Stuff. What the heck to do with it?
January 3, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

What do most people do with all the cards, letters, notes, trinkets and other crap that gets collected over the years?

Because I have a HUGE box of this stuff from my parents, friends in high school, my ex husband... I'm really not close with most of these people anymore, but some of the stuff reminds me of when I was (which is good or bad, depending on the day).

Over the years I've culled a bunch and always find the only things I miss are the photographs. The rest of it just seems to take up space in my closet (especially the small, useless gifty-type trinkety stuff), and very occasionally my head. Looking through any of it is bittersweet. Throwing away any of it seems wrong, though. What's worth keeping? What do most people do? Do you regret pitching a bunch of this type of stuff? Mostly just looking for insight or different perspectives.

(I know there's already a question about keeping childhood memories, but letters and sentiments from the past seems like a whole different thing. No?)
posted by thrasher to Grab Bag (52 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
I keep all that crap. My spouse learned a long time ago just to let me. Because who knows, when we die, maybe our grandchildren will love having memories from the 20th Century before everyone had HeadNet implants, and you actually had to write out the Christmas letters and buy birthday cards and occasionally write to each other.

Plus when the kids get out of line, we can threaten to show some of their old drawings to their dates some day.
posted by Etrigan at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

I throw it away. If something extra special comes through, I photograph it. But mostly I do not.

I do not care that someone sent my mother a birthday card in 1987, either. I have a passing interest in her photo albums, but I'd prefer to have them digitized.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I often see recommendations to photograph that type of stuff (or scan letters, etc) and then toss it.
posted by Night_owl at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I keep the photos and the 'real letters', and throw away the cards and everything else.
posted by Kololo at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2013

I'm sort of addicted to throwing stuff out. Once you start, oh man. It feels so good, so liberating. It makes you feel light. Gets you un-mired from the past. And I've never woken up missing anything. I've never said to myself, "Gee, I could really go for a nice session of reading love letters from when I was 19 about now!" Plus, if I ever have kids, when I die I don't want to leave them a pile of crap they have to deal with, because honestly, that's probably how they would feel about it.

Some things are worth saving. But stuff from you friends in high school? Eh. I think that stuff has probably had a better existence as Natural Value toilet paper.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2013 [35 favorites]

Keep real letters, keep special cards and stuff that matters, but not the rest. Your average greeting card is a piece of trash someone sends you to keep in your home; throw it away.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:34 AM on January 3, 2013

Response by poster: For those of you in second marriages, do you keep all the sappy love letters from your first marriage?
posted by thrasher at 11:36 AM on January 3, 2013

Here's a good idea for small trinkets: make them into Christmas ornaments. This is kind of a fun project: Take a piece of thread and/or buy hooks and figure out a way to hang each item. For some a simple thread lasso will work, for others you may have to drill a hole or use a dab of glue. Now you have a collection of personal ornaments you see once every year, instead of trinkets junking up your house. It doesn't work for everything but most little gifts work surprisingly well as ornaments. Credit to my wife for this idea.

Also really small items (too small for the above) can be made into refrigerator magnets. All you need are some magnets and superglue. I find the strong rare earth magnets work better for this, and they are smaller too.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

shoe boxes are used to store this stuff until a survivor puts the contents in a contractor bag and sends them to the dump. usually.

if you collect 20 pounds of stuff a year, in 40 years you will have 800 pounds of crap. you will have forgotten half the people who sent it, a good chunk of them will be dead or you will be, and each of them will have 800 pounds to process.

there is really no way to preserve your entire life, and for the most part, most of us have lives that really aren't all that special. keep stuff that shows love from people you value and look at it every year or two. don't fret if you lose it or trash it. there will be more.

i wish you many happy memories, but not a ton of paper!
posted by FauxScot at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm on my second marriage, and the only thing I kept from my first marriage was the signed divorce papers. I also throw away cards as soon as I get them and donate trinkets that I don't actually need/want/like. I think all of this comes from growing up with a hoarder for a parent.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

For those of you in second marriages, do you keep all the sappy love letters from your first marriage?

