When it comes to purging your home, dealing with sentimental items can be the toughest. We hold on to items as a way of holding on to a memory or a person… when really, the memory is within us. And, yes, sometimes it’s nice to have a tangible item to remind us of something or someone but there are ways to keep stuff that are truly wanted, store stuff in a less obtrusive way, and purge items gracefully. So let’s break it down by the most common sentimental items people collect.
You probably have boxes and albums of old photographs from pre-2005 and the dawning of affordable digital cameras. SCAN THESE PHOTOS (see options on how to do this here). Not only will you have ALL your photos in one place (the cloud) but you can also organize things beautifully and not worry about ever losing these memories. After doing this, feel free to keep significant albums (wedding, baby, etc.) on a shelf but get rid of all the unorganized boxes.
Home movies on VHS or 8mm tapes
Before getting rid of my family’s old VCR and camcorder — I bought this little gadget. And then spent months running it in the background while I worked to convert every single home video from my childhood. I backed up all these digital videos in Google Drive. This was a time consuming process but it was so, so worth it. These videos are now so easy to watch on my computer (and share with family members!) and I was able to take BOXES of tapes to my local electronics recycler.
I’m not going to tell you what items you should or shouldn’t keep from your wedding. This is your call. Just know that you can donate or sell most wedding items to another lucky couple — this is especially great for decor items. (You can even sell your wedding outfits if you wanted to!) We rented most of our big items so what was left was small decor pieces, outfits, my wedding bouquet, and a guest book. I donated the decor and kept the rest. The bouquet has been preserved and is a memento at my parents’ home and the outfit is stored in a small plastic container (my outfit was a sari so it took up little space) in my closet. The guest book is on display along with a wedding book (that I created with Artifact Uprising) on a dresser in our home.
School artwork, homework, certificates, cards
Scan the stuff that really matters. If you really want to keep physical copies of some stuff, commit to only holding on to things that can fit in a slim art portfolio (I like these because they can slide in easily behind a bookshelf). Recycle the rest.
Trophies are one of those things that I’m all for getting rid of. They take up so much space all while collecting dust. Trophies are also expensive to purchase and are wonderful items to donate to schools and nonprofits for re-use. I called our local Goodwill and they said they take them as well.
Childhood stuffed animals and toys
If you can bare to part with a good chunk of these, do it. Take a picture of it before you do. Donate or give away to a child you know. If there are some you want to keep, relegate to one (and only one) plastic tub.
Speaking of “the plastic tub” — I strongly believe that each member of the family should have one of these that they can use to store those sentimental items they really want to keep. No judgement. But one tub. That’s it. For example, my tub has some favorite stuffed animals, baby clothes, and yearbooks!
I tend to talk a lot about the physical “stuff” that comprises our lives. But these days — there’s also a TON of digital stuff. And while it doesn’t take up physical space in your home, it does take up much needed mental space. Digital clutter is one of those things that hums in the background and ultimately becomes a distraction… whether it be the incessant notifications taking you away from dinner, the mindless opening and closing of the Facebook app on your phone, the unanswered email that’s on the back of your mind, or the time it takes you to sift through 10,000 photos to find the one you want to share. So let’s pare down and then maintain your minimized digital life. If you decide to do this all at once (which I actually do recommend), pour yourself your favorite beverage, turn on some music, and make this tedious task a bit more bearable.
The pare down: Nowadays, it’s easy to have files on both your computer and your cloud storage of choice (I use Google Drive for everything). I recommend consolidating all your files to cloud storage — that way it can be accessed across devices and you don’t have to back things up on to an external storage device. So, first off, delete all the files you don’t need or use. Then, upload everything on to your cloud storage of choice. Take this time to organize these files within folders (ex: work, travel, purchases, school, health, etc.) so you spend less time looking for important documents. If there are some super important documents you’d like saved on your computer as well, go for it, otherwise… delete!
