By Courtney Carver of Be More With Less

Decluttering came in waves and stages and layers for me. Before I got serious about letting go for good, I called it spring cleaning, then I moved into actively decluttering my stuff. Two years ago before I downsized from a 2000 square foot home with a storage shed, garage and attic to a 750 square foot apartment with no storage, I entered the deepest depths of those waves and stages and layers.

I’m talking about the almost everything must go stage. The dishes and clothes were easy by then, but the stuff that was seemingly attached to my heart was tough. I’ve let go of many sentimental things in my decluttering journey, but there were a few boxes I held on to until our big downsize. Some things were hard to part with …

Things like …

Some of these things made me smile, some made me cry, but each of them brought me out of my life and into my past. As I started going through the sentimental stuff; the ticket stubs, the letters and the little bits and pieces, my mind wasn’t here anymore.

In an effort to hold on tight I thought, “it’s not hurting anything or anyone to keep this stuff” and then I remembered that I want my standard to be more in line with “how is this helping?” instead of “how is this not hurting?” I wanted to create an environment that allowed me to be fully present.

Instead of lingering in the past, I want to be right here in my big beautiful life to …

I don’t want my legacy to be storage containers of stuff. In one hundred years, no one will care about a letter of recommendation I received from an art professor that meant so much to me in 1992. No one will care how excited I was to get a ticket to a sold out concert at the last-minute, or that my favorite drummer autographed it. The stuff won’t matter, but the stories will.

I have my stories and I’ll tell them to people who care. And they will tell them to people who care. When I go, I don’t want to be remembered by the stuff I left behind, but how I loved while I was here. Once I identified why I want to let it all go, the paper and plastic stuff that made up my memories didn’t have a hold on me or my heart.

Frequently asked questions about sentimental clutter

What do I do with old holiday and greeting cards? You might choose to save a few, or jot down a few of your favorite words before you let them go. If you want to repurpose the cards, cut them in half, toss the personal part and send a card of your own written on the back of the cover.

What about yearbooks full of personal notes? When I looked at my old high school yearbooks, I couldn’t remember who wrote what. The messages that were very personal in 1987 couldn’t compare to the little notes that I exchange today with my family or a good Skype conversation with my sister. Assess the meaning of those messages in your life today. If they aren’t relevant, release them. Let go to let in.

How do you let go of stuff that has been handmade lovingly for you, but it is not your taste? This is a tough question and the solution is more for the gift givers and creators. If you do make things or have a specific craft or art specialty, ask your friends and family if they would like you to make them something OR if you can make something for a local organization in their name. For instance, if you are a quilter, you could make a quilt for a homeless shelter in the name of a friend. When you do give a gift (handmade or not), include permission to pass it on without hurt feelings.

As the recipient of arts and crafts (I’m an artist so I don’t take this lightly), ask the artist if you can donate the item to a place that could really benefit like a fundraising auction, library, retirement home, or appropriate venue/event. The love is in the giving, not in the gift.

What about things that can’t be donated, such as monogrammed wedding glasses? Even monogrammed items are useful to people who don’t have the item to begin with. If you aren’t using them, give them away.

How can I best help others to let go of sentimental items? Share your story and how it became easier for you to let go. Be loving and patient.

What about wedding day stuff? Great photographs are enough for me to remember my wedding day and the people who celebrated the event. I gave my wedding dress away last year but clipped a tiny piece of material from my dress and my mother’s wedding dress. They are pinned together and if someday my daughter wants to pin them into her wedding dress, she can.

How about things from our children’s childhoods? If your children are grown, give them their stuff and trust them to decide what to do with it. Give them permission to keep it or get rid of it so they don’t hold onto it for you. If your children are younger, lovingly display their artwork and report cards and instead of saving all of it, save a few pieces or photograph them and make a digital memory book for your child. I have a small box of my daughter’s things for her and if she decides that they aren’t important, I’ll encourage her to let go.

Moving forward, instead of capturing moments and boxing them up, embrace them. Be fully engaged and moved right now instead of when you are sorting through the past in a garage or attic.

Let your legacy be how you love, how you treat people, and the light you bring to this world instead of the stuff you left behind.