Sentimental baggage - literally
May 23, 2011 4:03 AM   Subscribe

How do you beat clutter if said clutter is sentimental? What methods do you use for evaluating sentimental objects or souvenirs?

I've been something of a packrat for years. Now I'm at the point where myself and my partner are seriously considering what will happen in the future and how we're going to get there. So I need to declutter - partly to try and reduce a source of conflict, and partly to make money and space to facilitate getting a place together down the line.

When I was a kid, my parents didn't allow me to have a console, then my brother bought me one. Me and a friend played it for a year, just Super Mario World, until my parents persuaded me to sell it and a lady came to my house to give me £35 for it, telling me it was old now and wouldn't sell for much. I don't know if I'd still be playing Super Mario World now if I'd kept the console, but when it comes to getting rid of things because I feel like I ought to I end up thinking of this.

I have a collection of Blythe dolls and accoutrements. My partner and I disagree about the merits of these to say the least. I collected them for a year or so, and for the past 18 months they've sat in a box in the attic. Yet when I think about whether I need them, I end up feeling as though to get rid of them would be closing the door on a part of my life when I was 'the girl who collected Blythe dolls'. Or I remember how much money I've spent on them in the past. I realise that I'm almost thirty, that I enjoyed drinking coffee in Paris far more than I've ever enjoyed spending the same amount on a doll, and the whole 'use it or lose it' principle that de-clutterers are fond of. So why is it hard to let go?

I think part of it is the worry of not being able to replace decluttered things - books are easy to get rid of, but out of print books? OH is trying to persuade me to go digital with my record collection, for example, but I can;t bring myself to get rid of a very strong reminder of my teenage years, never mind the space, never mind the arguments that vinyl is obsolete (to which I reply that people still paint even after the invention of photography). Yet they take up space, and they aren't something I'm using right now because I live in a 48sq.ft room in a shared house.

How do you choose with things that are unlikely to be replaceable - hang on to them, take a Zen attitude, or judge everything by whether it's being used right now?
posted by mippy to Home & Garden (51 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I am not a packrat, though I've lived with a few. Ya'll seem to place memories in those physical things. So when you handle or look at them, they spark those memories. The thing and the memory seem to be chained together in a packrat's mind. To get rid of one is to get rid of the other.

As with a lot of things, balance is key. Holding onto some objects for sentimental value is fine. Holding onto everything is not. One has to learn to let go. Perhaps taking pictures of the stuff would help or recording your thoughts and memories about the object and/or the feelings it provokes?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:12 AM on May 23, 2011

I'm a big fan of taking pictures of cherished items you don't need or use. I also keep a memento box with odds and ends from important times or events in my life. As for whether to keep your collections: if the dolls are important to you maybe keep your 2 or 3 favorites and put them on display so they can bring you happiness and not clutter up everything? Same idea for the records- digitize, but turn some of the covers into art so you can actually see it.

Getting rid of stuff with memories attached is so hard, but I just keep reminding myself that I'm giving someone else a chance to love whatever it is too, and they probably need it more than I do. Otherwise wouldn't the collections be getting used or viewed?
posted by brilliantine at 4:16 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Things that help me:
If it's not *out* and being loved, pass it on, put it back into the world so that someone who will love and use it can... use it.
And, not having things that are no longer 'you', doesn't change who you *were*. If you just want a memory trigger, take a picture of it. If you ever look through the pictures, you'll get the benefit of the trigger, and otherwise, it's a lot easier to have a few gigabytes of pictures sitting around online or on a harddrive, than a box of use-less (without use to you now) items in your lounge or attic.
(Also look at the economic concept of sunk costs).

Finally, when deciding what to *actually* keep, I read a quote from Denise Linn (lovely, but a bit... woo woo?) that went something like:
Stuff comes in 4 categories. Stuff that makes you feel REALLY happy, stuff that makes you feel good, stuff that makes you feel bad, and stuff that makes you feel sad.
Guess which categories you keep?
Not Happy and good, but - Happy and Sad.
Hold onto the things that are really MEANINGFUL, not the stuff that you're, when you admit it to yourself, pretty 'meh' about now.
And by 'Sad' I don't think she meant things that are depressing (bad), but y'know, I have photo's and momento's of family members who have passed on, and I feel sad when I look at them, but it's strong - I remember that person, and I feel good, too.

It sounds like you'd feel happier looking at pictures of Paris, than the dolls.

And, just decide on one thing, one starting thing. I remember when I finally put a bunch of trinkety, dollar store vases that I'd disliked the moment I got them as a teenager, (but they were a *birthday present*!), in a box for the Salvation Army. I let go of a bunch of crap in fairly short succession, and I don't miss any of it. It's fantastic to get some space in your life!

Think of it that way, not, what are you letting go of, but - what are you making space for? In your room and your life? What feelings do you want to have when you walk into your space, think of at least 3 adjectives, and how can you make that happen?

Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 4:25 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you have a multilayered problem. Some stuff, like the dolls and records, has sentimental associations. Some other stuff, like the books, has potential practical value. And all of it is colored by your experience with the game console -- other people 'making' you do something you don't want to do. Is one of these the primary problem, with the others just supporting actors?

48 square feet is not much space for anyone to live in. You shouldn't feel bad that you find this challenging.

