Memories are not stuff

20110517 TrophiesStuff is not people. Stuff is not places we have been, experiences we have had or the happy times in our lives. When all is said and done it is our memories that are important. All the significant loves and moments remain in our minds without  stuff so represent them. Yes stuff can remind us of those people, places and times, but any of significance will come to mind regardless of whether we have mementos or not.

In my experience the tendency to attach too much sentiment to inanimate objects comes hand in hand with a need to acquire and save objects to commemorate every little event in life. This can perpetuate a significant clutter problem. Since decluttering most of the sentimental items in my home I do not feel any less attached to the memories and loves of my life. They come to mind a on very regular, if somewhat random, basis. I am sure your experience would be the same minus all the storage issues, dusting and waste of money.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something that you feel ambivalent about. Something you have been sitting on the fence about decluttering for a while. Perhaps it is time to let it go.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. You know, this is true. This is my biggest decluttering challenge. I wish I had a week to myself in my home to take some time to go through the sentimental clutter. Even though I realize that my feelings and memories are not tied up in these things, I cannot seem to take the step to declutter them. When decluttering, I seem to always set those items aside and say that’s for another day. Another day will come soon and I’d better get prepared!! 😉

    • Hi Michelle, it is best to wait until you feel ready to let go of this kind of clutter. Remember it is only clutter if you don’t love it or use it. You don’t want to regret letting something go just for the sake of letting it go. In the meantime though question these items in your mind when you encounter them. The power of suggestion can be a huge influence on attitude. Wonder enough times why you bother to keep things and eventually you may convince yourself that they are a waste of space.

  2. Colleen, this is so true. My memories are not attached to stuff. In fact, there are many times I couldn’t remember why I kept an item unless it was collected with other things or a picture. When I was scrapbooking I found that I seldom felt the need to scrap the things I had collected. I was fine with the pictures and my journaling. I’m just not sentimental about things. I have found I am more attached to people than things and places. I have plenty of stories about places I’ve been and pictures if I wanted them (got rid of a lot of them too).

    • Hi Deb, I feel the same and have experienced the same situations. I was talking to my mother the other day and she was saying she doesn’t feel the need to have photographs all over the house of her loved ones. She said she remembers them and thinks of them often without needing a photograph to jog her memory. I think she was happy when I told her I felt the same. Her and I are a lot alike. Hi Michelle, it is best to wait until you feel ready to let go of this kind of clutter. Remember it is only clutter if you don’t love it or use it. You don’t want to regret letting something go just for the sake of letting it go. In the meantime though question these items in your mind when you encounter them. The power of suggestion can be a huge influence on attitude. Wonder enough times why you bother to keep things and eventually you may convince yourself that they are a waste of space.

  3. So true…yet still hard for me to get my mind around sometimes! I’ve been using a glass my friend gave me back in high school as a water glass at work. The other day I dropped it (clumsy me!) and it broke. Well I still have that friend, in fact I immediately went on Facebook to tell her about it breaking, and will not forget her with or without the glass as a reminder.

    • Hi Alicia, I started to write a reply to this comment but it turned into a post which I will publish soon. In the meantime I will just say that you have learned that without the glass you still have a good relationship with your friend so who needs it.

  4. Pruning down the collection of memory stuff that we keep can also enhance its value to us. I am lucky enough to have written correspondence from all of my grandparents as well as my husband, sisters, and parents. I want to keep their handwriting. I want to have some of their words. But I don’t need all of their writing, and if I kept all of their words it would be too much to ever go through, too much to ever appreciate. The best thing for me is to choose some of the best samples and let the rest go. I did this with most of my stash of letters, but haven’t finished. Similarly, pruning down my photo collection into a smaller, better organized space has enhanced its value.

    • After perusing my teenage journals though, I got rid of them all! No good could possibly have come from anybody reading them. 🙂

      • Hi Rebecca J – several years ago, I came across a box from high school in which I had saved almost two years worth of notes written between my best friend and me. I read just a couple and then I tossed them in my fireplace. It was embarrassing to see the foolish rambling nonsense of a 15-year old girl! Eeeegads! I definitely did not want anyone ever to see those. LOL

        • Hi Rebecca J and Michelle! I have so many laughs with my teenage self… I have old journals and I really like to open them from time to time and read. I am not really worried that anyone will read them in the future. Everyone was a silly teen once in their lifetime 😀 .