The maintenance: As soon as you download or scan something to your computer, decide what you want to do with it. Is this something you will need longer than a month? If so — upload it to the appropriate online folder. Otherwise, delete as soon as the file is no longer useful.
The pare down: Like files, your digital photographs are most likely spread across your computer (from the separate digital camera days), online photo storage, and your phone. Again — I recommend consolidating all your photographs to your cloud storage (I like Google Photos). First, delete any duplicate (nope, you don’t need the 10 photos of your dinner from various angles), blurry, bad quality photos. Upload photos from your phone and your computer to your chosen online photo storage. Take this time to organize your photos by month/year, season, event, trip, etc.
The maintenance: I think most people take photos on their phones these days so set your phone to sync with your cloud storage/automatically backup photographs. Once a week, make sure your photos synced online, delete any unwanted photos, and then delete the photos off your phone.
The pare down: Delete songs off your computer you don’t listen to or don’t want. Keep only the ones you really want or that you won’t be able to listen to on a music streaming service.
The maintenance: Use a streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music! Listen to whatever you want, whenever you want without storing anything on your devices.
The pare down: At this point, your files, photographs, and music should be mostly off your computer and only the ones you want should be organized in the cloud. Right? Okay. So this next part should be easy. This is the time to delete programs and applications on your computer that you no longer need.
The maintenance: Be mindful of the programs you download on to your computer. Every 6 months, delete any programs that went unused.
The pare down: This one can be tough for many. So baby steps. If an email is over 3 months old and you still haven’t opened it (or opened it and never responded or taken action on it). Delete it. Start fresh. Now, delete all promo and newsletter emails. Delete all social media notification emails. Go through the remaining emails and file them in appropriate folders (accounts, purchases, travel, personal, etc.). Star (something I do in Gmail) or file emails that need a response or action taken on. Now, turn off email notifications from stores and social media. You can check the sites directly for updates or promotions. This also reduces the urge to impulse shop or check your social media accounts too frequently.
The maintenance: Respond to or delete emails in a timely manner. Check email when you have time to actually take action/respond… that way, you only read the email once opposed to reading it, deciding to respond later, then having to re-read the email at a later time in order to respond. Hopefully, you’ve also turned off email notifications for unneeded things (promos, Facebook comments) to reduce the amount of emails coming in.
The pare down: First, delete the social media accounts that don’t make you happy or are not of use to you anymore. Keep 2-3 accounts that you really, truly love. For example, I had no more use for Twitter or Snapchat. So I deleted them and don’t miss them at all. I kept Facebook (for events), Instagram (for inspiration and to share my travels), and Pinterest (for more inspiration). Really think about what you use social media for and keep the accounts that align with that. Let go of the rest.
Now, curate. Remove “friends” or accounts you follow that make you feel crappy, you “hate follow”, don’t inspire you, or that you have no interest in. Remove that one acquaintance from college that you went to a club with that one time and never spoke to again. Or that high school classmate you haven’t seen in 15 years who is always trying to sell nail wraps or essential oils. If you want to keep someone around but don’t want to see their 5+ posts a day — keep them as friends but unfollow their posts so they don’t show up on your newsfeed. Download a productivity extension like StayFocused — I have it set to time my Facebook usage to 5 minutes a day max. Pick the social media sites that you can tend to go down a rabbit hole with and set a time limit. Also — delete the Facebook app off your phone. Seriously. This way you stick to the 5 minute time limit since the productivity extensions only work on the browser. And you’ll stop doing the app open/app close/app open/app close game. After a few weeks, I promise you won’t miss it.
The maintenance: Be thoughtful of who you friend and follow online. Think through any new, shiny social media accounts and whether it’ll add to your life in some way. And — don’t disable your productivity extension — stick to the time limit!
The pare down: Delete all the apps you no longer use (i.e. that one image filtering app you tried that one time) or the apps for the social media accounts you no longer have. For remaining apps, turn off notifications unless it’s a mission critical type thing (for me, the only app that I have notifications for is my work Slack — and even then, I only get notifications during work hours and only if I’m tagged directly). This will also really help your battery life. Organize your apps in to folders (travel, tickets, home, social media, etc.).