I value stuff, but I also value space and openness, so getting rid of something is like trading one thing I value for something else I value; it's a transaction, not a sacrifice. Similarly, I feel liberated when I let the past be the past, so I can move on to the future. I do save some small stuff that has a high meaning:cubic inch ratio -- letters, event tickets, etc., but not much. When the collection starts to feel onerous, it's time for some judicious pruning.
posted by jon1270 at 4:27 AM on May 23, 2011

I sort of understand the fear about the out-of-print books. Two things that helped me were realizing that:

a) Libraries tend to have a lot of out-of-print books. If you get rid of something, and then suddenly in a year deciding you wanted to read it again, then you can go to the library and check it out if you don't have it.

b) There are two other ways to obtain out-of-print books permanently -- if it's really old, you may be able to download the text version at Project Gutenberg, or you may be able to get it at Paperback Book Swap.

Just knowing that "well, if I do end up really needing it in a year or so, I can still get it back by some means" helped me get rid of the books. it turned out, I didn't need them back after all. But it got me over that hurdle.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 AM on May 23, 2011

Get a gentle friend (possibly not your partner at this point) to help you go through the stuff. Make clear what your goal is before you start -- decluttering and getting rid of things while still maintaining some with sentimental value -- and have that friend help you by talking you through the process.

I'm a packrat wannabe, and my husband is a DIRE packrat; here are some strategies I use to help us:

1) What's the LEAST important memento I have of relative X? I can probably get rid of that one. deciding the MOST important is too hard for me, but if I have 20 things from a grandparent, say, I can decide which one I use/like/look at least, and let that one go. I can always repeat the process the next year.

2) What would relative X want me to do with thing Y? My husband had a whole collection of winter hats his late grandmother knitted him, NONE of which he wore anymore. We agreed to keep his favorite for sentimental value (see #3), but that it would have made her happiest to know that other children were staying warm, so we donated the others to a winter clothing drive.

3) When you have a whole collection of similar items, try to pick the ONE (or the few) with the most sentimental value, or that's representative of the whole, or whatever. You can still remind yourself you used to be the girl who collected Blythe dolls with ONE doll.

4) Again with collections, is there a way you can keep the memories in a smaller form? My husband had 8 zillion T-shirts from important events in life, more than he could possibly wear. We picked 30 of his favorites and made a T-shirt quilt so he can keep them and display them if he wants to, but they take up much less space now. I like to embroider but used to have a hard time giving away finished projects because I put so much work into them even though I had nowhere to put any more projects. Eventually it dawned on me that I could take a picture. Now I have an album of completed projects with a little info about each project under the picture, and I feel no pain at giving them away.

5) Choose a limited space into which X has to fit. I got my husband a big tupperware tub for childhood toys that we both agreed was a big enough container. He had probably three times as much stuff as would fit in the tub. I didn't interfere at all; I just left it to him to fit whatever he wanted in the tub and we donated the rest.

6) You don't have to do it all NOW. You can start with a low-stakes cleanout and sorting, and move on to more later. I had really high anxiety cleaning out my closet and kept putting it off. (What if I fit in this again? what if this comes back in style? what if i get rid of this and then I want it? what if I can never find this color red again?) I finally undertook it when I was pregnant and had to put a lot of my clothes in storage anyway (as inappropriate for pregnancy or breastfeeding). I removed stuff I ABSOLUTELY knew I'd never wear again, but stuff I was unsure about, I gave myself permission to stick in neatly-labeled tupperware tubs and store, because I knew in 12-18 months I'd be digging back in those tubs for my "real" clothes. That removed a lot of anxiety and made it easier for me to get rid of stuff. And when I went back 12 months later, I was able to say, "Oh, yeah, this is cute but I'm realistically never wearing it again." I'm still not done, there's still more that needs to go, but I'm being patient with myself and knowing I'll get through it all as long as I don't push myself too hard. (Caveat: I have space to store these tubs.)

I feel like books and music are a bit different, although I'm not sure I can express exactly why. However, even out-of-print books are pretty easy to get your hands on these days. Perhaps if you decluttered your other "stuff," the book and music collections would be less onerous to have around. It isn't fair for your partner to ask you to get rid of EVERYTHING, especially if you are strongly sentimentally attached to things. But it IS fair to come to a compromise about how much space you can, as a couple, agree to dedicate to various things.

Also remember that your memories are in your mind, not in your things -- as sentimental as those things may be. And that people are far more valuable than things. Sometimes saying that to yourself can help.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:01 AM on May 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

  1. Scan your books before sending them back out into the world (keep 10-12, but let the rest go).
  2. Put your Blythe dolls on well-lit display shelves around the top of your room (could be kind of awesome to give each one a painted circle of color behind as a backdrop, with track lighting spotlighting each one!).
  3. Take photos of truly sentimental objects like the console and write down their stories. Turn the photos and stories into a book.
  4. Again, digitize your vinyl, but keep a few of the most important records in record sleeve frames which you can hang on your walls, and take down when you do want to play them.
Think creatively!
posted by ocherdraco at 5:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think this comment by occhiblu (who I wish was still a member) is one of the best I've read about the psychology of de-cluttering:
On kind of a meta note: To some extent, I think de-cluttering involves recognizing that regret is part of life, and being OK with that. Yes, I've given away books that I now often wish I still owned. But I've also screwed up relationships, made iffy career choices, etc. -- you suck it up and move on. If you try to cling to *every* *single* *thing* (material, spiritual, or emotional) that you might need one day in the totally hypothetical future, you're going to end up bogged down in a lot of stuff.
posted by OmieWise at 5:04 AM on May 23, 2011 [15 favorites]

Our household purges criteria:
1. Can another be bought if needed? If yes
2. Has it been used - literally - in one year? If no - throw it out.

