This year, I helped my mom sell our family home. The hardest part? Going through decades worth of old belongings, deciding what to keep ... and what to chuck.
Before this move, I never thought of myself as an especially sentimental person. Yet, as I opened boxes to uncover stuffed animals from my childhood or a box of family photos, packing would come to a screeching halt while I sat down and studied every object and image with care. While a small part of me longed to keep everything, I knew that my mom’s new place lacked the space, and my own home was already cluttered enough. This forced me to make some tough decisions.
In the end, we got it done — and I learned a ton in the process. Here are a few hard-won lessons to help declutter and move without sacrificing all those memories.
1. Save just one memento to represent the whole
Though I had moved out, gotten married, and bought my own place years ago, my old room, and a good chunk of the garage, were still full of my stuff. I expected to find a bunch of too-small clothes and outdated high school textbooks; what I got were mountains of childhood treasures. There were framed photos of family trips, yearbooks, and so much more.
I found myself collecting too many of what I deemed “irreplaceable” memories. The “keep” box overflowed as the “give away” box sported nothing but an old pair of sneakers and a purse with a broken strap.
One jewelry box from my teenage years made it into the “keep” pile because I had such a sweet memory of an aunt giving it to me for my birthday. I found an old Beanie Babies toy I simply couldn’t part with because it was a present from my best friend in grade school.
The Beanie Babies toy I got from a friend in elementary school, with the tag still attached, could be worth a fortune now, right?
But of course, I couldn’t keep all these things.
I ended up taking everything out of my closet, from my dresser, and out from under my bed, in an attempt to sort through them all at once. I made piles, and soon, I noticed patterns. For instance, I had a whole pile of band shirts that reminded me of the music I loved in high school. That’s when it occurred to me that maybe just one representative T-shirt was enough. I also had a massive collection of mouse ears from Disney World visits; clearly I didn’t need them all.
So I went through each pile of similar things and picked just one “favorite” — one band shirt, one set of mouse ears — to represent those memories as a whole.
While this is a good tip for sorting through mementos, you could apply the same idea to your things even before you move. I know a family who uses this method for their children’s art. At the end of each school year, the parents collect all their kids’ drawings and encourage each child to pick one favorite piece. They have that one picture framed and throw the rest away. This allows the kids to display their art without it overwhelming the house.
2. Snap photos and share your memories with others
Yet even with some whittling, there was still a ton of stuff I found myself wanting to keep for old times’ sake, like my collection of movie stubs and collectible cups from baseball games.
While I knew all this should be easy to toss, I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d kept these things for a reason, and that’s when it dawned on me: I was keeping them so I could look back on them later, and there was no better time to reminisce than right now!
I ended up snapping photos of old flyers and ticket stubs and then posting them on Facebook or texting them to the old friends I’d shared that memory with — usually someone I hadn’t seen since high school. We’d have fun reminiscing, and feeling satisfied, then I was finally able to throw those mementos away.
3. Save room for a few surprises
When we were boxing up the garage, we found a lot of forgotten pictures that my mom wanted to hang in the living room in her new house. We knew we couldn’t just pack these pictures with the rest of the garage stuff because we’d forget about them. We needed to put them in the living room boxes. The only problem was we’d already taped those boxes closed.
After tearing open some living room boxes and resealing them with the pictures inside, we started a new system. Instead of going room to room and packing up everything, we’d leave a few boxes unsealed and half-packed in each room. That way, when we found a blanket that my mom wanted in a bedroom instead of the hall closet, it would be packed in the right box and ready to open in its new spot in the new house.
4. Consider ditching old for new
Sometimes clutter is more than clothes, toys, and books. Sometimes it’s furniture.
When I was growing up, we loved our old dining table. I have so many memories of eating dinners there, and of spreading out my homework. But when it came time to move, my mom looked at the old table, at its scratches and nicks, and said, “Maybe it’s time for something new.”
Before you sell your house, ask yourself which pieces you want in your next place, and what you’re ready to replace.
We ended up donating a lot of furniture and went shopping. Mom and I found some stylish new couches, chairs, and even a dining table.
In the end, we learned that refreshing the furniture was an important part of leaving an old home. It helped us break away from the past, and see her new home as a place to create a whole new batch of memories.