with it all. So no regrets, the weight of it all off my shoulders is worth it!

  2. ColleenB.~Texas
    Posted November 7, 2016 at 1:05 AM | Permalink

    We just went through some of our ‘stuff’ and took old electronics to Best Buy for recycling. They used to take old TV’s, but now charge $25.00 but had found out that Mission Arlington in our area takes them. Better than all that stuff going to the landfill.
    Had our 2 grown daughters pick out what they wanted along with the oldest grandkids.
    Many items was donated or given away or sold on garage sale,but nothing went to the landfill. Old clothing items; had found someone who does sewing who turns something old into something new again as the material is cut up and used in quilts, pillow covers, etc.

    • Robin
      Posted November 7, 2016 at 8:51 AM | Permalink

      Colleen, all great ideas! Thanks for sharing. You are right, there are so many places that can turn our used items into something for someone else. We found a charity that took truckloads of our stuff to help the poor. And another good idea to have the kids and grandkids to pick stuff out now, than later.

  3. Jennifer McKinney
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 9:12 AM | Permalink

    When my mother died, I had one week before her funeral to clean out her whole house in another state. My family and my brother’s family were there too. In addition to cleaning out the house the funeral arrangements had to be decided. (PSA: Make these decisions for your family before you die. How did we know which songs she wanted sung at her funeral or what she wanted to wear in her casket?) It was not a week of quiet reflection. I could only take what I could fit into my car. The things that no one else claimed were given to a charity or trashed. The only regret I have is trashing a photo album that I had never seen before. They were professional pictures of my mother as a late teen.

    I recently went on an archeological dig in a closet and found a time capsule in the form of a wooden box that my grandfather made for me about 55 years ago. Inside the box contained memories from my childhood. There was a stack of letters about 18″ high that friends and cousins wrote to me when I was in high school and college. I loved reading through them. It’s remarkable what I had forgotten about in those years. It was also funny how much these girls thought about boys and how little they thought about schoolwork! I mailed the letters to the people that I still had addresses for. There are two people that I am no longer in contact with. I’m struggling with what to do with these letters. They are still on my desk waiting for a decision. I wish they would get a Facebook account so I could find them.

    • Robin
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

      Thank you Jennifer for your story. It is a whirlwind of emotions and decisions when it comes to our photos, letters, and mementos. Great idea to mail the letters off to other family members to share in the memories and I hope you find the others you have lost contact with. And a good reminder that we need to make some important decisions before we die- i.e.. music and coffin outfit. I shutter to think how my kids would dress me, and blue eye shadow would make the ultimate revenge.

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