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Reclaim Your Home: Nostalgic Clutter


Wahoo! Spring has sprung! While this season of growth and renewal calls many of us out to the garden, it also inspires the potentially more daunting task of spring cleaning.

As a professional interior designer and organization consultant, I've stood right beside many of my clients as they start the process of clearing clutter. Most of the time, clutter accumulates so quickly we don't even see the piles of overwhelm coming until, well...until they're overwhelming. Where do you even begin?!

My advice: take it one step at a time. And that's what we're going to do in this article by looking at just one type of clutter that can be particularly hard to address: nostalgic clutter. Ticket stubs from every concert you've ever attended. Grandpa's rare coin collection. The macaroni art project your teenager made when he was five.

How to decide what stays or goes?

The hard truth is, we often don't even use or look at (or even like!) many of the sentimental items filling our closets, drawers, and shelves. Somehow that fact doesn't make parting with them any easier.


Photo source: Real Simple

Because we love the precious people in our lives, we mistakenly feel that we have to love and keep every object ever associated with or given to us by that person. While it's a lovely sentiment, it's just not practical. Besides, intentionally clearing your space of nostalgic (and other) clutter just makes more room to live and fully engage with loved ones in the present.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Pace yourself. Sorting through nostalgic clutter can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. Don't expect to have it all done in a single afternoon.

2) Keep your desired result in mind. Do you want to create more physical space? Better order? Do you need to purge the energy of old items and memories? Do you want to sell unused valuables to make an extra buck? Keeping your eye on the prize will help you be discerning when the going gets tough.

3) Identify criteria for what you will let go. The list might include:

  • Other people's memories - The invitation from your friend's wedding, your sister's graduation program, the reading from the neighbor kid's bar mitzvah that you've been meaning to read but just can't find the time. You get the point.

  • Freebies and swag - While this isn't usually nostalgic, it sure can be for some. Say, for example, the collection of golf tournament shirts that your husband never wears?

  • Anything that stirs up negative memories - Do you really need to hang on to your ex's old sweater?

  • Oversize and fragile mementos - If you don't have room to safely display or store it, take a picture. If it was a gift, or in the case of children's artwork, take the person's photo along with the object. Making a photo album of your kid along with his or her creations over time can be a cute keepsake for you both.

  • Inherited items - This one is tricky, but it can help to look at these items through the eye of the giver. Would Aunt Lucy want the old china set you never use gathering dust in the attic? Probably not. And chances are good that someone else will love and use whatever isn't a fit for you, so it serves everyone to let it go.


Photo source: Pinterest

4) Get clear on what you're going to keep, and why. The following criteria can help:

  • Reminders of triumph over adversity - You might not want to keep your ex's sweater, but you can totally keep the treasure you scored on your post-breakup trip around the world!

  • Positive experiences - I get it. The 500 photos from your trip to Italy are all positive. Still, you can whittle even the most amazing experience down to an essential few keepsakes. If you have other mementos from the experience, make a photo album with extra space for things like ticket stubs, love notes, or a pressed flower.

  • Cherished items - For cherished items, I find that keeping a small piece of the original item will often do. For a blanket or piece of clothing from your child's early years, consider keeping a small square to add to a scrapbook or have made into a pillow cover or quilt. For sentimental china that's never going to make it on the dining table, consider keeping a single teacup and saucer for afternoon tea or as a jewelry catchall on your dresser.


Photo source: Life Happens

5) Put essentials in a grab-and-go box. While I would never wish on anyone for their house to burn down, it happens. If you had to leave your house very quickly and could only grab one box of keepsakes, what would it be? Put those things in a sturdy, mildew-proof box that is easy to grab and go.


Photo source: Amazon


Photo source: Delightfully Dishy

Holding on to nostalgic clutter can be just as difficult as letting it go. By focusing on the people, not the things, that matter, you'll have more energy to put into making new memories.




Sara Eizen is a Seattle-based interior designer and home organizer with a passion for helping busy families reclaim style and space in their homes on any budget. In a bi-weekly column for Seattle's Child, Sara shares creative, fun, affordable tips and tricks for clearing clutter, sprucing up rooms with minimal effort, creating systems that simplify family life, and much more.



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