Minimalism and the Sentimental

When you first start learning about Minimalism it’s really easy to think about what you could never part with. The hardest being the sentimental things. In the beginning it’s a good idea not to think about that though, and please don’t let it be what stops you from even starting. There are benefits to this journey that you wont even realise yet, don’t let the first hurdle stop you realising those. Once you have spent some time decluttering the things you no longer need and have loosened the attachments you feel to everyday material possessions, then tackling the sentimental becomes infinitely easier, and more importantly you get to a point where you genuinely want to start tackling it.

A Vintage Camera

Getting Started

The first question I asked myself was “If this is really something of importance can I display it or use it? There is no need for these things to be gathering dust, and because my house was clear of the excess I wasn’t limited on space to display what was truly important. I had 3 boxes full of things for each of my children. I turned these into 3 box frames filled with the most precious items; the ID bracelet from the hospital, that little hat, the scan photo etc. They now line our hallway and get to be enjoyed daily, Items that really shouldn't live in a box, but can add value, or at least a smile to my face, whilst on display. The rest of the things were much easier to part with once I knew the most special things were preserved and more importantly actually being enjoyed. 


This rule also helped me get rid of old photos. I had boxes of old photos as well as endless photo albums on every shelf in the house. As a photographer I have accepted that photos are very important to me and definitely add value to my life. However, once I started organising this area I found that amongst my photos from the film era there were still those inevitable duds that didn't actually come out great, if at all, but for some reason I hadn't been able to just throw away. These bad habits had obviously come with me into the digital age as I found I had albums filled with multiple versions of essentially the same photo. I had more albums than time to look through them, and rather boring albums really since every blurry, or duplicated snap had made the cut. 

This made it quite easy to sort out though; if it isn't good enough to be in an album it needs to go. Old negatives were scanned and then thrown away. I started going through each album individually and took out the photos that I would never have printed with my now more discerning eye, or photos of people I couldn't actually name anymore, and whittled down what were essentially duplicates to just the very best ones. I managed to go from more albums than shelf space to a selection of albums that best showcased my life and my memories. They are now a more enjoyable thing for me and anyone else to look through. In order to keep this area minimised I have started compiling just one photo book each year with the best photos and memories in.

Old Photographs

Items from my youth

When sorting through items from my youth I was horrified to find so much of what I had kept I no longer even recognised. This experience really helped me to realise that sentimental items are not only subjective to the owner, but what is precious to you today, you might not even recognise tomorrow. It will always need reexamining and reassessing to determine what is still important. In the same way that a gift someone gives you was not intended to be a burden you feel compelled to keep, the things your past self valued do not need to be held on to indefinitely. 

Children's Things

Children’s things can be the hardest part of this process, and the one I get asked about the most. To anyone else their art work looks like a few splashes of paint on paper, to you it is more valuable than the Mona Lisa. To anyone else it is an item of clothing, to you it is the outfit they came home from the hospital in. It is a moment in time you can never get back but you can feel a glimpse of in all of these things. 

I had kept it all, but I realised that at the rate I was going, with 3 children we’d be buried alive by the stuff by the time they left home. I was also noticing a stark discrepancy in the volume of things I’d kept from my Oldest child compared to my subsequent 2 children. I had to let a lot of it go, but I decided to photograph their artwork, certificates and cards and keep it online in an album. I have photos of them in those precious outfits and that’s enough for me. Now I only keep the most precious pictures or cards, a much more sustainable approach. It will be a very personal decision for each parent, and I understand all too well the fleeting nature of childhood and wanting to hold on to it is only natural, but a little bit of self-restraint goes a long way. 

Each time I have revisited my sentimental things I have been surprised to find things that I obviously chose to keep now hold little or no value. When you see something for the first time in years, it causes a reaction of surprise and that feeling is often so lovely that you think “I couldn't possibly part with this.” That happy memory it unearthed seems inherently tied to that object and so therefore it must stay. However, if you look at that same object just a month or two later the surprise is gone and you can be more objective when deciding what stays and what goes.

I can not stress enough the importance of revisiting the sentimental, it has really been the best way for me. It took me 3 years to go from overspilling boxes full of sentimental stuff to just one shoebox, so bare that in mind as you start. It’s not a race, there’s no magic number or right amount to keep, and no one will be coming by to check up on you. But it is well worth persevering with. It will be different for each person and boxes full of sentimental things isn't necessarily bad if it is actually adding value to your life. But if it is untouched and gathering dust it may be time to let it go or give it back some life by using or displaying it.

The freedom that Minimalism has afforded me is helping me to create a much more fulfilling and meaningful life. I will be able to look back fondly on a life filled with loving relationships and a life spent enjoying fully the precious moments given to me, made possible because I wasn’t spending time in a constant cycle of cleaning, organising, and consuming, and working my life away to pay for it all. The freedom Minimalism gives will be one of the things I will be most sentimental about in later years not the boxes of stuff. 

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