As much as I love living in the beautiful, rainy, Roman city of Chester, England, I travel back to Newfoundland as often as I can find an excuse. I’m very lucky, and I return to visit my family, friends, and doggies about twice every year – usually once in summer, once in winter.
And every time I come home, I stay in my parents’ house (the one my Dad built), and sleep in my ground-floor bedroom which has the most spectacular view in the entire world. Check it out:
Despite recurring threats, Dad has not yet turned my bedroom into a bar/gym. And although I didn’t spend much of my childhood here (we move around a lot), my designated 200 square foot nest has still managed to accrue an awful lot of memories – and even more clutter.
My mom has been after me for years to “gut my bedroom”, but I’ve always been a bit too nostalgic, or perhaps, a bit too lazy.
But this morning when I woke up and looked over at the boxes of stuff, I decided it was time to just deal with it.
There are a few closets of old clothes, a shelves and shelves of books (collected over 12 years of school and five years of university), old class notes, a jewellery box containing illegible sticky notes, tarnished costume earrings brought back from a family holiday to Cuba 10 years ago, and . . . the big black box.
The off-limits chest. The squeaky-hinged Victorian steamer trunk that my Dad managed to save when everything was moved out of my great grandmother’s house. It is lined with peeling wallpaper, and contains all of my most important and sentimental treasures.
Its contents include stacks of letters written in Science class and passed under tables behind Mrs Holloway’s back as she reviewed our human biology “intended learning outcomes”.
Sheets of faded loose leaf paper, thoughtfully folded like origami into special pull-tab envelopes (I was never good at this bit) postmarked “urgent!” / “For your eyes only” / “best friends forever”.
Old sample perfume vials from Avon; my volleyball medals, twisted into a pile of red, white, and blue spaghetti; three photo albums half-full of vacation pictures
Essays written in elementary school, graded by my constructively critical Language Studies teachers:
“Excellent work – but penguins do not live at the North Pole.” – Mrs Martin
“Well written. Red pen is OFFENSIVE.” – Mr Budgell
Stuck to the bottom with a piece of what might be blue tack or gum or a decomposing rubber band is my cat-gnawed Dean’s List certificate that I never did get around to framing after university.
Beside it is a Lamb’s Rum twenty-sixer of sand from a trip to the Labrador Coast. A bright green ceramic model car that I was too shy to haggle for at a market in Havana.
So, I’m sat cross-legged on the floor, staring at this mound of stuff, wondering where and how to start.
Then eventually, after spending quite a lot of time rummaging through the debris, I decided to begin with the bookcase.
I’ve been feeling guilty for so long about my beloved library.
My Dad built the distressed white wooden shelves to home all my favourites – D.H. Lawrence, Stella Gibbons, David Lodge, Jane Austen, Michael Ondaatje. And all the ones I had to read anyway . . . Charles Dickens, Margaret Laurence, Tolstoy. Rows of history textbooks, language dictionaries, and poetry anthologies.
I knew there was no way I could transport them all across the Atlantic Ocean in my checked luggage, and no way to justify hoarding the lonely collection in my abandoned abode, unread and unloved.
So I decided it was time to give them a new home. After all, if ever I wanted to peruse the pages of “Cold Comfort Farm”, I could easily access it at the local library or my kindle.
I took a deep breath . . .
Then packed the entire collection into four big cardboard boxes in the back of my mom’s car, drove to my local K-12 school, and donated the whole lot to the school library.
I remembered how, growing up, there weren’t too many places to buy books around here (it’s about a two hour drive to the nearest bookstore), so I’d like to think that my stacks of paperbacks, plays, and guidebooks will be appreciated.
As for the clothes and knick-knacks, I’ve put aside in bags to be donated to a local thrift store.
And finally came the really tough stuff . . . letters, birthday cards, school t-shirts – I photographed and saved in a special album in the cloud called “Childhood Memories”, with an extra copy on a USB to be kept in my personal safe.
A few days later, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel – but it turns out that, even though sentimental decluttering can be a lot more difficult, the end result is still the same – lightness.
My memories are safe, organised, and not taking up space in my parents’ house. I haven’t lost anything important. I’ve sorted, thrown away the rubbish, and consolidated the rest.
Chances are, I’ll rarely pull them out, but if one day I’m feeling particularly nostalgic and I want to take a walk down memory lane, I’ll know exactly where to find my treasures. I can carry them around with me wherever I go without having to drag another gigantic storage bin!
At the moment, I’m making a “digital scrapbook”, and of course, I always have the option to print my photos into a book or physical album at a later date if I feel I need it.
There are lots of great programs online for creating digital scrapbooks that offer really nice templates and tools, so you can create beautiful, accessible, and light storage/display alternatives for your ticket stubs and friendship bracelets.
The point of keeping souvenirs and keepsakes is to trigger a memory in order to stimulate the feeling of a particular experience that you might otherwise forget. But a photograph of a pair of wedding shoes will perform the same function– and take up much less space.
I don’t need old birthday cards and trinkets to prove that I had a wonderful childhood. All sorts of things remind me of my friends and the great times we shared. I also don’t need to keep dusty stacks of books to prove that I love reading.
I am not defined by my keepsakes or my library. I am defined by my experiences.
After all, I don’t come to leaf through shoeboxes of old psychology notes.
I come for my family and my friends. For the smell of wood smoke in the winter and berry bushes in the summer. I come for the taste of saltwater on my lips and for late-night jam sessions with my brother in the garage.
I come to make new memories.
For great tips on how to deal with sentimental clutter, you may want to try reading:
On decluttering heirlooms: http://www.missminimalist.com/2010/04/the-top-ten-ways-to-declutter-heirlooms/
On all sentimental stuff and clutter: http://bemorewithless.com/heartstuff/
Letting go of sentimental items: http://www.theminimalists.com/sentimental/