As incoming college freshman nationwide pack up for their first major move away from home, they face a real-life lesson in downsizing childhood possessions. For help, we turned to Chris Seman, president of Caring Transitions, a franchise that helps people de-clutter and downsize during difficult transitions. His ideas are useful for anyone who has ever had to say goodbye to memory-laden belongings.

SpareFoot:  How can we make the right choices about letting go of childhood possessions to donate, sell, store, or toss?

Chris Seman:  Focus on “rightsizing” versus just owning. It is a forward way of thinking when we embrace our living spaces as they are. We find out what works for us today, while maintaining contact with where we came from and early values. Focus first on what we need— essential living items like your bed, clothing, and toiletries. Then focus on what you love or value— the touchstones of life such as pictures, memorabilia from home, vacation souvenirs, high school penants and varsity jackets. Look to the space you have, and limit what you take in this second category based on space. Then, lastly, you work through your wants— a new phone docking station, a new computer, wall art, new bedding, etc.

SF:  What are some coping mechanisms for dealing with the emotional aspect of parting with special memory items?

CS:  When you are sorting your stuff, take the opportunity to enjoy the memories associated with items. An example is going through the childhood games and movies that no one plays with or watches anymore. Donate them to an organization that can use them to give other kids the enjoyment you had. Reminisce about these items as you box them up. Take pictures that will help secure the memories, but release the actual items. Parents can encourage this by promising college students one new item (within a budget) in exchange for cleaning out everything they no longer use.

SF:  Why is it important to start downsizing at a young age?

CS:  I think it’s critical to experience that when our lives change, so does our living space. It is a perfect time to evaluate our pasts, learn from them, and then put them away and embrace the future. We often feel we are defined by our stuff, and if we do not go through this process, we can stunt our personal growth and identity. An over-accumulation of possessions can sometimes serve as a barrier to moving forward– when we cling to the past through our things, we reduce our ability to grow and experience life’s new challenges. You want your stuff to serve you and your life, not the other way around.

Image courtesy Disney/Pixar.