I have a black shoebox, tied with a black ribbon, with the remains of several relationships in it. But I'm weird.
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

You could organize the important stuff in albums or scrapbooks, which are more compact and can be shelved. Chuck or donate the rest.
posted by Paper rabies at 11:42 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

For christmas cards, I make these stars and add them in as an ornament for the following year.

I kept birthday/holiday cards from my grandparents (who were amazing old school corresponders) and use them as templates for my own cards. (turns out most of my family has saved some of my grandfather's cards- they were that good)

I keep all pictures, important letters, cards I can't bear to throw out and old travel documentation (although I tend to go on crazy trips, so I have rather intensive intineraries and notes for each trip) in a box labeled "potentially important stuff". I get rid of the random trinkets asap.

Every time the box of potentially important papers gets full, I go through it, and see if there is anything I can now bear to toss (this usually happens ever 3ish years)
posted by larthegreat at 11:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

I throw it away. I have no kids, nobody's going to care.

My grandmother kept all her breakup letters from before World War I (not the love letters, just the breakup letters---mostly dudes responding to her having broken up with them, but one from a dude breaking up with her because he was going to be a priest). That's kind of the weirdest thing I came across.

My grandmother, great-aunt, aunt, and father saved pretty much their entire lives' correspondence, including holiday cards. I winnowed it down to a shoebox and have a shoebox of my own. Feels good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first wife died and I keep a small collection of sentimental stuff. I also ruthlessly hauled several hundred pounds of stuff from a 24 year marriage to the dump. As she is quite dead, she does not care.

( Not a day goes by that I don't think of her, and 95% of those thoughts are warm and loving. THe other 5% are arguments I just can't put down!!! She'd do the same for me, I'm sure.)

Current wife threatens to have a dumpster delivered here the minute I get an irregular hearbeat. I'm with her 100%.
posted by FauxScot at 11:44 AM on January 3, 2013 [13 favorites]

Guiltily schlep it around from apartment to apartment across the country forever.

(Seriously, I am a pretty intense minimalist and am ruthless about personal memento stuff. When it came time to move from New York to California, I discovered I had two full boxes of this stuff. Which had already been edited down to the point that I couldn't bear to get rid of any of it.)

My paring down tip is that, if it's not immediately apparent to you, now, what the object commemorates or why it seemed so important at the time, toss it. For example, my high school prom gave us champagne flutes imprinted with the school's name, the year, and the theme of our prom. At the time, this seemed like an UNFORGETTABLE LIFETIME KEEPSAKE. Now, though? Who the fuck cares that the theme of my high school prom was "The Forbidden City"? It doesn't add to my memories of that event in any way. So it gets tossed.

The worst are Christmas cards from my grandparents. None of them are great written corresponders, so they all just say, "Merry Christmas! We love you!" But they're from my grandparents. So how can I throw them away? I usually just stash them wherever they land (the purse I'm using at the time, the kitchen junk drawer, into a book I'm reading), and thus table the issue until I'm cleaning out that place/item in the future when it's no longer the holiday season, and yet also probably not a Big Poignant Moment of going through old memories.
posted by Sara C. at 11:45 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

do you keep all the sappy love letters from your first marriage previous relationships?
Not all letters/stuff definitely, but on average about one piece of sentimentality (trinket, letter, or photograph) per major relationship. I tended to choose that happy memory object sometime within a few months of the relationship ending, and store it, and let everything else wash away.
posted by aimedwander at 11:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm also in the throw it out camp. If it's really important, maybe make a scan and keep a digital copy.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:48 AM on January 3, 2013

I keep things. Cards I may put in a large envelope, store the envelope somewhere, then never see it again. Photos are different. They can be digitized and made into an entertaining trip down memory lane at a significant birthday or anniversary.
posted by Cranberry at 11:48 AM on January 3, 2013

