Do you have boxes of old memorabia, awards, kids' artwork, souvenirs, and other odds and ends that you haven't looked at in years? What causes you hold onto these things? One distinct possibility is a sense of obligation. You may be thinking something like:
Or some similar form of self-imposed censure or guilt...
The thing is, if the items were truly important to you, they wouldn't be boxed up in the attic or basement or closet. They would be on display or in use because that is what we do with the things that we love.
Chances are, you've forgotten about many of the things that lay buried in the bottoms of boxes and stashed in the darkest recesses of your home's storage spaces. While you may enjoy a brief moment of reminiscence upon being reunited with these items, you are not likely to miss them should they cease to inhabit a place in your plane of existence. Still, getting rid of the guilt that keeps you from getting rid of the things you feel duty bound to keep is often harder than getting rid of the items themselves.
The good news is there is a way to preserve the memories and relationships and history associated with things without keeping the actual objects. The solution is photographs combined with scrapbooking or journaling. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but taking the time to add a little information to accompany your photos will only add to the value of the image.
Implementing the Photographic Method of Decluttering
Some things are better suited to the photographic method of decluttering than others. You aren't likely, for instance, to feel the need to photograph kitchen utensils or other tools that you no longer use in order to preserve a memory of them. Indeed, you are also not likely to feel duty bound to keep such items.
The kinds of things that can be well-preserved with a photograph are the kinds of things we hold onto for sentimental reasons - they remind us of someone or something that we value. Let's look at a few examples and how to use photographs and journaling to let things go.
Kids tend to be prolific artists. While some of their work is truly memorable and worthy of preservation in its original form, the sheer volume makes it difficult to justify keeping all your child's artwork. Instead of storing boxes of underappreciated art, photograph or scan your kid's creations. You can then use the photos to create other things like calendars, stationery, notecards, coffee mugs, coasters, and more.
Consider taking a photo of your child with his or her creation, or if they are making it at home, photograph them in the process of creating. You can also take a video of them working on their masterpiece and ask them to describe it to you.
A cheap and simple way to recognize or thank someone within an organization is to give them a certificate. The important thing to keep in mind when sorting through piles of certificates is that the real value is in the gesture, not the piece of paper itself. Some certificates are worth keeping, others can be disposed of down the road. Only you can determine which is which as it is a personal decision.
One nice thing about certificates is that they fit nicely into page protectors which can then be inserted into scrapbooks. Whether you decide to photograph a certificate or keep the original, I recommend writing down the circumstances under which it was received. While the who, what, and when may be included on the certificate, a brief explanation of the larger context can add meaning, particularly for children and grandchildren when the time comes for them to sort through your things.
Trophies and Awards
My husband served for more than 28 years in the United States Army. In the military awards are often given at the end of each assignment and are often accompanied with a gift (usually a wall hanging of some sort). For part of my husband's military career, he worked extensively with foreign militaries who also felt the need to provide him with gifts, often just for visiting their unit or for some other brief interaction.
For many years, we kept the vast majority of these items in boxes. When we bought our first home near the end of his career, we decided to create what my husband calls an "I love me wall" to display all the things he had accumulated over the years. We chose a stairwell and used it to create a collage wall (walls, really). Then we moved, and there was no such space in our new home, so we decided it was time to be discerning about what we kept.
Certificates were removed from their frames and placed in page protectors as described in the previous section. Some items were tossed out. Others were photographed, and a select few made it onto a new display wall in the basement.
Of the items we opted to photograph, the following information was included:
Similar efforts could be made to preserve children's sports trophies and other common awards. Take a photo of the child with their trophy (preferably in their uniform, and ideally with their coach). Then write down the key information.: the name of the league they played in, the time frame, the coach's name, their win-loss record, what position the child played, his or her stats for the season, and any other relevant information that you or your child might like to recall at some later date.
Souvenirs can take many forms from a pamphlet or ticket stub to a cheap trinket to an expensive artifact. We often hang onto all of them, no matter their value. Paper souvenirs can easily be placed in a scrapbook along with photos of the event or vacation with which they are associated. Other bulkier items require some consideration. Often in the midst of a vacation, a cheap knick knack may catch our attention. Once home, these inexpensive remembrances frequently end up in a box of "keepsakes'. That's fine if you have endless space to store stuff you rarely (if ever) look at. If not, consider photographing the less-than-display-worthy items and then getting rid of the objects themselves.
Once again, it is recommended that you record any relevant information about the event or vacation to accompany the photograph. Where is it from? When were you there? What was it about the object that initially appealed to you?
I've just listed a few of the general kinds of items you might consider photographing as a means of decluttering. Now that you have a feel for this approach, consider applying the photographic method of decluttering as a means of downsizing any memorabilia or other knick knacks you may have stashed away in boxes somewhere. It's simple. Take a picture and toss the item. Be sure to document the item's significance in writing. Then reclaim the storage space those items have been hoarding. You may find that you actually get more enjoyment out of looking at the photos than you ever did having the items stashed away in boxes out of sight.
