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Making space for the sentimental

Making space for the sentimental

Last week I broke a Washington Redskins glass that had been passed down to us after my grandfather died. Although we do use the glasses regularly, we’re extremely careful with them, and we had made it seven years without breaking one….until I knocked it off the shelf.

It’s ironic because I already had this post about decluttering and sentimentality scheduled, but I’m really not very sentimental. However, breaking that glass was a good reminder that things can hold special meaning for us. And that’s okay.

However, most of us have limited space for holding these special items, and holding onto everything doesn’t leave you much time or space to enjoy any of them.

Here are a few tips for balancing the sentimental with the practical:

Unpack the Boxes

If you have boxes full of things packed away in storage because you can’t bear to part with them, it’s time to make some tough decisions. You either need to unpack them or let them go. They aren’t inspiring memories in your basement; they’re simply collecting dust. In our home, we have the Redskins glasses I mentioned already, plus an antique button box and antique toy blocks, a bed set that belonged to my great-grandparents, and the piano my grandmother learned to play on. All of these items are special and deserve to be treated with care, but keeping them packed away for “safe keeping” doesn’t seem like the best way to honor those memories either. (I can only imagine what Marie Kondo would have to say about their feelings!)

Use it or Lose It

As I mentioned, we do use the Redskins glasses from my grandfather, even though we always run the risk of breaking them. But if they were packed away, how many opportunities would I miss to tell my girls about how much their PawPaw loved the Redskins and how we used to collect the glasses every time we got gas at the local Mobil or how we would watch the games on his gigangamongous projection TV while eating Combos and Pinwheels? The risk is worth each of those opportunities to me.

Of course, you can get creative about what using those special things means for you:

  • My mom uses my great-grandmother’s old sewing machine as decor in her home, and then she folds it down to use as extra serving space for special dinners.
  • A friend of ours lost her husband, and she eventually had many of his favorite pieces of clothing turned into quilts for herself and their son.
  • You can frame old letters or fragile linens and hang them on the wall.

Take Pictures of Your Memories

We often take pictures or scan my kids’ artwork because there simply is not enough room to keep them all. However, I love the idea of applying this principle to other items as well by taking pictures of all of the things that hold special memories before I send them to their new homes. Passing something on so that it can be used rather than simply rotting in the basement isn’t dishonoring those memories at all, but taking the time to snap a photo and write your memories is a great way to eliminate any lingering guilt you have over doing so!

Set Limits…and Stick to Them

Of course, we all have things we want to store for the next generation—special books, toys, etc. I’m not completely against storage of all kinds, but it’s important to set limits based on the space you have available and stick to them. For us, that means one medium plastic tote in the basement that holds Sean’s lacrosse jersey from high school, my special blanket and pillow from when I was little, plus a few special dolls and snow globes. We don’t use them regularly, but one box is manageable enough that we can get it out and look through it every few years to share the stories of those items—and our own childhoods—with our kids.

Are you sentimental? Do you have trouble letting go of “clutter” that holds special memories for you? What creative ways have you found to use the things that have specal meaning?