15 June 2015

Letting Go of the Sentimental Stuff

During the month of June, I'm trying to focus on clearing out a lot of the stuff that still sits in the basement from my estate sale. I am making some good progress, as you can now see the carpet and walk around down there. But trust me, I have miles to go. 

This is what it looked like after the sale:

 This is what it looks like now, 1.5 years later. Not nearly as much progress as I would like, but you can definitely see improvement. I had planned to work on this project last summer but instead needed to move my grandma to the nursing home, then clear out and sell her house. But the main reason this has taken so long is that these boxes contain sentimental items, things I could not face as I prepared for the estate sale or in the months immediately after. I could not even look in the boxes, let alone make decisions about what to do with the contents. But I'm tackling it now, and I won't stop until I'm done.

 Here are some observations on sorting through all of this sentimental stuff:

* Time really DOES help you decide what to do with sentimental items. If you're suffering from a loss, don't make decisions while you're still in the throes of grief. Let time pass and your perspective on some of those sentimental items may change. Wait until your head is clearer to make decisions.

* Allow yourself to keep the most precious items. My goal is to sort through and decide what to keep. I can't keep everything, but I won't get rid of everything either. I will keep the things that mean the most to me and figure out what to do with the rest -- donate, sell, or recycle. 

* Keep the things that bring you joy. There are lots of things in the boxes that trigger memories, but some of those memories are sad or painful. I have elected not to keep those things. Here's an example: After sorting through them and keeping a few, I got rid of most of the cards that were sent to my dad after my mom died. My mom was full of life. That's how I choose to remember her.

* Allow plenty of time to process through sentimental items. I've found that as the months have passed, it does get EASIER to face some of the boxes, but it's still far from EASY. I found myself in tears again last week trying to figure out what to do with a Ziploc bag of my mom's curlers which still carried the scent of her hairspray. It may sound silly, but that bag of curlers just about did me in that day. I finally decided to keep one of each size and let the rest go.

* Change your scenery. It helps me to drag the boxes out of the basement and put them in a sunny spot for sorting. Being down in the basement is bleak, no matter how brave I'm feeling.

* It may take several "passes" through a box to process it. As much as I would like to only go through a box of stuff once, that just hasn't worked for me. Some of the mementos are too painful to handle in one sitting. Often I'll go through a box and make decisions about the "easy stuff" first, then leave the rest for another time.

* Sort like items together. When I gathered up the contents of my parents' house, lots of papers got mixed together -- letters my dad sent to my mom while in the service, newspaper clippings, a box of notes from my own baby shower many years ago, photos, financial records, etc. All of these things were too difficult for me to process as I prepared for the estate sale, so I brought them all home to sort. The first step is to group all like items together. Just doing that helps a lot. It's much easier to tackle one box of financial records than multiple boxes of jumbled memories.

* Make a life binder. Or make several. I have now set up life binders for my mom, my dad, and me. When I find a significant document (birth certificate, diploma, report card, etc.) I put it in the life binder. It's almost like making a scrapbook as I go along. I can't emphasize how helpful this has been as I sort through boxes of documents.

* Take photos, then let it (or at least some of it) go. This has been my saving grace. I have sorted through BOXES of my own childhood artwork -- yes, my mom kept it ALL -- and I finally had to let go of some of it. My first pass through the artwork was to recycle all the bulky, over-sized pieces that were difficult to store. I took pictures of every single piece before placing it in the recycle bin.

This is a really good thing to do, even for pieces you decide to keep. Over time, construction paper becomes very fragile and breaks down. But a digital copy will last much longer.

And now I can make fun collages using my old artwork. I'll enjoy it much more now that I have it in a digital format, and it will be easy to add to my future scrapbook.

 Do I really need all of these spin art pictures from the Iowa State Fair? Definitely not. The frames make them quite bulky to store. I picked a few of my favorites to keep and let the rest go -- after I took a group picture.

I sorted through boxes of my dad's memorabilia and took pictures of much of it before letting it go. Ribbons like this are much easier to add to a scrapbook in digital format. Just by doing this, I was able to pare down his memorabilia considerably. The next time through those boxes, I'll be able to make some decisions on what to keep moving forward.

The month of June is half over, and I need to keep up the pace to get through the remaining boxes before July comes. I'd like to have the basement looking "normal" again. I'd like to be able to spend time in that space without feeling the emotional "weight" of all of this stuff. 

If you're in a similar situation, I hope you will find these thoughts helpful. Be patient and kind to yourself, and you'll get through this very difficult process.


Kimberly Marie said...

I give you so much credit for moving through this process as courageously and wisely as you have! The open floor space and noticeable progress is a huge accomplishment, and I just want to commend you on how far you've come! The advice you've offered is excellent and so worth remembering. :) I'm rooting for you as you continue to move forward this month in sorting through more of your parents' precious memorabilia!

Janet said...

Thank you so much for your sweet comments. I appreciate your kind words as I continue on this journey.:-)

Kristina Botts said...

Good job on getting through what you have. My brother still has our mother's Christmas ornament boxes in his basement and none of us have been able to go through it even now and it's been nine years. :( They are the only thing left to go through. She had given me a lot of my childhood ornaments long before she passed away so I'm not even sure how much of it will be saved. You have definitely given great advise to those that have to make this same journey. :)