2/1/2021 07:55:58 am
Sheri, this is fabulous advice. The best part is that you give step-by-step insructions as to how to include information about the item - a trophy, gift, or artwork.
2/1/2021 08:30:25 am
Thanks, Diane! It was something I had to think through recently both for a client and for myself. I felt like it was worth recording the process I went through as there are no doubt others who have similar items that need decluttering.
2/1/2021 08:07:20 am
Super strategies, Sheri. I enjoyed hearing how you treated these items differently over the years depending on the space you had. I love your emphasis on capturing the story along with the picture.
2/1/2021 08:34:42 am
Thanks, Lucy. My husband actually gets some of the credit here (as is often the case). He’s been saying for some time that we needed to “curate” the things we collected while living in the Middle East so that our kids and grandkids would know the history behind them. I just decided to apply the concept more broadly.
2/1/2021 10:31:36 am
I totally agree! If you take pictures, be sure to add the meaning to them, write in sentence form the answer to these questions: who was this from, what was it for, where did you get it, when did you get it, and why do you think it is important. I do this with my clients and family so I can get rid of the stuff in a home easily. Memorabilia is very emotional stuff so keeping them in photo form works nicely to keep the memory alive. It also helps them not have guilt over giving the item a new home or trashing it.
2/1/2021 01:31:36 pm
You're so right about memorabilia being emotional stuff. I just did a walk through this morning with a woman who is facing the daunting task of decluttering not one, but three houses in order to downsize for a move. She not only has to deal with a lifetime of her own things, but also the entire contents of her departed parents' home. I can hear the strain in her voice as she talks about needing to get rid of items that I know have sentifmental value to her. We'll definitely be talking about employing this method. I hope she sees the wisdom in it!
2/1/2021 11:21:23 am
Sheri, you're speaking my language! I love the last line: "You may find that you actually get more enjoyment out of looking at the photos than you ever did having the items stashed away in boxes out of sight."
2/1/2021 01:32:16 pm
Thanks, Hazel! I truly believe it.
2/1/2021 01:24:28 pm
What great ways of preserving the memories while reducing the physical clutter! I remember two client projects where this worked well. One had a large collection of t-shirts from conferences he had attended over the decades. They were taking up a lot of physical space and he rarely wore them. He sorted them into "keepers" and ones to donate. The donates he took photos of and then gladly let go of the shirts.
2/1/2021 01:34:01 pm
Thanks, Linda! T-shirts are an excellent example. My mother-in-law used to make t-shirt quilts, which are great, but I love the idea of a photo book for exactly the reason you indicated. Thanks for sharing!
2/1/2021 02:21:32 pm
I think the trophies and awards is a tricky one. Sometimes, time can help you decide. Often children will feel no connection to some of their awards after years have passed, while others mean a lot. Another nice solution I saw was to take the "plates" off of the trophies (that contain the name and information), and to put them all together in a framed display. After all, we don't necessarily need the giant gold soccer player or silver-colored bowl, right?
2/1/2021 05:23:46 pm
I totally agree with regards to the trophies m. I guess I was thinking along those lines - with the passage of time. I love the idea of framing the placards - maybe as part of a collage that includes photos.
2/1/2021 05:25:45 pm
Thanks, Amy. So true! Volume is always an issue when it comes to dealing with just about anything, I think, but having a strategy seems to really help people wrap their heads around the task.
2/1/2021 05:48:48 pm
This is great! It’s so hard to k ow what to keep and what to toss. I’ve realized I need to start turning photos into photo books so I’m not hiding my memories on my phone or computer anymore.
2/1/2021 08:44:01 pm
Yes, Katelyn! I totally agree. One of my goals for this year is to put all the loose photos from our pre-digital days in albums and start working on printing and creating albums for the digital photos.
2/1/2021 06:54:32 pm
I couldn't agree with you more. For a long time, I've told clients that the old childhood taunt when someone is perceived as staring, "Take a picture, it'll last longer!" is actually great advice. I love the examples you give, especially with regard to capturing kids *making* the art. For tiny humans, it's all about the process; they might want to display or show off the art that day, but by the next day, they're on to their next acts of creation. Kids live in the moment, so they don't need all of the art piling up; we need to emulate them, keeping the best memories without the macaroni sculptures! ;-)
2/1/2021 08:46:26 pm
Thanks so much for your response, Julie. Great points. I love the concept of using photos as a bridge to ease the challenges of letting go, and you're so right with regard to how to tell if a photo will be sufficient.
2/1/2021 11:07:40 pm
2/2/2021 04:18:15 pm
Thanks for your comment, Ronni. We do love our photos. I honestly think a lot of items would get more attention in a photo album or scrapbook than they do sitting on a shelf or stashed away in storage.
Leave a Reply.