I also used to keep these things, but in the last year or so have kind of trained myself out of it, and I'm so happy not keeping everything! A lot of old letters etc brought back bittersweet memories, and even knowing I had them buried in the back of a wardrobe kind of kept connecting me to them in a strange way. Now I have a couple of old letters, and I keep some special cards, mostly dump the trinkets. I confine them to a shoebox also which helps. But as Lutoslawski says above, it feels SO GREAT to get rid of all these things which feel like they're holding you back! You move forward with nothing negative hanging out of you, just the stuff you need and your future plans! My new hobby is de-cluttering (I cannot part with my books though!)! Good luck!
posted by cornflakegirl at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2013

I scan that stuff and then toss it. It alleviates the guilt from throwing away a birthday card from my Grandma, while not having to keep a box full of cards that say nothing but "Happy birthday!" or "Have a great year!" I've done at least three bankers boxes full and don't regret a single thing I've gotten rid of. Nor have I felt the urge to open the PDFs of the scans, but they're there if I ever do. I use a ScanSnap because it lets you feed multiple sheets at once.
posted by MsMolly at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2013

Your dilemma is why recycle bins exist. The memories live on in your head, but you're doing yourself no favors by keeping this fire-fodder around. Once you toss it, you'll feel lighter in all senses of the word.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:56 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I keep one shoebox-sized box for all sentimental crap. Every year or two, or when it gets full-ish, I go through it and throw out the stuff that has lost resonance for me. Some things stay in it for a decade or more, some things only last a year. Either way, I revisit it regularly so I can keep it under control.
posted by gaspode at 11:59 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

I keep it for years then I'll get extra drunk one night and have a total holocaust on the stuff. Seems to keep it manageable.
posted by Decani at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I have said here before how helpful watching the TV show Hoarders has been to me. Something several of the psychiatrists and psychologists on the show have said to people who were clinging to items that were actively endangering their lives was something along the lines of "Right now, you feel like if you get rid of the item, the memories you associate with it will be lost. But the memories live in your mind, not in this item."
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:02 PM on January 3, 2013

Moving across the world to another country helps you weed out the crap from the important stuff pretty fast. I allowed myself one small box to put all that sort of stuff in and having to keep it to a certain size helped me focus on what was really important. If I wanted to keep x I'd have to throw out y which did I want more. Larger items I took photos off and donated. Having moved a couple of years ago now, I am still surprised at some of the things I bought, I will pick it up and go so why did I think you were so important to pay huge amounts of shipping to bring you here and now all I do is put you on the shelf to gather dust. Next time I'll be even more ruthless and I I ditched everything but letters and a couple of cards that meant something. I kept all photos though as I have great plans of scrapbooking one day (at the moment I just collect scrapbooking supplies).
posted by wwax at 12:10 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I tend to get rid of most things but keep a few bits from each year. Periodically I go through those to reminisce or find something specific, and quite often then I will cull things down further if I don't know why I'm keeping something. I like having photos and souvenirs, but I like to curate/review them too - anything that I never look at is likely to get junked at some point.
posted by crocomancer at 12:11 PM on January 3, 2013

I keep the cards and letters where the sender wrote something really intimate or special or personalized or loving, and immediately toss or recycle anything where they just signed their names. My people are equally divided on how they treat cards, so this means I have shoeboxes of stuff from my dad and grandma, who are incredibly gifted and expressive writers, and almost nothing from my mom. This is fine.

I do not keep them because I think my kids might enjoy looking at them someday. I do not care that after I die someone will have to sort through them, or that they might not even do that and just take them straight to the dump. That isn't my problem, and by then they will have served their purpose anyway.