Point 1 means sentimental stuff stays
Point 2 covers the "but it might come in useful one day" because 365 days is a long enough test there.

My wife insists on a little flexibility with these but they do focus the issue.
posted by episodic at 5:15 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

I ask myself, "if someone were to sneak in and take this without my knowing, would I really miss it?" Sometimes that reasoning has helped me get rid of stuff.
posted by jayder at 5:30 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I notice you're in the UK - one thing that might work is to use the Oxfam 'tag your bag' scheme that keeps track of the money raised by items you donated, and which you can check online as it builds up. Set a target (say £1000) - then if you haven't reached it yet, well, better give away some more stuff.
posted by piato at 5:32 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think there is a difference between wanting to hold on to something you cherish, and wanting to hold on to something because it is in your nature to hoard. In true hoarders, I often see a tendency to conflate the two, so that they have a perfectly rational explanation for keeping the most banal tat around long after it has served any real purpose in their lives.

So I would encourage you to make sure you are holding on to things for the right reasons.

And as someone who takes the opposite approach to possessions, I would also encourage you to think about what it means to hold on to something. Consider what each object will add to your life if it remains in a box in the attic. If space was no longer an issue, would your relationship with that object be any different? And at the end of the day, what exactly are you holding on to it for? If you can come through this evaluation and still find good reasons to hold on to something, then it's a definite keeper.
posted by londonmark at 5:36 AM on May 23, 2011

Have you already read through for ideas?
posted by devbrain at 5:37 AM on May 23, 2011

I'm no packrat, but I did have a whole heap of stuff from my schooldays (books, old test papers, yearbooks, diaries, you get the picture). They'd been taking up space, and I hadn't looked at them for years. In a fit of pique I threw the lot out (recycled it mostly, since it was about 95% paper). That stuff only had meaning for me, and no one else. I was pretty depressed for a while after, until I realised - all those memories are already in my head! Nothing (short of death or Alzheimer's) can get rid of them. I don't need no stinking books to remind me of how I felt when I was 15. I remember it!

Another reason you mightn't want to chuck something out - you might need it one day right? My job (and hobby) is computers. Every 2 or 3 years I have a massive cleanout - I get rid of 95% of my accumulated hardware. I have never (not once) regretted throwing anything out. I never "needed" anything. Not once. But say I had? Well, there's the world's largest closet - it's called eBay.

Finally (this is one I struggled with with my father-in-law who was a massive packrat) understand this - 99.99% of the old and/or collectible stuff that people have is junk. Worthless junk. Whatever you've got, unless you're INCREDIBLY lucky, is worth nothing, or at most, what you paid for it. I could be wrong, and maybe your dolls are valuable rarities, but I doubt it. Most likely they are worth 20-50% of what you paid for them. So don't hang on to your dolls on the off chance that they "might be worth something one day". They won't! Give them to your niece to play with, or if they are truly valuable, sell them on eBay and pocket as much cash as you can!

Best of luck!
posted by humpy at 5:38 AM on May 23, 2011

It sounds as if some of this is also about growing up - you built your record collection as a teen, you were the girl that collects dolls.

Moving your dolls and your records several times will not make you happy, nor will falling over the boxes or doing your back in lifting one. You'll at best relive some memories whilst moving the box of records and looking at the top cover. But none of these things will ever be a focus of your daily life again.

So make some art out of the record sleeves. Make sure you have got a digital copy of that music and enjoy the memory when listening to it.

Find a good home for your dolls. By all means take a picture of them all beatifully arranged before they move out and add the picture to your photo collection.

As for the books - ruthlessly get rid. You will not lose any sleep over the out of print book you once had. Really. You'll remember it fondly. If you really really want to read it again you'll find it somewhere. The only exception to that may be books that represent something much wider, like the giver or the person you shared them with.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:43 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am greatly helped by thinking that I'm not just "getting rid" of something, that I am "sending it back out into the universe" where it can be found and appreciated by someone else, who might feel that same excitement or thrill of the hunt that I felt when I found the stuff in the first place.
posted by padraigin at 6:01 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

This comment from Pastabagel is never far from my mind when decluttering a space.
posted by davey_darling at 6:16 AM on May 23, 2011

Put your Blythe dolls on well-lit display shelves around the top of your room...

Ah, this is a very, very good point to keep in mind -- if you are indeed keeping something because it is a "collectible", then you really need to make sure it is being preserved in good condition so the resale value doesn't drop; the packaging is intact, all the pieces are there, it is clean, etc. If you just have it shoved into the back of a closet with things piled on it, it's going to hurt its resale value.

What that means is -- if you're really keeping something because it's "a collectible", that also means that you have to have the space to store it so it stays in good condition. If you haven't been doing's not a collectible, and it won't fetch the money you hope for anyway. Or, if you really want to keep it as a collectible, should be on display. If it's not on display....then it's not a collectible.

