The One Kind of “Clutter” That’s Okay to Keep

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(Image credit: Melanie Rieders)

There are so many kinds of clutter: excess items you think you might need someday, clutter you’re so used to having around that you don’t even notice it anymore, piles of paper you have to go through, and things you feel guilty getting rid of because someone gave them to you or you spent good money on them. But there’s one kind of clutter you should never feel bad hanging on to.

Discovering the Sentimental Items That Are Okay to Keep

Don’t you have some things that could fairly be considered “another man’s junk” but they’re treasures to you? Honor those things for what they are. Whether you proudly display the gold spray-painted paper plate with glued-on macaroni and your son’s kindergarten photo on your fridge or you keep that dried pink rose that brings you right back to your first date with your now-husband in a container on the window sill, those things are yours, and they matter.

These types of treasures are more than mere sentimental items. They’re repositories of memories and of our heart’s deepest, sweetest recollections. Some items even accrue a meaning of their own just by being with us through all our ups and downs, steady and unchanging physical anchors as we travel in and out of the epochs of life. And it’s okay to keep them.

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(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

How to Decide Which Sentimental Items to Keep

It’s definitely a slippery slope, and we have to be careful. We can’t keep everything that simply reminds us of something because, especially for the more feelings-prone among us, that could be everything! Maintaining a balance of possessing things that are meaningful to us without hoarding every little memento means being keenly in tune with exactly how certain things make us feel.

If, as you’re reconsidering your possessions with an intent to declutter, a particular item evokes joy and tenderness and stirs up hope and love and all the things you wish to fill your home and life with, by all means keep it. If it transports you to a time and place, and it’s a good place that you wish to revisit, don’t feel like you have to part with it.

Set the Bar High

When implementing reasonable yet stringent guidelines about what special personal items we choose to keep in our homes, remember that an item simply bringing back memories or taking us somewhere isn’t enough. Being intentional about the emotions and spaces you choose to go back to will help you determine what to keep and what to pass along.

For instance, I recently said goodbye to a hanging candle holder that brought back powerful memories, but not happy ones. The day I bought it, I was with my mother when she got the phone call that her twin sister had died unexpectedly in the hospital after a routine procedure.

Seeing the candle holder even a decade later brought me right back to where we were standing and the sound of my mother’s tight, incredulous voice and shocked-white face. I’d never have hung that item in my home; it made me too sad. I much prefer to memorialize my beloved aunt with her collection of pointillism paintings from Mexico that cheer up our guest room.

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(Image credit: Hannah Puechmarin)

Less Is So Much More

Another thing to keep in mind as we give ourselves permission to keep sentimental items: The more things we keep, the less the really good things have a chance to shine. This is the purpose of editing our non-essential items down to the best of the best.

I recently had a conversation with my mom about how much of my grandparents’ things I kept. If I’d only kept my grandmother’s intricate gold filigree jewelry box, rather than the jewelry box in addition to their dining room set, china, and other furniture, would it have been enough? Probably. And I’d probably cherish it even more than I do.

Going through sentimental items and exploring our feelings as we decide what to keep and what to relinquish is a deeply personal journey. The destination of this exploration, though, of finding and keeping the things that move our hearts to joy—and only those things—is a home sprinkled with meaningful items that gently remind us of the intangible beauties of life.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: There’s One Kind of “Clutter” It’s Okay to Keep

What “clutter” in your house is a personal treasure?

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