Memorial Day. I love that our country has set aside a day to think about and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Having this holiday on the calendar reminds us to remember. There are many ways we trigger our memory, including traditional activities, special meals, sentimental clothing, music, rituals and possessions. Clearly, recalling the past is a part of the human experience.
At the same time, in my work as a professional organizer, I repeatedly encounter the struggle to balance the number of items we keep for reminiscing against the need to keep space available for daily life. In pondering this conundrum, I’ve come up with five helpful truths on objects and remembering.
★ Remembering is important
The act of remembering serves many purposes, including…
- Connecting us to the past
- Reminding us that we are loved and belong
- Recalling our accomplishments and victories
- Inspiring us to persevere
- Teaching us lessons about what does and does not work
- Fostering gratitude
★ Objects can trigger memories
The very word “memorabilia” captures the idea of physical items that elicit memories. Looking at them, wearing them, smelling them or holding them takes us instantly back to a moment in the past. Although pieces may be faded, broken or damaged, we hold onto them because they remind us of something we don’t want to forget. Possessions can be an insurance policy against something or someone important disappearing from our lives.
★ Some objects trigger negative emotions
Typically, we keep items because we enjoy the memories they trigger. However, periodically we hold onto things that make us feel badly. I’ve had clients tell me, “Every time I look at this I cringe,” or “Looking at this makes me realize how fat I’ve gotten,” or “I’ve never liked this, but I have to keep it.” Inanimate objects can evoke guilt, sadness, regret and shame, not because they have inherent power, but because they carry a negative emotional significance.
While we cannot control the feelings an object may evoke, we can control what we keep. If and when we realize that we are holding onto anything that undermines our self-esteem, the wise choice is to it let go. Life is hard enough without accumulating items that sabotage our efforts to be our best.
★ Objects need to be accessible to evoke memories
Do you have a box of memorabilia? Where is it? Often, we save items because we love the memory they stir, but then we stuff them away into boxes and bins that we never open. If the primary reason for keeping an item is to preserve a memory, we should store it in a place where we will be able to enjoy it:
- Hang your treasured collection on a display wall
- Print photo books and display them on a coffee table
- Use the china set inherited from a beloved grandmother
- Have a t-shirt quilt made from a child’s collection, etc.
★ Too much of anything is hard to enjoy
One box of memorabilia is lovely. Twenty boxes are too many. Not only does it feel like too much to look at, it can also become a burden to store and maintain. Items held for remembering represent the epitome of “less is more.” A few treasured possessions are enough to keep your favorite memories alive. Release yourself from the idea that you must “hold onto it all” to ensure that you won’t forget. Nobody remembers every little detail of his/her life, and you are unlikely to forget the people and events that matter most. Importantly, you don’t want your home to become a crowded museum or storeroom, but rather a pleasing space to love, learn, relax and refresh.
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How do memorabilia and the process of remembering enrich your life?