Dealing with Keepsakes: Questions to Ask Yourself

We all have those keepsakes and dealing with keepsakes is a challenge. Children’s kinder paintings, mother’s tea set, grandpa’s war medals. What do you have under the stairs, stuffed at the back of the cupboard, or hidden in the attic? And how are you supposed to deal with these things?

collection of vintage keepsake postcards

Dealing with keepsakes requires a tactic to get past the sentimentality that we confer on some objects. Marie Kondo’s method springs from her life-long love of tidying up, along with her realisation that rather than looking for things to throw away, she needed to be finding things to keep. In her KonMari method the decision to keep an item is rooted in that item sparking joy in its owner. Having served at a Shinto shrine for 5 years Marie Kondo expresses the religion’s belief in the energy or divine spirit of things, and the right way of living. Partly because of the culture embedded in Kon Mari, not everyone has found it easy to understand, or accept, as Margaret Dilloway explains in her Huffington Post piece: “What White, Western Audiences Don’t Understand About Marie Kondo’s ‘Tidying Up’”.

Another approach to dealing with keepsakes is one based more in logic. In her novel “Akin”, Emma Donoghue’s character Noah is still sorting through his sister’s things 12 months after her death. He’s down to the last 3 plastic tubs of documents, and he asks himself about each item – the bills, health records, recipes, postcards – “Does anyone need or want this?”. An excellent question, resulting in nearly all the documents going to recycling.

It seems likely that the right question to ask yourself will depends on your personality and your beliefs. Having witnessed many clients trying to make decisions about what to keep and what not to keep, it seems a combination of these two approaches might be best.

Is there any sense to keeping thing that are of no actual use? Think children’s school reports, birthday cards. Multiples of the same item? Think how many spades, how many potato peelers you can actually use. Items that no one will ever look at, let alone use? Think books, magazines, photos. 

For quite a few of these items you could keep a digital copy if you really believe you are going to browse through them at some point.

Another question I ask clients that can help: “When are you going to pick that [name item] up again?”

More often than not, the answer is “Never.” And then we find a new home for it. 

Develop a question that helps you understand the value of items to you in terms of use and joy, rather than filling space and cluttering your life.