How do we decide which of these sentimental mementos we can ditch, donate, or dare to keep forever? The art of purging with abandon is to go through our stuff and get rid of things that have little or no connection to our treasures or triumphs. And finding a place for those heirlooms and sentimental items that connect us to family and friends, to memories of special moments and, as they say, the way we were. It's a process, according to professional organizer, Debreen Oliva, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She suggests tackling a project "in stages, beginning with the easier tasks; getting rid of the obvious trash, broken, worn, unusable items, duplicates — things of that sort." And then find a place for all those items that paved a nice trip down memory lane. So, hang on to it if:
It's worth a thousand words.
The digital age has made it possible to keep your photos in a teeny tiny space. You can scan the best ones or get a company to scan them for you for as little as 16 cents per image. Websites such as mypublisher.com, blurb.com, shutterfly.com and snapfish.com walk you through every step of creating an affordable photo book, from uploading and organizing photos to adding captions. And remember to keep family snapshots in acid-free archival albums to make sure they'll be in happy-to-hand-down condition for generations to come.
It's sentimental gold.
When you save only the artwork you love, you're increasing its value. Consider taking photos of your kids holding their artwork and school presentations and print them in a photo book. This is not only a great way to remember them at a certain age and time but lasts much longer than cotton balls glued to construction paper. This is also great for those travel souvenirs. Take photos of them and add them to photos of the trip.
If it would be difficult, expensive or impossible to replace, hold onto it. The tea set your grandmother carried over from Ireland in a sheepskin is the stuff of legend. Keep it. Display it in a protective case. No room in the new 300-square-foot beach retirement home? Ask a relative to adopt it. Or donate it to a museum.
It reminds you of people you love.
Keep only those treasures that remind you of people who brighten your life. No matter how valuable a diamond ring is from your aunt who was intolerably mean to you, do you really want that bad karma on your fingers? Sell it.
Those who love you will want it.
First edition books, signed copies or your childhood copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales are lovely ways to live on in the minds of those who love you. Turn all others into cash, suggests Colleen James of D.O. Organize in Saratoga Springs, and put it toward something you want even more — a vacation, for example. "Find a strong motivator," said James. Motivated more by the gift of giving? Donate them to a library, an assisted living residence or visit booksforsoldiers.com and send those paperback books to those in the armed services.
They wrote it themselves … before e-mail.
Keep only the best or most memorable. Find a way to enjoy them. Take them out of that box, basket or garbage bag and frame them, scan them, or make a holiday album and store it with the seasonal decor to enjoy them each year. Instead of saving every card your beloved uncle ever sent, pick the one that captures his spirit best.
You'd buy it again.
It's tough to be objective about your own belongings. So ask yourself, "What would I do if I saw this in a store?" Your possessions should support who you are right now, not the person you were five years — or five pounds — ago. If you think it's gorgeous (even if no one else does), keep it. Stuff that makes you smile — like the glittery clothespin reindeer your child made in third grade — doesn't count as "clutter."