If you’ve ever tried to adopt minimalism on any scale, you know how difficult it can be. We develop strong attachments to the objects we own. But when we have to make the tough decision to let them go, there are a few ways to make the process easier.
There’s a lot of different reasons you might want to reduce your possessions. You may have gotten to the point where you realize you’re a hoarder and have too much clutter. Maybe the stuff you own is occupying a lot of your mental energy and causing you stress. Perhaps you’re attracted to the simple and minimal lifestyle.
For many people, it’s just a simple matter of space.
My family and I recently sold our 2-story townhome with a garage to move into an apartment with no garage or storage unit. But that move required us to get rid of a lot of stuff we owned. Some things were easy, while others were a little more difficult to let go.
The first things to go are the things you don’t use. A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used it in a year, you probably could do without it. Those things are generally easier to let go.
But what about sentimental things? What about the things that have no utility, but simply bring you joy?
What about the memorabilia you collect because it’s a part of who you are? What about the trinkets and souvenirs that remind you of your travels? What about the yearbooks, toys, and trophies from your childhood? What about the library of books, records, or DVDs that represent your interests?
Here are a few ways to make downsizing your sentimental items a little easier.
Digitize What You Can
When we made our move, we pulled out of the closets and drawers a few shoeboxes of old photos and some photo albums. We never looked at the pictures much, but we didn’t want to throw away those photos forever and lose those memories.
Of course for the past 15 years or so, all of our photos are digital. These are just remnants from a different age, but they’re still photos and they represent the memories of childhood. We didn’t want to just throw them away.
So we laid out all the photos one by one and took pictures of them, creating digital copies. It is tedious, but it was manageable with just a few shoeboxes. Now all the photos are on our computers and phones to look at anytime, and we felt comfortable throwing the physical pictures away.
Another alternative is to use a scanner if you have one – you get a more accurate color and dimensions than taking pictures on your phone, but it takes a lot longer. There are also many companies that you can mail your photos to and they’ll digitize them for you – it’s great if you don’t have a lot of time or have too many photos.
Change Your Media Consumption
We don’t collect a lot of media. Between my wife and I, we had a tall bookshelf with a mix of our books from college and recent ones we’ve read. We owned about 20 DVDs that we only watched once. We also found a few music CDs that we didn’t even know we had.
At this point, almost all of our media consumption was already digital. We had already gone music streaming for several years already, and prior to that, I already burned most of my CDs to my computer to put on my first iPod. We stream movies and rent them digitally as well. With books, we’re still reading a few physical books, but most of them are bought or rented digitally as well.
We donated all our remaining CDs, DVDs, and books to the local library. With our books, there were a little over 100 that we got rid of – we never read the books more than once, so they were mostly there for show. We each kept about 5 physical books that were our favorites and could possibly read again.
If you have large collections of physical media, this may be difficult for you. Not only is it a lot of money you’ve already invested, but it would be a lot of money to repurchase that media in digital form.
So you have to ask yourself a few honest questions.
Is the media you have for consumption or for show? Have you actually consumed that media more than once or twice? Can you slim down that collection to your favorites? Why is it important for you to own a copy (physical or digital) of that media? Could you just switch to renting future media, or pay for a streaming subscription?
Display What You Love
I have personal items that are sentimental to me, more so than my wife. I’ve travelled a lot over the years and have collected souvenirs from each country. This included paintings, artifacts, small sculptures, and other unique pieces of art. When I lived with other guys and had my own room, I could put them out wherever I wanted. I had spears and machetes hanging above my desk, tribal masks hanging above my bed, and wooden animal sculptures displayed on my shelves.
When I got married and moved in with my wife, most of those things ended up being stored in cardboard boxes. If it were up to me, everything would be out and displayed. But we didn’t have the space, and my wife wasn’t thrilled about all the stuff.
These trinkets are just souvenirs I purchased from local marketplaces, and some even from the airports. They had no connection to any person or event. But they did represent the countries I visited, and reminded me of the time I had spent there.
So I picked one item from each country, and ensured that it was aesthetically pleasing (to my wife) and took up relatively little space.
If you have items that carry sentimental value, try displaying them as decor so you’re reminded of those good times. If having them out on display doesn’t bring you joy, then that could be a good indicator that there’s not as much attachment to that object as you think there is. You would probably be fine letting it go.
Take Pictures for the Memories
I had a few things that I didn’t really need, but just felt guilty or bad about giving away. Some of these included gifts from friends, meaningful handwritten notes and cards, and yearbooks from my childhood. These were also stored in boxes.
These aren’t necessarily pretty items that you put out on display. It’s sentimental more for their content.
So similar to my photos and media, I digitized the content. For my yearbooks, I took pictures of the covers, the pages with comments and signatures, and the pages with photos of my class. Similarly, I took pictures of cards and handwritten notes that I had received. And with the gifts from friends – often souvenirs from their own travels – I took pictures of them along with my souvenirs that I was getting rid of.
Taking photos of the items or their contents helps preserve the meaning and sentiment of those items without having to physically own them. It also makes it easier to catalog them digitally. Feeling down and want to read positive notes? Just look up the folder or album where you keep notes written to you. Feel like taking a trip down memory lane? Find the folder of your yearbook photos.
Put it in a Pending Box
After sorting through the easy stuff of what you can get rid of, there are some things that are just hard to let go. Even though you haven’t given them a second thought for months or years, you wonder if you’ll miss them when they’re actually gone.
The reality is that if you haven’t thought about the items for awhile, you won’t really think about them again once they’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind. But that parting is always difficult.
If you have time before you have to downsize, or have the space to store stuff, put all the things you are considering letting go of in a box somewhere (which is probably where most of it already was before). Set a timeline and calendar reminder to revisit that box. If say, you haven’t thought about those items or gone to look at them in a few months, get rid of them.
If you know that once you revisit those items, you’re going to have those fond feelings again, tape the box shut and just label it as stuff to give away. When the time comes, don’t open the box to see what’s inside – you’ve already decided you don’t need it.
As a last resort, if you know that you’re extremely weak-willed, leave the box with a friend. Tell them to donate it if you haven’t asked for the box by a certain date. And maybe pay them for their services.
Donate or Sell, Don’t Trash
Once you’ve decided what to let go of, the easy thing may be to just put it all in a trash bag to throw away. There may be an uneasy feeling about just throwing those memories away, but that may be good to feel that way. Because simply throwing your old stuff away is kind of a waste and taking up space in the landfill.
Donating or selling your items is environmentally friendly, but it also gives you a better feeling knowing someone else will get use out of your items. If you have things that are worth selling, then list them on eBay or a local classifieds site like Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, or Craigslist. It’s a nice feeling when minimalism makes you money.
You can also use those platforms to list stuff for free. I listed all my travel souvenirs as free, and teachers picked them up to use for their classrooms. It was a good feeling knowing my items would be used to benefit kids in learning and made parting with those items a lot easier.
Everything else that isn’t personalized (like a trophy or yearbook) can then be donated to your local Goodwill or other thrift store. If the item had meaning to you, it’ll probably have meaning for someone else.
I don’t believe that you should get rid of everything that has meaning to you for the sake of minimalism. It’s not bad to have stuff, even if that stuff serves no other purpose than holding memories.
But there are times when we have to let go of the stuff we cherish. When that time comes, hopefully this guide will help make it easier to let go.
Have there been things sentimental to you that you had to get rid of? How did you do it?
Are there things you own now that you’ll need to prepare to let go pretty soon?