        • Ha ha Michelle. I only journaled sporadically as a teen but common sense had be destroy the evidence as I went.

      • I am sure you are not the first person to come to this conclusion Rebecca. How embarrassing that could be.

    • Beautifully put Rebecca. I will add this comment to a post I am writing for next week.

  5. Stuff serves as a memory trigger. You look at a certain object and it triggers lots of memories. However, as I am learning, music I hear on the radio, something I see on the internet, anything can trigger memories. And they do not have to be stored in my house. It was like doing a great treasure hunt. But it was no fun and in the end there was a lot of stuff with no place to be stored and a frustrated person with a messy house. So, now, I am all for letting sentimental clutter go.

  6. We have friends who enjoy surrounding themselves with stuff others have given them because it reminds them of the people. I do think this is one of the most difficult kinds of clutter to get rid of. If it wasn’t that way, people wouldn’t save movie tickets, buy shirts and mementos and Disneyland would lose a ton of money! I think it is hard for people to do things without wanting to buy something to remind them of the experience.

    • Hi Spendwisemom! I just checked your blog out and that post about “”Holiday” Remorse’ really resonated with me. It is all we have been talking about here at 365lessthings. Less is definitely better. And it makes for less sentimental clutter along the way.

    • I can’t help feel that there has to a better way for world economies to survive without wasting precious resources on useless stuff like souvenirs, cheap plastic garbage and changing fashions every season. All manufacturing executed to drive the selling of more stuff to keep the money going around. It is a weird dance that is having disastrous impact on the environment. Surely there is a better way.

      • I certainly agree with you Colleen. The problem is that most people don ‘t want to pay the price for things to change.

  7. This week I sold one of my American Girl dolls. My grandmother had bought her for me, I had gotten different outfits with extra cash back in the day, I took good care of her, and then it she in my closet for years. The other day at work I overheard a lady I know talking about getting one for her granddaughter for Christmas, but she was sad how expensive they were. I immediately offered to sell her my doll. Yesterday when I took her in and all the ladies fawned over what great condition she was in and all her little outfits. They questioned me getting rid of her. Like I told them, I have two boys and the thought of her getting a little girl to play with was a good enough reason to finally let her go. Plus I made some money LOL. Sure I could have gotten all sentimental and kept her, but there was probably an inch of dust on the box. While she held memories, she wasn’t being cherished or loved. It was time for her to move on . . . and me to grow up. I still feel pretty good about it, so maybe I’ll finally part with my other one too . . .

  8. I did today’s mini mission a couple of weeks ago but didn’t know it…..When we moved this summer, I was given 2 flowering houseplants for housewarming gifts. Although the gesture was nice, I really didn’t want them. I had gotten rid of all my plants years ago and hadn’t missed them. These plants had a place in our new home for months but they were starting to become a burden. So I passed them onto my plant-loving girlfriend and her mother.

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with you on this one Colleen

  10. Something that has sometimes held me back from decluttering is that sometimes various gifted items come with the unspoken requirement that I must treasure it forever. “But I GAVE that to you, why didn’t you like it?” I think I’ll send them all a note, that from now on to give us only gifts that can be enjoyed and used, but not saved forever. Thanks for the motivation!

    • Hi Naomi, sometimes these expectations are as much a figment or our imaginations as they are a desire of the giver. Another example of what we think society expects from us. I have come to realise, through my long decluttering mission, that societies norms are often a fools game. Usually sold to us by manufacturers and their marketers. I make up my own rules now for the most part. One thing I have noticed is that even if someone notices that a gift they gave you doesn’t seem present in your life they usually aren’t rude enough to mention it. And if they are then they had better be prepared for the truth.

  11. I have often thought that if one could buy space for a bank box or two in some sort of secure repository. I think of things I would have liked to know about great great grandparents. 30-40 pictures, a couple dozen important letters, a few writings, some ‘things’, concise but complete health records. Maybe all the (short) Christmas letters. Also some secure DNA, blood etc could help future generations – these would need to be frozen – take up maybe a cup container.

    I wonder it this would make all of us less anxious about saving things. I’m not but other family members are.