I keep them because someday my dad and grandma will be gone, and I foresee an intense need to reread them when that happens, as the strength of their love for me practically leaps off the paper and does a tap-dance in front of me. Reading them can be quite overwhelming, honestly, in the best way possible, to the point of making me cry NOW while they are both still quite alive and well. I am a ruthless minimalist in every other area of my life, but I would cart those four shoeboxes to the end of the earth and back.

Keep anything that provokes that kind of response in you. The rest can go.
posted by anderjen at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I toss everything. My father, I recently found out, does not. I hadn't been to his house in 15 years. I'm really dreading having to get rid of all the stuff that needs to be thrown away when he... you know. Seriously, your kids will not care. I don't care about any of his stuff or even my own. I've never understood this thing about having to hold on to things just because they were gifts. If you don't use it there's absolutely no purpose in keeping it.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:28 PM on January 3, 2013

You mention you have gotten rid of things in the past and not missed them, so I don't see why you would miss the things you don't know what to do with now.

I would never throw out photographs. (Maybe shitty prints I would toss if I had the negatives, but I also have access to a darkroom and scanner). I also think photographs are the things that are most likely to be valued by others down the road, recently I've been scanning photos that were taken by my great-grandfather.

I ripped up old love letters and used them for decoupage. The paper was pretty. I threw the rest out.
posted by inertia at 12:28 PM on January 3, 2013

Two years ago, in leaving my house of 10 years and my marriage of 20, I was pretty ruthless. Some things I photographed, and most I tossed. The only things I've missed since that clean out were school reports (to help confirm my ADD diagnosis at 45 but really, no biggie) and some stories I wrote - I can't believe I deleted them!

I will never be famous (thank god!), and nobody will need to trawl through years of letters to write my biography. The few times I did browse through the stuff I didn't get good feelings. It has been a pleasure.
posted by b33j at 12:48 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the exes: I used to have a big collection of these things and I ended up throwing them out. I never looked at them, some of them had been there for years and I still hadn't felt the need to reminisce over photos/letters.

Anything that was really special that I wanted to keep I put in a small memory box and stored it in my closet. Photographs went into one of those photo binders with the sticky paper. I still don't look at it but it's nice knowing it's there and it doesn't take up a lot of space.

For the parents: I keep a few things from them that are particularly sentimental and throw the rest out.

For the friends: I don't keep things from them. They're still in my life, and while I know someday they'll pass away I see them often enough (unlike my parents) that I'll still have vivid memories of them in my head, as well as social media things that I can look through when I want.
posted by Autumn at 12:50 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to keep everything for about 5 years, then cull. I'm fond of hanging folders for this stuff. Nowadays, very little makes it into the hanging folders because I've learned not much has lasting value. So, for example, every sweet card from my Bear, I keep. But most other people's, not so much.

And past relationship stuff? Except photos, into the recyling bin long, long ago.

As for knick knacks, virtually nothing gets kept.

I've had to clean house after both my parent's deaths and it taught me that family memorabilia tends to have lasting value -- other stuff is mostly just stuff, and often has value only for unintended humorous qualities.
posted by bearwife at 12:52 PM on January 3, 2013

In my home, stuff like this tends to accumulate around the corners of a few cabinet drawers, much in the fashion of terminal moraines as a last reminder of the ice age.

Don't throw away things when you're in doubt. Watch out especially for photos, hand written stuff, items that carry a story of sorts, very silly items, and items that may have some value in themselves.The bittersweetness is your guide in what to do with these things.

So you have to sort through such a pile of accumulated stuff. Only do this when you're in the mood. You need a good cup of coffee. Ideally, you need half a day off. Sit on the ground. Sort through the stuff.

Any item that triggers your nostalgia goes on one pile, the rest on another. Anything undecided goes on the first pile.

Your trash pile gets carried over to the trashcan at a point when the latter is not full with a lot of smelly stuff. Carefully place the sorted-out things in the trashcan one by one. Retrieve whatever makes you feel guilty.

