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A Sentimental Minimalist


Last Updated on January 23, 2024

Wowza, May has had a lot of major life events. As most of you know, we are downsizing. We completed our move this week. There is only room for what is useful and the teeniest tiniest amount of space for things that we love.

How to let go of sentimental items | A sentimental minimalist from #minimalist #sentimental #lettinggo #letgo #minimalism #sustainability #ecofriendly

I gave my mom a video tour of our new place, (don’t worry you’ll be getting one too) and she was shocked when I showed her my closet. She couldn’t believe it was true.

I’ve mentioned several times before that I used to have over 200 dresses alone. I had several closets packed full of clothes when I lived in Arkansas.

I LOVED my clothes. In fact, I wore all of them. I could go half a year without ever doing laundry.

Owning a lot of clothes was always something I considered to be a part of my identity. Being an actor, I love costumes. I’ve always considered clothing to be a huge form of expression. I loved getting to pick the type of person I wanted to be each morning.

I could go from preppy to retro to edgy to anything I wanted to be with my wardrobe. I didn’t downsize because I only wore a fraction of my clothes; I downsized because of space restrictions.

To be perfectly honest, I LOVE stuff. I am incredibly sentimental.

My mom would have to fight me to get rid of anything growing up. I had an entire chest of drawers full of just papers. I could associate any memory with something as simple as a piece of paper. Then it had to stay. That memory and that piece of paper were inextricably linked.

Without the paper, there was no memory.

With my grandmother’s passing, there are a lot of things I want. There are things that remind me of her. There are things that remind me of us and the times we’ve spent together.

But, when you live in such a small space, there is no room.

I can’t reorganize. I can’t go and buy 50 more square feet. The only thing I can do is remind myself of the things I’ve learned along the way.

stuff does not equal a memory:

Your memories are not dependent on items. Your memories don’t live in your stuff. They live in your mind. This is one of the most freeing realizations.

When you learn to separate the emotion out of things, you free yourself from the guilt. You free yourself from having to hold onto certain things.

If something is really important to you, it can be helpful to journal about it or take a picture of the item. Anytime I pass something of my grandmother’s that sparks a memory I try and write it down.

Stuff can be a catalyst for certain memories. Instead of holding onto the physical item, try jotting the memories down. This way you’re free of extra clutter, but still, have the catalysts. Taking a photo of the item is another great way to remember something without holding onto the object.

focus on the positive:

Often times, people rid themselves of items simply because they do not like them or do not have a use for them.

But, sometimes you have to donate things you love and care for. Sometimes, you simply don’t have to space to store them anymore.

I’ve found it helps to look at the positive. With my wardrobe, for example, I picked the clothes I love most. Then I built my wardrobe around those things.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t love the other pieces, but they didn’t fit into the new picture. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff. It’s just things. Things are there to serve a purpose; they are there to be used.

If you’re not using them, then they don’t belong with you.  

owning stuff you don’t need is wasteful:

I get a lot of emails from people telling me I shouldn’t advocate for minimizing or donating stuff. Zero waste means holding onto everything and using everything fully, right!?

Not necessarily. Of course, you can go that route, but clutter causes me A LOT of anxiety.

I’m not advocating that you throw everything away. But, there is something to be said for living with less. Reduce after all is the second “R.”

Owning less means less to care for and less to clean and less store. It’s a waste to let a valuable item collect dust. 

Each item is a symbol of resources and energy that went into creating it. If you’re not cherishing and using it, it’s okay to give it to a new home. Someone out there is going to love it! 

Stuff can really pile up if you’re not conscious of what you’re consuming. You may have a lot of extra or unnecessary stuff that’s bogging you down. 

But, it’s important to remember you can’t judge your pre-zero waste/pre-minimalism purchases the same way. You were consuming in a different mindset. You weren’t looking for objects that are meant to last. You weren’t thinking about the before and after life of a product. 

Now that you are concerned with these things, you can only make better choices about consuming in the future. 

What are some tips you’d give to someone to help them break with sentiment? 

