It’s 2 am and I’m sitting on my bed staring at a crumpled piece of paper that reads “Welcome to Idea City”. It’s the front page of a welcome packet from one of my first real jobs — as a studio designer at the advertising agency GSD&M. I’m 8 hours into tackling the contents of an over-stuffed filing cabinet and I’ve unearthed yet another relic that leaves me paralyzed: I know I don’t need this. But I simply can’t throw it away! If this situation sounds ridiculous to you, then congratulations. You’re a rational human being. But if you relate to this dilemma on any level, you may be plagued by the beast known as “Sentimental Clutter”.

My particular condition is most definitely genetic, having been raised by a family who believes in keeping EVERYTHING. We had a two car garage full of dance recital costumes, car parts, and clothes from bygone relatives. It was also a warm house full of love and laughter. I’ve often thought that sentimental clutter affects some of the nicest people — people who simply care so much about their memories and loved ones that they project the overflow of those feelings onto objects. The objects then become powerful symbols, and the fear becomes that parting with the object means parting with the memory, too. So we take that object and stick it in the garage (or spare closet or filing cabinet) for safekeeping and feel good about it.

What doesn’t feel good is when you can no longer use your filing cabinet for important things like tax returns. That’s the point I’m at now, and it’s been made painfully obvious as I prepare for a new roommate moving in. In the past few years — while I wasn’t looking — my entire guest closet turned into an episode of “Hoarders”.  I’ve got Seventeen magazines, roller skates, bb guns, and a myriad of other things that no normal thirty-something girl should have. Going through the filing cabinet was my first line of duty and not only did it take time and energy, but it ended up being a highly emotional experience as well. I found old resumes that took me back to a frustrating time in my twenties when I simply couldn’t get a job in Austin. Transcripts from my time at the University of Texas. The program from my grandmother’s funeral. It was hard looking back, and I wasn’t really in the mood to do it. I just wanted to clean out that closet so my new roommate could move in.

I decided to put a scanner I purchased a few years back to good use. It took some time, but I scanned almost everything in that cabinet, then threw most of it away. The entire task ended up being an exercise in perspective — I was reminded of how difficult my journey was in my twenties, and how much there is to be thankful for now. It was tedious work, but I can’t say that I regret keeping those things in the first place. In the end, it felt good to have a moment of reflection with each of those objects, then to say goodbye to them for good. My hope for the future is that I can be a little more particular about which things I choose to save. I’ve also resorted to taking iPhone photos of things I want to remember but not necessarily keep. (We can talk about digital clutter another day.) I feel so much lighter now, and like I have space in my house to create new memories. Also, plenty of room for tax returns.

As for the Welcome Packet? I kept it. It was a wonderful day in my life that I don’t mind re-living. And that’s what filing cabinets are for.

featured image by alicia buszczak

5 comments
  1. 1
    Vanessa @ Living in Steil | August 28, 2015 at 6:12 am

    Great topic! I recently cleaned out a room in my house to make room for an office. I had used the room for storage before and had to spend time going through papers and clutter. A lot of my college papers and textbooks were in there, which brought back great memories. Deciding what to keep or toss is tough, but I like your solution of taking photos or scanning the items to create a digital memory.

    http://www.livinginsteil.com

    Reply
  2. 2
    Ms. Peony and Grahams | August 28, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I used to suffer from this big time! It was totally inherited, but a few years ago I realized how much simpler my life was with less stuff. So I have been on a huge kick to clean things out and simplify my life in-general. Here is the strategy I have taken: http://www.peonyandgrahams.com/2015/08/the-simple-chic-life-principle.html

    Reply
  3. 3
    Jess | August 28, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Oh my Goodness! This is me! I have such a hard time throwing things away that hold even a sliver of sentimentality. I always feel guilty when I think about throwing away a card that someone sent me for something and I wonder sometimes what it would be like for my *future* children or grandchildren to look through old moments and cards. I love, love, love looking through this old trunk that belonged to my great-great uncle from the war – it’s just filled with all kinds of stuff!

    Reply
  4. 4
    Jessie | August 29, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    This is me in a nutshell! I’ve been slowly trying to get rid of things and have actually never thought of scanning the items I’d like to keep. Thanks for the idea! I will start scanning all that clutter in my desk next weekend then!

    Reply
  5. 5
    Lauren Monique | August 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I definitely have that issue sometimes! It’s especially hard when you try sorting through something practical, only to get bogged down with sentimental items. Have you ever thought of sorting through everything practical first, and left all the sentimental items to the end? (It’s the konmari method of course) I’m finding I’m getting through so much more by just leaving all of that for the end!

    Reply
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