I have found myself caught in a tug of war between two worlds. The world of nostalgia and the world of minimalism.
I think I’ve always been tottering between these two worlds – even before I knew what minimalism represented and before it became a buzz word. On the one hand, I always saved things that held sentimental value and liked to rescue hand-made, signed, or created and given-with-love items at yard sales and thrift stores.
I realized just last year when I was ruthlessly purging and culling in preparation for a cross-country move and a downsizing from a 4,200 square foot home to a 2,400 square foot home that I had saved every single card, letter, or poem ever written to me. I guess I started this all-important saving when I took a cue from my mom: each of her children had a shoe-box assigned to them and in that shoe-box went all the baby cards, shower cards, hospital bracelets, and even our first set of baby shoes (which I still have and display).
I grew up believing that anything that was given to me, hand-made, or presented as a gift had to stay with me forever. I also liked finding those little trinkets at yard sales that represented something of my youth or memories. I still do this but I am much, more discerning than I used to be. For example, here is my Underdog lunch box:
As They Say, The Struggle Is Real
On the other hand, I detest messes and clutter. I cannot even function or work or relax in a room that is cluttered. I’ve been known to clean other people’s rooms if I had to spend any amount of time there. I used to babysit occasionally for my neighbor who was a working mom with littles all preschool age. I would clean her kitchen while I was there! Once, I refused to visit with a boyfriend in his loft until I cleaned it.
When the kids were little and we lived in a very small 900 square foot home I would get overwhelmed with the stuff and we would have purging days. Mostly we purged toys no longer wanted and excess junk like Happy Meal trinkets – I was usually careful to save anything that held special meaning – like Ryan’s Paddington Bear that we kept in his crib when he was in the hospital so sick for so long, and Sean’s Beanie Baby Horsella – the one with the “magical powers that shoot out of her hooves” (all his imagination).
Keeping it All in Check
I regularly watch the television show Hoarders to “keep myself in check.” Watching how dysfunction surrounding stuff can become debilitating and dangerous helps me maintain order when I’m tempted to save or rescue more things.
Speaking of rescues – we recently snatched this sweet girl from the shelter just as she had made the short list for being euthanized.
Read more about this amazing story on my Facebook page.
The last few years have seen me transform from a nostalgic saver to a desire to live minimally. With these two seemingly opposing forces, I’ve been faced with challenges of what to save, what to bring back into my home (sure, I loved Holly Hobby but do I really need a doll sitting on my bookshelf?) Add in all the photos, the items left behind when my mom passed – remember she was a saver – and all those cute crafts the kids made in Kindergarten and Sunday School. How to decide? What held meaning and what could be tossed?
I spent days – literally days – sorting through boxes and storage bins of cards and mementos from my youth and my boys’ lives in preparation for our move. In a few short months, I would go from the large home I thought I’d never leave with both my boys’ memory stuff safely hidden under beds and in closets and all my photos and mementos left from my mom neatly tucked away in my dedicated scrapbook room (green with envy, aren’t you?) to a house with half the room, no attic storage or basement. I knew I had to make some hard decisions.
The Outcome Was Worth It
I think I did a decent job and I sure did enjoy the trips down memory lane. Some things I will never part with like the Kindergarten drawing of Pussy Willows that Sean presented to me with a proud smile and said, “Mom, I made Wussy Pillows” – still melts my heart every time I see it! The topper from my mom’s wedding cake, the cards and love letters from my husband (everybody else’s got pitched!) and my Easter basket with the little pink bunny that sat in the middle of all those chocolate eggs that has been filled for me on Easter ever since I could remember (and my husband still lovingly does but with healthier treats like peppermint tea and breakfast bars).
I found ways to streamline and curate other collections. I saved the recipes from my mom’s collection that I knew I would actually use, like the Christmas cookies and Easter bread, but I copied them over onto new index cards and made a collage using the originals. You know what’s really cool? I found the original recipe for the coconut bunny cake she made every Easter and then I found a color photograph of me in my Easter bonnet in the kitchen with mom on Easter morning and if you peer closely you can see the bunny cake on the counter! This framed collage hangs in my kitchen with other near and dear recipes penned in her hand.