That may help cut through some of the "but it's a collectible" logic -- if you're saving something because "it might be a collectible", but haven't been treating it as a collectible, then you won't get the money for it anyway, so you can decide whether you want to display it or not. If you don't want to display it, then...there's no longer a reason for you to keep it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

My biggest rule when deciding "keep or donate?" is, in the past year, have I used this at all? If not, 95% of the time you don't need it and never will. If your belongings aren't out for display and enjoyment, perhaps its time to consider reducing. That being said, there are some things I won't get rid of. Do you have a friend with a small space in their basement or would a small storage area be reasonable? Or might a picture or two satisfy the emotional side of things without the space demands?
posted by gilsonal at 6:32 AM on May 23, 2011

I'm going to go against some of the advice above.

DON'T get plan to scan books, turn junk into art, create photo assemblages, or do ANYTHING that is going to delay the removal of these objects. Give them one last, affectionate look and then carry them to the curb or drop them at the thrift store. Planning to archive or "something creative" with the stuff is just a stalling tactic that justifies holding onto it.

I've only found that I can get rid of stuff and small, manageable portions. Getting rid of a few things can loosen the log jam that's holding everything in place.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:32 AM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, but coveting nice possessions is very okay. Just develop a rigorous archiving routine, so you know what's there, so it takes as little space as possible, and so it doesn't rot or mold or get eaten.

Just get rid of the stuff that won't hurt you. Use your own judgment. Sentimental value and partners often don't go well together.
And dump:
Outdated electronics and broken/useless gadgets;
Stuff that needs repair, but you won't be wanting to spend time repairing it (which is a good indicator that it doesn't really matter);
Rubbish; (My granddad, for example, had drawers and drawers full of old ballpoint-pen-clickies from the times he carried these as business presents for the company he worked. That's the type of thing that goes.)
All old boxes of items that are past their warranty time.

However, old toys:
Keep. I kept my old cars all these years and if I look on auction sites these days, I could gain a bunch of bucks there...
posted by Namlit at 6:39 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a packrat, and I have been working this spring to declutter a huge amount of the stuff that I'd amassed in my 1800 sq. ft. home, in order to sell the house and move somewhere smaller. I have made huge progress and I am so proud of myself.

Some of my stuff was just clutter that I didn't have any reason to keep, so I started there. I did not start with the collections, or the boxes of sentimental childhood stuff, or anything that made me sick with anxiety about tackling. I started with the easy stuff and worked up.

Once I'd set in motion a system where I could ease my anxieties but still get rid of things, I did really well, well enough that I could move into the more important stuff without getting too worked up. I could see that there were plenty of things that I kept because it seemed cruel to throw them out, even if I didn't actually have a connection to them. My goal was to feel an actual connection to most everything that I was keeping for sentimental reasons.

So I would suggest starting with the stuff that you know you can dispose of. If you are truly a packrat, that should be a serious amount of stuff. The empty boxes can serve to help your feeling of accomplishment, and your SO should be relieved to see some of this stuff go even before you start tackling the more cherished items.

When you come to your book, vinyl, and doll collections after making good progress with the real clutter, you should see them in a healthier light. Start with the books and vinyl that aren't actually of sentimental value to you, and make your goal a collection to which you have an actual connection to each and every item. You don't need to keep all the Blythe dolls, for instance, and it's unlikely you have a real connection to every one of those dolls. But getting rid of all of them is just draconian. Pick a couple of Blythe dolls that mean something to you (here's the first one I ever bought; here's the bestest prettiest Blythe doll ever) is totally reasonable.

I put together model cars when I was a teenager, and I had several of them in storage. But when I looked at them this spring, I realized that I only had a real connection to one of them. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to part with these cars, but after coming to them weeks into my purging process, it was easy to make the distinction.

Good luck! It is a hard road, but if you tackle this stuff the right way, you could end up with a more healthy mindset with regards to future clutter.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:41 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depending on when you collected your Blythes, and if they're nice examples, you can probably turn them around for big bucks. (I know people who collected them when $50 seemed like a fortune to spend on a toy that freaked out your partner, now they cost more than small cars.) You probably have a favorite Blythe, or maybe two favorites, and keeping those while selling the others would allow you to maintain your status as a Blythe-loving collector, while cutting down on clutter, recovering your investment, and letting someone else enjoy the dolls you let go of. Or following up on ocherdraco's suggestion to think creatively, what if you rented your Blythes out to a shop or individual?

I'm a collector of various extraordinary and hard-to-find things, but I've divested myself of a great many items over the years. You simply have to get comfortable with your own attachment to unique objects, and forgive yourself if you send some of them out into the world for somebody else to connect with. If throwing things out is too hard (and it should be, if these are special objects that somebody will love), do you feel okay selling on ebay/etsy, having a swap with friends, or donating to your favorite charity shop?

What collection is going to mean the most to you on an ongoing basis? Do you like collecting, or hoarding? Maybe you would rather build a collection, let it go, and build a new one, rinse and repeat?
posted by Scram at 6:42 AM on May 23, 2011

Here's my tip:

Move house.

Then move house again, 1 year later.

