Saturday 9 January 2010

Memorabilia: Keep or junk?

I've been reading a very interesting article on the Mail Online, which I was directed to by my fellow declutterer, Beverly Wade from Cluttergone, via her link on Twitter.

The question I'm probably most often asked before starting a decluttering job is "Will you make me throw everything away?" The answer is a categorical no. As Bev rightly says, "Decluttering is about discarding the stuff you don't want, need or use. Ray, keep your precious memorabilia." The most successful jobs I've undertaken have been those where, far from forcing a client to part with items which are genuinely precious to them, I've been able to help them make decisions about exactly what is precious - and what isn't.

I clearly remember one lady whose study contained several boxes of random "stuff", left over from a long-ago house move, and she had no idea what was in them. About 75% of the contents were real junk - old newspapers, travel brochures, advertisements and the like - which were doing nothing for her, either for today's life or yesterday's memories. What we did find, when all that stuff was cleared, were a couple of books, a few CDs, and best of all, a small ornament that she pounced on with cries of glee: "I'd wondered what had happened to that! I really loved that ornament..." The china item was placed proudly on her (newly decluttered) shelf, which had previously contained real junk, and she got huge pleasure from that tiny, rediscovered item.

I was reaching the end of a day with another client, sorting out the desk in her office. We'd done well, and had got rid of a lot of redundant items that were simply getting in the way, when I looked at a small decorative box on the desk. "Shall we go through that?" "Oh, don't bother - there's nothing important in there" she replied. "Well, let's finish off," I said. "It won't take long."

As she suspected, most of the contents were standard desk stuff - erasers, paperclips, pens, notepaper - but from the bottom of the box I produced... her passport. She went rather quiet, said "I was about to accuse my ex-husband of maliciously hiding that, and was going to have to order - and pay for - a new one..."

So remember - decluttering is NOT, repeat, NOT, all about throwing away your memories. It is all about getting rid of real junk - the stuff that is, to coin the favourite phrase of every declutterer, neither useful nor beautiful. If it is useful or beautiful, getting rid of the other stuff gives you a chance to find it, use it and appreciate it. The writer of the Daily Mail article might appear a bit paranoid about the positive side to decluttering, but he does in fact get it exactly right:
... the more we searched for objects to throw away, the more we rediscovered delights we hadn't seen for years, mementos newly treasured and therefore kept - often now in a newly vacated pride of place. Exactly so. If you hadn't searched, you wouldn't have found the precious stuff.

Oh, and one more thing: if you cherish your memories, how much respect and love does it show them if they are buried in dusty piles or boxes; and how can you wallow in your memories when you can't even find them?