Creative Ways to Curate and Manage Your Nostalgia
Sometimes less is indeed more and not every item is equal in sentimental value or nostalgic charm. The trick is to learn to curate.
I’ve found plenty of ideas for cherishing heirlooms and mementos in ways that reduce the clutter, get those things out of the closets and storage boxes and displayed in ways that I can enjoy every day. Here are a few ideas with pictures. Some ideas I gleaned from Pinterest and some I used my imagination and came up with ways to display cherished items.
- Memory shelves: this one contains my most treasured items and includes the cake topper from my wedding cake with the bride and groom standing on a bible – this represents our commitment from day one to stand on God’s promises for our marriage, our children, and our lives together. I saved discarded stuffed animals that will always hold special memories for me even if they don’t for my boys. Horsella is here and so is a statue of Simba (Ryan’s absolute favorite story when he was young). I added some pictures from vacations and special occasions. So treasured is this lineup that I regularly make my children and husband stand before this shelf and recite what memory or important milestone each item represents. This is my assurance that when I am no longer here they will understand why I saved the items and I did. (Gosh, I am beyond nostalgic – is there a cure for this?)
- Framed Collage: I made a rule on my first wedding anniversary. The rule is that we would never buy each other anniversary presents (save one or two milestone anniversaries) but that each year we would make each other something. My husband has despised this rule because he loves to buy me things and because he is always worried he won’t think up a good idea. Over the years, we’ve created things like wood engravings with our names and date of marriage, scrapbooks with mementos and wedding pictures, afghans, nativity scene mangers, to name a few. One year I dug through the shoe box filled with all the letters and cards from my husband and pieced together a collage which I framed. I included flattened balloons and ribbons from flower arrangements and other silly things that symbolized his love for me.
- Button Artwork: Mom grew up during the depression so she saved everything. I never appreciated the bread wrappers and twisty tie collection but I do love her button collection. I know many of you have one from Grandma or your mother or both and you tuck it away on a closet shelf. Well, check out what I did with mine. Search on Pinterest and you can find many more ideas for vintage button displays.
- Memory quilt: When the boys were young, I promised them I would save all their sports and camp T-shirts, jerseys, badges, etc. and make a memory quilt for their high school graduation. I committed to this when they were in elementary school so I figured I had plenty of time to learn to sew more than a button on a shirt. Unfortunately, I never did. But I did save their things and paid someone else to make the memory quilt! Here is Ryan’s – he was thrilled with it and it’s a way to keep some things that represent their youth while creating a gift that can and will be used. I’ve seen the same thing done with Grandpa’s flannel work shirts, Grandma’s hankies and scarves, and I’ve also seen pillows made from a loved one’s clothing.
- Simple displays: I love my mom’s vintage aprons but I won’t wear them for fear of staining or wearing them out. Hiding them away in a hutch drawer is not satisfying so I display them and use them to decorate. Displayed here are also my mom’s vintage pink Pyrex bowls that I DO use, because, after all, Christmas cookies would not taste the same made in any other bowl, would they?
- Ribbon Bookmarks: My mom left us a jewelry box of mostly dime store and Avon trinkets. After the family chose some pieces that they loved and/or reminded them of her, I was left with the remains. I carefully picked through it all and while fond of the clip-on earrings and brooches, I knew I would NEVER wear them. I was about to add them to a thrift store donation bag when I spotted an idea from a magazine. Using velvet ribbon and a ribbon clamp, I made ribbon bookmarks. I collect bookmarks (eh -hem…there I go again) so I found a way to use the leftover jewelry. And the original Pinterest post where I got the idea.
- Scrapbooks: a classic way to not only save photos but the items that correspond with the memories: the concert ticket, your wedding invitation, report cards, letters, hair ribbons, certificates. I also include some journaling on my scrapbook pages so we can look back and recall special things that happened or milestones in our lives.
- Display and Use Them or Rehome Them! Again, I display or use everything and if I don’t, I figure I probably shouldn’t have it. The antique clock that my dad loved was just not my style and so it sat in the basement. This made me feel ugly-guilty so I loaded it in the car the next time I visited my sister and she now has it. Her husband likes to tinker with things and make them work again. For me, it was clutter, for her is it a useful item.