The second time, you will take at least 1 van full of crap to the dump and another 1 to a charity shop because there is no fucking way you are carrying all those exact same, unopened boxes of crap that you never use, look at, or plan to do anything with between two house again.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:46 AM on May 23, 2011 [9 favorites]

Ariel over at the Offbeat Empire is also a pack-rat, and found that by sharing the memories she could emotionally purge the associated clutter.
posted by muddgirl at 7:02 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love *stuff* - clothes, shells, albums, old vases. But I was raised to purge constantly and what has helped has been realizing that I'm not "the girl who used to collect milk glass" or "the girl who amassed a collection of beloved vintage peeptoe heels" but rather that I am a person who is always going to find some things in the world beautiful and wonderful and there will always be more out there that I will love, and the objects that I currently have are just a small symbol of that curiosity and openness that ultimately I treasure the most.

This works well for me too when I'm hyperventilating over a particular purchase I'm considering - "I have to have this gorgeous antique alligator handbag or I'm going to diiiiiiieeeeeeeee...." - I take a deep breath and recognize that there are always going to be more things out there that I fall in love with. Always. And how great is that! So letting this one go is ok.
posted by sestaaak at 7:13 AM on May 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You know what? When your console was sold off, you were a kid. You did not have agency over your own life, because that is the lot of children. You are now an adult. You can buy a console. You can choose to keep or be rid of things. You have that power now. It is better for yourself, your living environment, and the child you were if you step up and manage the world as an adult and not as a child.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:20 AM on May 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Seconding or thirding the idea of taking pictures of stuff before you get rid of it.

And please don't just dump your vinyl (unless you want to give it to me). Digitizing vinyl is a long and slow process - not worth the time IMHO. Get a working turntable system set up and *play* the suckas. Go through the entire collection and thin it out -- keep only albums where you like the whole thing. If there's only one good song, record that, or track down a digital copy. Check values of your stuff at places like GEMM, Discogs, and Popsike.
posted by omnidrew at 7:29 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I speak as someone who is genetically built to be a hoarder. My grandfather has a double garage full of; a 1972 Citroen (that hasn’t been used in twenty years), model boats, jackhammers, oil cans, curtain material and other amazing, magical things that no one has seen or thought about since 1965. My father's shed was full of junk, so he built a bigger shed. My spare room currently contains three xboxes, two vcrs, a microwave, a king size bed (leaning against the wall), two drumkits (which i have not touched in two years), two terrible ikea wardrobes and about 4 times that much misc. junk.

It is easy to slowly build up a whole bunch of stuff that you have complicated feelings about. Here are my thoughts about it.

1) It is ok to keep sentimental things. I have things that I haven't seen or thought about in many years, that you can pry from my cold dead hands. The important thing is for them not to dominate your life. e.g. 20 of you favourite vinyl records – good, 8 boxes of vinyl records that you haven’t looked at this decade and have moved four times – bad. One or two of your favourite dolls to remind you of that time in your life – good, 20 dolls that take up space, that could be sold for many dollars and that cause friction with your husband – bad. Your house showing your character through lthe things you have on display – good, Every shelf in you house being covered in sentimental stuff, plus eight boxes in the spare room - bad
2) Ignore the “if you haven’t used it in X throw it away” rule. If it is sentimental see above. If it is useful, you have to balance how likely you are to use it again, how much space it takes up and how much it would cost to replace. If it is junk throw it out.
3) Getting rid of things the right way can make it easier. If they are things with little financial value, try to find someone who will appreciate them; books and records try to find one of those weird old 2nd hand record or book shops, where it is likely that the proprietor is going to enjoy buying them off you and it is likely that some young kid is hopefully going to find and love them again. For things that are worth something, sell them and then do something good with at least some of the money, buy yourself something nice, go on a trip, etc.
4) Throw out a few things you really don’t want to. In a day/month/year see how you feel about it.
posted by lrobertjones at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2011

once when making a big purge of things (going from a larger house to a smaller one), i asked myself "is there someone else who needs this more than i do?" i use it for clothes more than anything, but i think it still translates. there might be some girls whose parents can't afford dolls who might really appreciate having a great blythe doll - it might really make a difference to them. same with books. you could probably sell the stuff on ebay - but giving things to charity might help the emotional part. same with books - keep a few you actually read.

having a friend with you who can help you distinguish emotional vs practical things is probably a good idea. but you don't need to keep the dolls to have memories of how you felt when you kept them. i used to collect a lot of things too and part of my identity was wrapped up in that as well, but didn't think much about it after six months of getting rid of everything.

in the end, it's important to focus on who you are now. where you are now. i suspect that being the girl who had a lot of blythe dolls is only going to matter to you as long as you keep them. not to be harsh, but it really doesn't matter in the long run. having more space for yourself and your interests now is much more important.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:57 AM on May 23, 2011

I think your Blythe dolls will appeal to collectors, not kids. But if they're not taking up a huge amount of space, why not pack them well and store them? How much space can they take up? If you listen to the vinyl (we do, and have probably 3000+ albums), keep what you like. If you don't, sell or donate. Same with books. I finally got rid of all my badly-printed old art books--if I need reference books, the library has newer and better.

Personally, I don't hang on to stuff that I don't use, unless it's very easily stored. My teenage years don't inspire me with fits of nostalgia and if I long to hear 3 Dog Night ever again, there's always iTunes.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:27 AM on May 23, 2011

Response by poster: Here's my tip:

Move house.

Then move house again, 1 year later.