The maintenance: If you download an app that you don’t end up loving, delete it promptly. Keep your phone updated. Keep your notifications to the bare minimum. Be mindful of the time spent opening apps and using your phone when with others (or when there are other things you could be doing).
Or…. not. I wanted to share some pictures today from my recycling classes with the city. We toured multiple facilities including a single stream recycling plant, a textile recycling facility, and an electronics recycling facility. I think we all have a feeling of “go me!” when you declutter, take things out, and drop them off at whatever place takes that particular item. But then… we kind of forget about it. We forget that our decluttering leads to clutter and trash and stuff elsewhere. So here’s a little reminder that while the stuff is no longer in our possession… they are now stuck being dealt with by someone else. And guys… there’s a LOT of stuff. So just a reminder to be mindful of what you buy to begin with. (Click on the images to see the captions on what you are looking at.)
Bales of recycled paper at the single stream recycling plant.
And more bales of recycled paper. These are then sold to companies that utilize recycled materials.
Bales of clothing at the textile recycler. These bales are then sold to other countries, where buyers then re-sell (or try to, at least) all this clothing.
Bags of donated clothing.
And… more bags of donated clothing.
Bales of donated stuffed animals. Again, this will be sold to different countries.
Boxes of brand new clothing that didn’t sell. This will be shipped off to other countries.
Old TVs donated to the electronics recycler. They will take these TVs apart and sell/donate the parts.
Old VHS tapes that will be taken apart and recycled.
Old monitors that will be taken apart and recycled.
Read this lovely article about how to find your passion as an adult. Now — how does this tie in with minimalism and zero waste? I think a huge reason we’re constantly buying and consuming so much is that… we’re bored. Rather, we don’t have an activity that we so desperately want to do, that instead, we spend our free time shopping or watching YouTube vloggers telling you about the best new items out there or researching future purchases… you get the picture. We think we need the stuff to be happy. And the cycle of buying, consuming, throwing away, learning about the new bright and shiny object, then buying more, throwing more continues. And you know what? It’s hard not to shop. We’re constantly inundated with reasons why we need to buy more stuff.
So what’s the solution? Finding your passion. Or a passion. Or many passions. Things that you would rather do than mindlessly buy material objects. So how do you figure out what these activities are? Well, the article started out with a questionnaire to help guide the way. Here’s the questionnaire from the article (and how I answered them). Please note that none of these answers are crazy and groundbreaking. Be honest with yourself. The answers are generally simple.
When do I forget to look at my phone? Reading an amazing book, organizing/sprucing the house, exploring the world, hanging out with my friends.
What were things I loved to do as a kid? Reading, drawing/crafting, watching movies, dancing.
What feels like active meditation? Reading, dancing, hiking, baking.
What lights me up? A good book, good food, new travels, taking care of myself and my home.
What would I do if money didn’t matter? Travel (even more). Live somewhere closer to nature.
From these answers (common themes or passions: books, sprucing, and travel), I ended up creating a list for myself of things to do or “passions” — things I can focus on instead of consuming “stuff”.
plan the details of our next trip.
find places to go hiking both in my city and on my travels. go on a nature walk in my city.
watch YouTube videos on something I want to learn how to do (i.e. styling hair, making a fancy cocktail, ).
bake something new or practice making cakes in different flavor combinations.
take care of my roses and plants outside.
read or re-read a book (I’m a huge fantasy/YA/NA nerd and try to read at least a book a week. Honestly, reading an amazing book is one of the times I feel the most alive and there is NOTHING else I’d rather do than escape in to this other world. This is truly a passion for me.)
do annoying house maintenance activities: touch up paint, caulk the house; get rid of door squeakies while listening to a podcast on minimalism, books, or self care.
work on my adult coloring books.
What are some activities or passions you focus on?