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  1. I think sometimes you’re just got to start. If you start with something that has less sentimental value, it makes you realise there are lots of things that aren’t really even that sentimental anymore. Or that you don’t need them to remind you of the memory. At least that’s how it worked for me! I wonder if you created a ‘memory castle’ from those things if it would work the same way…?

    1. This is so true! I often find myself procrastinating issues that feel too large. But, the more I put it off the larger it gets. You’ve just got to dive in and start. Is a ‘memory castle’ like a ‘mind palace’… from Sherlock? lol. 😉

      1. *you’ve – just realised a typo in my first comment (I’ll blame my child who kept tugging on my arm to get out of bed!).

        I think the longer you keep something the more sentimental it gets too. Like I found a broken, wooden musical box that I’d had kept in a box since childhood that really should have just been thrown in the bin. Instead, I kept it and, because it’s now about 30 years old, that made it harder to part with … like what if I ever wanted to look at it and remember … something … needless to say, it’s now in the bin.

        I am a big believer in giving all of the other stuff (that works and is still usable) away though. Someone’s trash is definitely someone else’s treasure.

        I think the memory castle is another term for mind palace. Not sure of the Sherlock reference, but it sounds like it would be the same thing 😉

  2. I find it helps to remember that stuff doesn’t equal memory. When dealing with gifts I mentally remind my self "I don’t need this to remember that so and so loves me."

  3. One of the perks of living in an expat community is that you pass on stuff endlessly to newcomers: books, furniture, appliances, clothes… Teaches you to only stick to the essentials when you go back home (other clothes, that one book, the cat you adopted, a couple of drawings from your students… and that’s it).

    On a completely random note, I thought this might interest you:

    It’s basically an analysis of what drives environmentally friendly behavior and what doesn’t, spanning over twenty years of research. I’m sure you’re aware of most of those facts, but a few of them are really eye-opening.

  4. I thought reduce was the first R. Reduce your consumption. Reuse what ever you can (or let someone else reuse it). Recycle at the end of its life.

  5. I found your blog recently and have been enjoying reading it. I’ve also been enjoying your instagram and I am inspired to go zero waste. I also love stuff, and collecting. I live in a 288 square foot house so I can’t have much stuff, but I have boxes in my dad’s shed that I’ve had for a decade now. I am working on going through them and getting rid of the stuff. It is hard though, but I am realizing a lot of it doesn’t bring me happiness anymore. It is difficult to get rid of my mother’s things, she pasted away some years ago, but I would rather keep the photographs. It’s a process though.
    I am trying to find a way to be zero waste and minimalist while also being a sewer, quilter and wet plate collodion photographer. I am trying to be more thoughtful when starting a project and getting my supplies.

  6. I can truly relate! I used to be sentimental as well until I realised that I’ve been keeping a lot of stuff that makes our home crowded and most of the time, chaotic. lol Sometimes, it’s just become a habit and we just need a little nudge to realise that we don’t really need to keep those stuff. It may be hard at some point, but we NEED to let go of some of our possessions to at least de-clutter our home. They don’t necessarily have to go to waste, we can always donate or upcycle. Hiring a waste disposal service from companies with recycling facilities can be a great idea, too.

  7. I am very sorry for the loss of your grandmother, Kathryn. May she rest in peace.

    I love your idea of taking a picture and/or journaling to remember her. What a great way to keep special memories and create an heirloom at the same time.

  8. I’ve struggled with this recently when I decided to donate a bunch of my concert shirts that I no longer wore. One was my absolute favorite, it was cut up, tattered and faded but I loved it because I wore it to some of the greatest shows I went to. This shirt I associated with all the pleasant memories, and I think about all of it often. I like the exercise to write down my memories associated with the shirt, instead of pining over the shirt itself. It’s a process, but it helps to know i’m not alone and to talk about it with others.

  9. I ask myself, "do i want this [thing], more than i want to be (debt free, minimalist, zero waste). It puts things into perspective really easily. I still always feel guilty about getting rid of stuff from my childhood, but doing this has really helped me come to terms with needing to let some stuff go.