I have moved house a lot in the past few years (another reason why I'm looking forward to getting a place with MrMippy, so we can make it ours!). This should work, but never seems to.

I've listed some of the Blythe stuff and two of the three remaining dolls on eBay. I'm tempted to keep the third and review in a couple of months - I started collecting because I wanted someting to photograph, and this one photographs particularly well. I like the idea of them going to somewhere where they'll be enjoyed rather than being part of A Collection. To be clear, these are collector's items/adult toys in the same way that vinyl toys, model cars or board games are - they cost quite a bit more than kid toys and had to be imported from the US/Japan. The amount of money I must have spent over a couple of years is a bit depressing to consider!

I don't listen to the vinyl at the moment because I literally have nowhere to plug in my record deck - just a lack of space. I can store them well enough but living in one room means I can't enjoy them as I did when I lived in a bigger place a few years ago (when I used to get my records out all the time).

MrM always says that collecting for hobbies gets in the way of hobbies - since I collected Blythe stuff, I've got back into sewing and stitching and, while this is a much cheaper hobby by far, it means I have a lot of fabric etc. that I need to keep under control.
posted by mippy at 8:46 AM on May 23, 2011

I always, ALWAYS bring up Peter Walsh in these threads. Those Clean Sweep shows made such an impact on me -- particularly the one with the mom of Chunk from Goonies, who was saving Cabbage Patch dolls because she thought they'd be worth something later. But the cellophane was broken, the boxes were creased and they were covered with dust. How much do you really care about something if you throw it in a corner and don't actively enjoy it?

It's All Too Much (and/or its accompanying workbook) and/or Enough Already! on OWN, if you have access, should be readily available.

The difficulty with selling collectibles and (more difficult) clothes which are "better than Goodwill" is that you spend all this time and effort trying to figure out how to do it "right" when, really, you should just get rid of them, period. I'm not saying to toss them right away, but if you have to spend a little money to get someone else to do the legwork for you -- like putting them up on eBay, taking pictures, calling experts, etc. -- DO IT. Otherwise you'll just keep putting it off for a time when you can "give them my full attention." Except you haven't been giving them attention for the last several years, so why are you suddenly feeling the guilt now?
posted by Madamina at 8:51 AM on May 23, 2011

I am now going to out myself. I have the packrat gene, and the love of art/color/material things. As a child, I had collections of collections; shells, rocks, stamps, dolls, Matchbox cars, Hot Wheels, coins. And books. Later, I added vinyl, clothes, jewellery, purses, kimono, cloisonne vases, netsuke, treen. And books.

Now? Well, here's where I out myself as someone who has completely benefited from woo. The sea change came when I read Karen Kingston's Clear You Clutter With Feng Shui.

If it didn't lift my energy to look at it (or even think about it), if I didn't love it or if I didn't use it, out it went. It took me a month, but I donated something on the order of 20 bags of clothing, sold/gave away bookshelves of books, gave away all but 10 of my vinyl to a budding dj, sold/gave away knick knacks, extra kitchenware, dining ware. I kept a few treasured examples of my childhood and adult collections - though I did keep most of my jewellery, kimono, vases and netsuke... ah, well. Biology is destiny. ;) New rule? Something in = something out.

Except for books. Despite having gone mainly digital (there's now a Kindle version of Kingston's book) I still have books. Always will.
posted by likeso at 9:06 AM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a packrat, and my wife is a fantastic purger of stuff. She helped me get rid of a few boxes of stuff (including old Snapple bottles ... oh, High School filthy light thief).

You don't need to purge everything, but you can probably whittle down your collection. Sort through for things you'd like to sell, or can give away right now. Check the prices online, and if they're cheap and bountiful, pass the items along, knowing you can get them again. You could even do that with items you're waffling about keeping - if it's out there for a reasonable price, why not declutter your life now, when you know you can have it back?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2011

To the above advice, I'd just add that you should expect this to be a long-term project. My partner and I moved from a large house to a smaller in 2003, and we have been steadily purging things all that time. We moved with all of our stuff, and many things he'd inherited from his parents and grandmother. Even helped along by a basement flood in 2004, it wasn't until last fall, when we did a big purge in the basement to make room for a family of 3 to move in with us for awhile, that we really crossed some magical line where our house no longer feels cluttered. There is still cluttery stuff and things that could be gotten rid of, but it took longer--and getting rid of a much bigger percentage of our stuff than I'd have anticipated--for some indefinable line to be crossed.

The flood really helped my partner. Our basement had been full of furniture and assorted things he'd had trouble thinking of letting go of, mostly from his parents and grandmother, and most of it was ruined in the flood. Two things happened: of all the stuff that got ruined, it turned out there was only one thing he felt sad to lose. And we both felt a great deal of regret that perfectly good stuff had to be trashed when, if we had been more disciplined about getting it out into the world, it could have been put to use.

