As American finance teeters and our government works to stabilize the economy, we must tighten our belts and hope for better days. A society that has been defined for decades by the accumulation of “stuff” is now being forced to downsize, minimize and prioritize. We’re in a race to clean out the garage and empty the basement. It’s easy to indiscriminately purge our lives of non-essentials, but what do we lose in the process? Are we unwittingly casting aside the meaningful along with the meaningless?
I recently cleaned out my old room over Thanksgiving break. I found so many odds and ends I’d loved once upon a time, I almost gave up the project. “None of this has to go anywhere,” I caught myself thinking. Does my room really need an available corner more than it needs the stack of hubcaps I collected in middle school? Practicality said “yes,” but my inner tween reminded me of the car I’m going to build with those hubcaps someday. They clearly had to go, but it raised the question: Where is the line between objects with sentimental importance and objects that would look nice on a thrift store shelf?
In a 2009 New York Times article titled “The Self-Storage Self,” Jon Mooallem took a look at several individuals in the midst of a clutter overhaul in their storage units. Interviewees found mementos from their childhood, tokens from a pleasant memory— meaningful objects that gave them pause in their de-cluttering crusade. Setting these items aside allowed them to reflect on the nature of what they had put into storage, and approach downsizing with greater care.
In the quest to rid your life of the excess, take some time to reflect on your belongings and assess what they mean to you. You’d hate to realize you threw away a family heirloom in a box labeled “garage stuff.” Heirlooms and other memory-rich keepsakes provide a means of preserving our heritage and give us a connection to our past. Holding on to them is a sentimental, subjective process that requires a rational mind and an iron will.
Some things are clearly meant to stay, but others can be deceiving. If you feel you’re ready to cut the wheat from the chaff, you might want to get a friend to act as an objective third party. A dispassionate eye, especially one who knows you well, can be invaluable in the process of scaling down.
Furthermore, set a precedent. Designate an area to be filled with “to keep” items, and promise yourself that you won’t save anything more than what fits in that space. And most importantly, if you think you’ve made a final decision, sleep on it. If you feel as strongly in the morning that your hubcap collection still belongs in the corner, it was probably meant to be.