Now you have a reduced pile of stuff. Part of this should go, neatly stacked, folded or organized, perhaps even labeled, into shoebox-sized containers - not a single huge box, in other words - and stacked away in the attic or suchlike. Some things may have triggered your emotions in such a way that you want to exhibit them on a shelf, or at least keep them close. So they either go on a shelf, or back to where they came from.

Photographing is for things that don't keep so well. My kids once had a four-inch long very nicely shaped sea lion in blue translucent semi-sticky jelly that needed to be kept in a jar in order to keep moist. I anticipated tears: it would eventually get dusty, dry out anyway, have an accident... So I placed the sea lion on a nice wooden surface, put my camera on a tripod, arranged some artsy backlight in order to enhance the effect of the beastie's blue hue and, with care, took a picture. My kids are big now, the sea lion is long gone, but the picture is as bright and beautiful as on the first day...
posted by Namlit at 12:55 PM on January 3, 2013

I actually regret throwing out letters and cards from ex-boyfriends, but it seems that all my breakups were so unamicable that I had to have ceremonial bonfires and household purges to get rid of their stuff. I wish I'd kept photos of us because then at least I'd have some photos of me when I was younger!

My parents were totally ruthless about throwing out all my school reports and books, to the point that I can barely even prove I went to school. We didn't take many pictures, either.

My grandparents used to write to me every week without fail, and when I was a snotty teenager I just read the letters and threw them away. Now, of course, I realize what a great loss that was -- my grandfather wrote really thoughtful things about his life that just don't exist anywhere else. That may be why I'm a keen amateur historian today and love to do oral history interviews.

I have kept every email, fax, letter, and card from my husband, even printing out our first emails to reread them! Now they're stashed in a closet. I also keep birthday and Christmas cards, but that might be classified as hoarding.

Newspaper articles, goofy pictures, stickers, cartoons, fortune cookie fortunes, business cards, and anything small go in a shoebox to be scrapbooked later (like, once every three years). I've nearly filled one book with a bunch of little bits of crap like this, and it's fun to leaf through it.
posted by vickyverky at 1:04 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the insight. I think I'm gonna sort it all into piles based on who it's from, then pare down each pile to the stuff that is particularly interesting/nice/sweet/historically important in my life with that person. Trinkets and the like I'm gonna photograph and pitch. I already have way too many fridge magnets and Christmas ornaments, those are two things I've collected for years! (Now that I think of it, photographing and pitching the magnets might be a good idea too...)

Thanks again for the ideas, it's been very helpful!
posted by thrasher at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel like everything is gradual triage and letting go, but that happens in stages. Say, in college your highschool mementos seem really important. By your 20s, some college and a subset of the original highschool stuff seems important. By your 30s, you've started to roll your eyes at all but the cream of the highschool stuff, a bit of the college, and so forth.

I handle "cards and trinkets" thusly:
- read and enjoy. some spend a while on the fridge; most get thrown out almost immediately.
- those with great photos, meaningful letters, etc. (may or may not include those that visited the fridge), get put into a box (actually a desk drawer) of such things.
- when that container fills up (every couple of years), I sit down and go through it. I usually enjoy all the revisits, and throw out more than half of it (my relationships having changed, other things supplanted, etc.).
- what's left goes into long-term storage (now pretty slim) either in a mementos box (or maybe in an Ancestral Family Photos box). spouse and I have two, one marked "mementos, flat" and the other "mementos, nonflat"

Additionally, on a lower periodicity (5-7 years, mostly triggered by moves):
- skim mementos box(es) and/or correspondance box (from pre-email era) and ruthlessly decrease
- similarly, "get honest with myself" about the past generations of Stuff, like the highschool and college stuff, or graduate school papers, or wedding memorabilia, or whatever. I'd guess that this process reduces past eras by half each time around

In general I find that this kind of churn keeps the stuff from just building up and building up -- it holds close to steady, in fact. It's also work, which means that you gradually get tired of having to revisit your earlier life(s) and get more ruthless with current stuff over time.