There has also been a psychological component to doing a wave of purges rather than expecting to do it all at once. We have purged thousands and thousands of books over the last decade, and it gets easier all the time as we realize how rarely we miss or regret any of the ones we've let go. I think once I re-bought (used, cheap, on-line) a book I'd given away. But there's no way we could have purged down to where we are now all at once when we first started, because we had to learn to trust that it would be OK not having those books. We had to build the purging muscle.
posted by not that girl at 9:35 AM on May 23, 2011

Lots of good advice above. I agree with the "have I used this in a year?" approach, but understand that can be a hard line to draw when you're struggling with getting started. One thing that we came up with inadvertently (through moving several times in quick succession) was to place things that hadn't been used in X amount of time in a box, and instead of getting rid of it, just seal the box and set it aside. If you still haven't opened it 6 months later (or in our case, as you're getting ready for your next move), take the box to Goodwill.

I also weigh in with Bonobothegreat that trying to create new projects (scanning books, converting vinyl, etc.) won't serve you well. Don't put more barriers between yourself & getting it done.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:39 AM on May 23, 2011

Two things help me. One is the "least valuable" approach above (which book is least important to me?). Giving away some makes a big difference and is much much easier than getting rid of it all.

Recently I began to really want a cleaner and less cluttered space. So my other approach is to imagine the space being clean and beautiful, and the happiness I'd feel. Then I look at the stuff and compare that feeling to the joy I get from it. Some mementos win out, yes. A lot, no.

By the way, exercise and eating healthier foods make a surprising amount of difference in how much I desire the space to be clean. You might do whatever makes you feel "cleaner" inside to support your efforts.
posted by salvia at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2011

You might enjoy reading Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee. It's about hoarding, but some of the same mechanisms seem to be present in a milder form in packrats. The Authors Q&A on the Amazon page is a pretty good summary of the book, actually.

They offer a few suggestions but it's not a self-help book; however if you're the kind of person who likes to understand a problem before/while tackling it, the book might help you feel a little better. (In your "more inside" I see several points that the authors mention - check out that Q&A!)

My mom is a packrat and I've inherited a little of it, to my chagrin, and what works best for us has been mentioned above: the idea that somebody less fortunate could really use this stuff. Frame it as helping other people and it feels a lot better to let go of stuff.

Also, I find that the triage is the really painful part. After I decide something's gotta go, I sometimes can't bear to actually get rid of it. But after it sits in a box/bag/closet for a while, I can ditch it pretty easily - it's like some kind of emotional processing is running in the background that just takes time to work through before I'm ready to let go. (My space-to-clutter ratio permits this; YMMV). Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:01 AM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We all have to make room in our lives for the person we want to be. We can't let our past self prevent us from growing. For example, I know someone who is The Lady Who Collects Antiques. She really wants to become The Lady Who Paints. But Antique Lady won't clear enough space in the house for Painting Lady to grow and develop. So I think it's important to keep the past you from taking up all the space that current you (and your fiance) need to occupy in order to build your life together. It's harsh, but there it is.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:55 AM on May 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

My stepmom's approach is that she has a base line amount of stuff she's comfortable with. If she acquires (gift, purchase, etc.) something new, she has to get rid of something (donate, sell, give, etc.).

Personally, I have moved around a lot both growing up and as an adult, so I don't have anything from my childhood at all - my oldest things are a not-particularly-special windbreaker and some photos. I keep letters and photographs. I have sentimental things right now because I've lived here in town for several years, but when I move, they'll mostly all go.

Your base line is probably going to be different than mine or my stepmom's - we're both relatively minimalist.


One option you could technically consider would be to get a storage locker. The first storage locker I found on Google that is located in London offers their smallest storage space at 60 pounds a month. That's 720 pounds per year. The question you have to then ask yourself is whether it's worth it to you. Will you get 720 pounds a year of joy out of hauling and having old books, records, and blythe dolls in a storage shed somewhere? Or would you rather spend that time and money visiting another coffee shop in Paris or having an outing involving a library and a picnic?
posted by aniola at 11:46 AM on May 23, 2011

Another trick is imagine that you are dead and play the part of the person who will have to clear out your house & dispose of your goods. It will give you a whole new perspective on what things are or aren't important.
posted by jaimystery at 1:48 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

One option you could technically consider would be to get a storage locker.

At the risk of sounding judgmental, that's enabling. I'm related to some hoarders, worse that OP, and it is something to be concerned about. Some are heading down the storage locker road, and, I suspect, without the knowledge of their partners.

As to particular advice, what's above pretty much covers it. All I can add is that there is often a really liberating feeling that comes from de-accessing and getting back all that lovely lovely SPACE.

Memory triggers, if that's what you hang on to these things for, need not be in your possession. These dolls you mention are not rare or unique. Ten years from now you will stumble over one or another of them in some unexpected venue.

Stop thinking about doors so much as paths. Sometimes look back with a telescope if you feel you must, but leave it at that. The Stuff gave you serious pleasure at the time. Now, not so much. I could give great pleasure to someone else now. For the sake of increasing the total sum of human happiness, best to pass it on. (See the last Toy Story movie - rent, don't buy - for more on this heartwarming message.)

OP books? Amazon or is there if you think you've really made a mistake. Unless you want to go into the used book biz, which is sort of a career for hoarders.

Then there's the old favorite, if the building were on fire, what would you really grab first?

THere is one extreme ideology which limits ownership to 100 thing total. That includes clothes, each fork, spoon, pot, pan, nail clipper - you get the idea. Not that I advocate or follow this, mind.

Thirty is no great age. Therefore a good time to break the Must Keep Things mentality. Frankly, good on you for wanting to grapple with it. It's tough, but worth it.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:38 PM on May 23, 2011

For years I would ask myself this about "things" that served no active purpose in my life and whether they should stay or go:

Would I be destroyed by it's loss?