Books, Books, Books
If you are a book lover and avid reader like me you may also struggle with what to do with all those books. I used to keep every single book I purchased and read. In the early days of our marriage, my husband (a non-reader – how in the world did we fall in love?) asked me why I kept a book I had already read. Shocked and saddened I told him that books are my friends. I’ve experienced something special with them, how could I just toss them aside?
Fast forward to the Big Move and after attempting to pack all those books, some that were so laden with dust they made me sneeze and some I knew I’d never read again, and even some I hadn’t read and probably wouldn’t, I knew it was time to purge the literary collection.
I began with the old, yellowed paperbacks including my 7th-grade copy of Mythology (I can’t make this stuff up) and progressed to the WWII books I knew I would not read again and I knew were hard to find.
I realized that by hoarding books I was depriving someone else of the opportunity to experience their magic and learn about the world.
I carefully set aside those books that I knew I would return to like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Gifted Hands by Ben Carson. Signed by the author books stayed as well as a handful of children’s books that were our favorites: Make Way for Ducklings, a classic penned by Robert McCloskey and The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater – this book deserves its very own blog post and I will write that soon – stay tuned if you have not read this delightful children’s book with a very grown up message.
All the rest were donated to the thrift store, posted on paperbackswap.com, sold in my garage sale and given away during the garage sale.
More fulfilling than packing them away in boxes was giving them to the graduating senior across the street who was majoring in elementary education – “You need this one and this one…and you can do a writing activity with this one…” I threw in my reading teacher advice for free! An entire case of Christian books for women went home with a lady who runs a ministry in the women’s prisons. May those books ripple out in changed lives for decades to come – what use would they have been in a box in my closet?
In my heart, I know that it’s the memories that matter, not the things.
Store Treasures That Matter and Endure
Jesus reminds me to store up for myself things that cannot be destroyed by moths and corroded by rust. (Matthew 6:20) To store up memories, experiences, meaningful relationships, acts of kindness and love…those things can never be lost or taken from us. I struggle with mementos and things that symbolize times passing and the Heart of my life because I think our society is too full of stuff that doesn’t matter. Every moment of
Every moment of every day we are faced with choosing the better thing (Mary/Martha reference) or the fleeting cheap eye candy. Too many options for our eyes to fleet upon, quick-flowing opportunities, life is rushing quicker than ever and sometimes to make room for the non-enduring-must-have-now stuff, we toss aside the things that truly matter.
I am talking material objects but I am also talking about time and what we do with it, how we spend it, how much we give away in the effort to have more, make more, and be more. As we are tossing aside things like handmade birthday cards and lazy Saturday mornings to make room for the latest decorating trend or getting in some overtime, are we losing the things that, in the end, we’ll wish we saved and savored?
I read this quote the other day, only attributed to a “pastor” and it gave me pause. (from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp)
Being in a hurry, getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing that is in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.
Regrets? Not Really!
I do wish there were things I had saved. Randomly an item will come to mind that I tossed or lost and I think “What did I do with that?” or “What was I thinking letting that go?” Like the fossilized shark teeth my husband and I spent hours scouring the beach for in Florida. I was going to make him a paper weight with the fossils but in my brutal cleansing period of preparing for our Big Move, I inadvertently tossed them. I console myself with the memories and the photos we have of that vacation.
After all, it’s never been about the things, it’s always been about the memories they evoke. I’ll still save, but I’ll continue to try to honor the memories and relationships more than the items that symbolize them.
And in the end, we must remember that we are complete in Him (Colossians 2: 9&10) – the kind of completeness that no trinket or memory can provide. Choose the best things, hold on to what is good, keep clutter at bay so your mind and heart can be free to experience what matters most.
~ Always nostalgic, forever clinging tightly to what is true. ~ Mary
And some extra goodies for you
If you are struggling with letting go of things as your children leave home, I found this blog that might help support you.
Interested in learning more about minimalism and the art of decluttering? Check out lifestyle blog for a perspective on the things that truly matter.
Check out a review of this book for more info.
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