Specifics: I have some letters and so forth from previous eras and relationships, but only those that have continued to have some personal touchstone significance after all these years. I don't kid myself that it's for anybody but me. I also have a slice of photos, etc., from a former step-family, again for my own sense of continuity, personal history, etc.

This system has worked for decades, but is just now facing its first double test by (1) my living in one house for more than 7-9 years, and (2) the introduction of offspring. I think that I will probably fight (1) by occasionally (and it really doesn't have to be often) getting up a head of steam to Get Rid of Stuff, digging into the deep storage recesses, say. As for (2), early signs are similar to handling of my own eras -- keeping only the best bits, turning over frequently when storage becomes limiting, etc., but of course children will be interested in their own histories, so perhaps one keeps a few more totemic items. In the end though, my in-laws made a great single album summarizing 35 years of my spouse's life, and one could live with not much more than that (I think there's also a tub of old school stuff and books), so that's something to shoot for.
posted by acm at 1:30 PM on January 3, 2013

I think you have to think about what might be worth keeping and what's not. Some of these answers make me a bit sad...when my grandmother died, she left behind all these photos and a million clothes, all in the 1920s flapper style she wore before she married my grandfather in the 1930s and started wearing saris. My mom's family threw much of it out...Mary Janes with real buttons, mini dressed with flowy sleeves, cloches. My mother wasn't there to save it, as she was in the US (my parents immigrated from India) .

There was one trunk that I saw on a trip to India in a relative's house that had been sitting around for fifteen years. I got someone to help open it and there were a bunch of pics of all these clothes, but no clothes. I actually think about it fairly often (those clothes would have fit me, and they looked beautiful).
posted by sweetkid at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just to address the frequent "no need to keep this, I'm not famous" comments: I've read/heard several interviews with historians where they point out that it's the "average" peoples materials that they really love. The famous people aren't living an average life, but historians often are looking to find out what an average life was like in a given place and/or time. Look to local historical groups or academics who might be interested in your materials - you never know what they might really be interested in taking.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I actually think about it fairly often (those clothes would have fit me, and they looked beautiful).

My grandmother had a gorgeous maroon/silk/lace dress and matching shoes from the 1930s, which my dad kept after she died and he cleaned her apartment and gave to me. I did indeed fit in the dress and shoes and they were beautiful. So I wore them to an evening Halloween party at my college. The shoes came apart within an hour -- I mean, disintegrated. So I was resigned to being barefoot. The dress shredded within the next two hours. It was like being Cinderella when the midnight hour struck.

Moral, which fits with what many have said in this thread: don't keep it unless it has big nostalgia value for you. Old things are great to look at when they matter to you, but very little lasts enough to be usable again.
posted by bearwife at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I still would have liked to look at them, and touch them even if they were likely to disintegrate. Not everything is about utility. I didn't know my grandmother very well so a lot of it is sentimental. This question is highly personal and individual which is why there are so many answers here.
posted by sweetkid at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

the memories live in your mind, not in this item.

"M. Marcel Proust to the white courtesy phone, please..."

I keep the stuff that unlocks memories, and I'm increasingly glad of it.
posted by holgate at 3:42 PM on January 3, 2013

Having made two major moves in late 2008/early 2009, most of my worldly possessions got slimmed down, in the end, to about half a dozen large but mailable boxes. One of the things I kept were cards and letters. They fill up roughly a shoebox. I may yet cull this pile of mementos, but for now I think they're worth keeping (and moving 2500 miles!).
posted by asciident at 3:43 PM on January 3, 2013

Proust didn't keep the actual madeleines from his childhood, is the thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:23 PM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

Throw it out.
posted by wrok at 4:57 PM on January 3, 2013

I still have a card given to me by a boyfriend who was later killed in a car wreck, so I do save cards. It is something I have to remember him by, he picked that card out for me.
posted by just asking at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2013

I have set a limit for myself. I get one clear Rubbermaid tub to keep that shit in. If it threatens to overflow, I cull. That's pretty much how I organize everything. I get 4 bookshelves, period. I get one closet for clothing, period. Overflow means it's time to throw.

