Clutter and Memories

Inspired by Erin of Unclutterer, I want to write about preserving memories versus decluttering.

I would wager that in many people’s spaces, memory preservation makes up the majority of infrequently-used things. Photo albums, old pieces of writing, or as my mom called them, “scrapbook material”. Not only is it infrequently used, but it also has some of the strongest sentimental attachment of any type of object. That makes it even more confusing to consider when you’re Getting Rid of Stuff.

In my recent zealous decluttering, I got rid of a whole file cabinet full of old papers dating all the way back to kindergarten. The tragedy of lost memories, you might think! But the pieces of paper are not the memories; those are in your head. If it’s photos you’re talking about, you can digitize the important ones, then get rid of the hard copies. If it’s dusty old papers, ask why you’re hanging onto them anyway. Will anyone read them in the future, or will they just be recycled at some point? The physical and mental space taken up by all those scraps outweighed for me the value of looking at them at some point in the future.

Furthermore, there is something powerful to be said for living in the present, and shrugging off the restraints of the past. You don’t have to be escaping a painful personal history to find value in distancing yourself from reminders of who you were in the past. Diminishing the influence of the past allows you to focus on the present and the future, which lends itself to mindfulness and hope.

So, while there are certain things it is important to hold on to (especially significant items), keeping reams of documentation of your past self can do more harm than good.

One Reply to “Clutter and Memories”

  1. Two quotes about this have always stuck with me….

    “You want remember? So just remember.” – the grandmother, “I Love You, I Love You Not” by Wendy Kesselman

    “We forget how to cry… we save photos instead.” – Jacques Brel (from “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

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