Organizing our sentimental items is not what most of us call “fun”. We actually tend to put it off, because it requires vast reserves of emotional energy and time. It’s worth doing though. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you finally get around to dealing with (and maybe slimming down) all those things your parents passed down to you, you saved from your college years, and you tucked away from your children’s younger years.
1. Is this item significant to me or to history? If so, it may be that telling the story of the item, to yourself (in writing or aloud) or someone else, may be enough to help you decide whether it is worth keeping.
2. Do I want to display this item? Is it of visual interest or beauty? If not, is it something I want to see or discover again? These questions really get to the heart of how the item makes you feel. If it’s something you want to see, it probably makes you feel good about yourself or the memories it conjures.
3. Do I have responsibility for dealing with this? Or do I want to leave it for someone else to take care of? Should someone else have to deal with it after you’re gone? Can you trust them to do it properly? Or maybe it’s something that can be passed along now while you’re still here (like to your adult children).
4. Do I need it to retain a memory? Chances are, the memory will remain even if the souvenir, t-shirt or tchotchke does not. Maybe a photo or a written story about the item would serve this purpose.
5. Am I keeping this out of a feeling of obligation? Are you only keeping it because you think you should? Obligation and guilt are reasons many people hang onto things that they otherwise don’t have much attachment to. These are not reasons to treat your home like a storage unit.
6. Is this something someone else might need or use? Is there a family member or other person it could go to? If not, there is likely a charity or other recipient that could benefit from or appreciate having it. Frequently, people can’t envision anyone else wanting older items or memorabilia. It may require some research, or the help of a professional organizer, but there is a receiver out there somewhere. At the very least, thrift stores that accept donations are well-equipped to sell, recycle or dispose of items.
7. Does this item have real monetary value? Is this something that I could sell and make money from? Some people hold onto things because they overestimate their potential monetary value. They hope that the longer they have it, the more its value will increase, although this is usually not the case. It can be very time-consuming to accurately appraise an item, find the right sales venue or audience, and then work to promote and negotiate the sale. There are people who specialize in taking care of this, though, as well as many professional organizers. Find one at www.NAPO.net.