Sometimes I write recipes on old holiday cards, bent backwards so that the sentiment is still there but the object is useful for something.
posted by xyzzy at 5:56 PM on January 3, 2013

Do what you want, don't make any decisions based on how other people feel about their own lives. They're not you.

I'm with anderjen, keep anything that provokes a response in you. Feel free to toss things that do not, even if they're the sort of thing that other people might save. You're only answering to yourself.

And as long as the volume of merely sentimental keepsakes can fit into several boxes and you're not hoarding, don't fret overmuch about the burden of someone going through it when you're gone. You're not renting your home to its future owners; the space is yours to use until you're gone.
posted by desuetude at 11:42 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I kept a lot of my kids things because they were adopted as older kids and came with almost no recorded history, so what we did have and in the first few years has become very precious. I have no idea if they feel that way - it's all packed into storage boxes in a room - but they have the option to take it with them if they want to.

With my youngest biological, she has maybe 1/10th of what my adopted kids had within the same timespan because her history is recorded and known, and so she only gets a few very significant things. Everything else has been donated or trashed.

How odd. I would just shrug if my wedding dress got damaged, but the handwritten notes from their first mom - I would be so upset if they got damaged. Neither can be replaced, but one is more isolated. I have wedding photographs and memories of that day, while they have only very hazy memories and no photographs for that particular time with her.

Keep what is singular.

Storage units are a great option. Pack everything that you're not quite ready to let go of and put it away. If you haven't thought about it or missed it a year later, just dump the boxes. We did this when we moved a year ago - it was great to just clear those storage boxes this December.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:44 AM on January 4, 2013

At our home - for most things, we take pictures of them and toss them. If they have special meaning, we keep them. We don't feel bad or guilty about the things we want to keep.

Nthing this: I'm on my second marriage, and the only thing I kept from my first marriage was the signed divorce papers.

There were no love letters; that was probably part of the problem.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2013

Quite a while ago, I started using cards (especially holiday cards, but really any cards) to make gift tags and such to put on gifts. (So: all my To and From tags on my holiday gifts are recycled clips from the holiday cards we got, if you give me a birthday card, I'll recycle some cute detail of the front to be a To/From tag on someone else's gift, etc.)

I do have a number of cards which my Grandparents sent me that just say "I love you, Grandma" or some such, that I keep. I feel like it connects me to them.

Photographs: album or scan (with super back up). (The many Polaroids, in particular, I scanned because many of them are fading. Early home printed photos can have the same issue.)

I've mentioned here before that I found in my Grandparents house a written "to do" list from my Grandmother's mother that had been used as a bookmark and survived from (I think) about the 1920's. It tells me things like she said "warshing" instead of "washing" because that's how she wrote it -- "warshing powder".

I also have a large box full of letters I wrote home from my extended trip to England back in the pre-internet age (that I got back from an old boyfriend, even). Those I will absolutely keep because they're real letters and pretty much like a diary.

For anything you keep (including photographs) take the time to document who gave it to you and why you're keeping it. (I mean write it down and store it with the item.) This is especially useful if you are keeping things that were given to you by family members and you have children and/or are keeping them with the prospect of giving them to future children. A cheapo souvenir mug is likely to get pitched; a mug carefully stored with a note inside that tells a little of the story of the mug is much more likely to become a valued heirloom.
posted by anastasiav at 5:38 PM on January 4, 2013

Every few years I go through all my trinkets. I remember the people, the memories and sometimes even make a few phone calls. Then, I throw away the things that I no longer have a strong attachment to. Throwing away stuff is liberating, remembering fun times is great and I still end up with stuff to hold on to.
posted by Misty_Knightmare at 7:51 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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