If the answer was no, it went. If the answer was yes it went in "the box I grab on my way out of a burning house" which, oddly, has gotten emptier over the years. Go figure.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:40 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

We all have tucked away somewhere the standard checklist for keeping or pitching items:

Do you need it? Do you love it? Do use it?

That's all well and good. But any person, much less the most stubborn of hoarders, can wiggle through that simple diagnostic if they try even a little.

I read an A Year Ago on Unclutterer post and found a checklist that even I couldn't rationalize around:

*"Don’t keep anything you wouldn’t want anyone else to find. If something were to happen to you, your friends and family would sort through your things and you wouldn’t want to cause them any pain or embarrassment or damage their memories of you.

*Only keep items you want to display/use, and then display/use them. If something really matters to you, you should want to share it with others. Putting something you say you “treasure” in a cardboard box in your attic actually means you think the item is junk and not something you want to keep.

*If you insist on keeping a sentimental keepsake chest, limit it to one box and only keep things that can fit inside that box. If your box is full, you’ll need to remove something when adding something new. Be sure the container is sturdy, pest and water resistant, and the items inside are documented (video? photographed?) in case you lose the objects in a fire or other disaster. If you don’t want to exert the energy to document the objects, this is a red flag that you don’t really treasure the items.

*Remind yourself you can’t keep everything and that objects don’t have magical properties. These simple reminders can help you to get rid of things that are actually clutter and not treasures.

*Photograph the objects you wish to remember but don’t want to keep. One digital photograph saved on your computer (and backed up online with Flickr or on DropBox) should be all you need to keep the memory reminder."

posted by magstheaxe at 2:50 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am getting really uncomfortable with the implied labeling of the OP or other packrats as a borderline hoarders. Someone who moves from a larger space to a tiny space and hasn't gotten rid of a compensatory amount of stuff isn't a hoarder. The Blythe dolls and acoutrements are sitting in one box in the attic. She describes perhaps several boxes of records that she would normally be listening to, if she had the space. It's possible that these are rationalizations, but since I'm not the OP's therapist I can give her the benefit of doubt.

Personally, as someone who comes from a family who seems to be genetically predisposed to hoarding and other anxiety behaviors, this sounds to me like the OP has a space problem, not a stuff problem - she listens to her records. She uses her Blythe dolls. And if the space problem is going to be temporary, then perhaps a temporary storage solution is a workable idea in the short term.

There is nothing pathological about used, displayed, and loved collections. That's not borderline hoarding at all.
posted by muddgirl at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't mean loved in the emotional sense - I mean in the behavior sense. I guess I meant "cared for."
posted by muddgirl at 2:53 PM on May 23, 2011

I'm a serious packrat. The "mantras" that have most helped me get rid of sentimental clutter (which seems to be about 90% of it) are:

-Is this something (or some collection) I'm going to have until the day I die? When will I get rid of it? Why not now?
-[Echoing other posters]: Does this represent who I am (or who I want to be) in my life?
-Is this item getting ruined because I don't actually care about it enough (or have enough room) to store it properly? This is especially helpful with clothing. If I don't care enough to get something mended or dry-cleaned (or it is stuffed in the back of my closet) it is an indication I don't need it.
-For books: realize that the vast majority of out-of-print books are completely worthless (at least in monetary terms). Unless you like the book, or have some fine/rare copies, donate them. (Talk to a used or rare book dealer if you are unsure).

Decluttering for me has been a struggle for many years. Major life changes (like moving) are the most powerful incentives. The best part is that when you do, you will most likely feel euphoric. It is really quite a high to free yourself from stuff.
posted by lrrosa at 4:30 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not much of a packrat, and to be honest I think the real answer to this question hinges squarely on how tied you are to belongings. But I'll share my thought process.

Is it useful? It's great to have "sentimental" objects around, but if they're not for anything, what's the likelihood that I'm going to enjoy them regularly? This goes hand in hand with the tendency to have one set of belongings for everyday, and another set with sentimental value that is packed away somewhere out of sight. Why interact every day with things you don't love, and keep things you love in a box?

2. Is it beautiful? Even if your sentimental thing isn't strictly useful, if you love having it on display that's also perfectly fine. This is the main reason to throw away things like ticket stubs, snapshots where everyone looks bad, and miscellaneous junk that reminds you of some past time in your life but otherwise isn't worth keeping around. That stuff is neither useful or beautiful, it's just stuff.

3. Re collections - I've never been much of a collector, so I can't answer that question specifically. But if you're going to keep them, you should find a way to display them in your home. And if you don't want to display them, you should seriously question why that is and why you'd want to own something you want to hide from other people.

Additionally, "I spent a lot of money on this" is a really bad reason to hold on to possessions.
posted by Sara C. at 5:05 PM on May 23, 2011

Getting rid of "too much stuff" according to life hacker. Just published.
posted by about_time at 7:20 PM on May 24, 2011

Take digital pictures as souvenirs. Back them up, and use a photo-sharing service like Flickr or Picasa.

Put all of the trinket crap into a box, and put the box where you can get to it, but where you do not see it every day. It may take more than one box.
posted by talldean at 9:51 AM on May 26, 2011

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