Memory triggers that aren’t clutter

If you find it hard to part with sentimental clutter I have a plan that may help. The thing that is important to people when it comes to items of sentimental clutter is the memories they evoke and not so much the actual item itself. So I have two suggestions. The first one is simple.

Take digital images of your sentimental items, load them onto your computer and then declutter them. Include the image as part of your screen saver file so that whenever your computer goes into hibernation these memory triggers will flash up to remind you of precious loved ones, places and events in your life.

The second suggestion is to look at the item in question and think about what or who it reminds you of. Then think about what comes to mind regarding this person, place or event. Next step is to link those memories to everyday happenings that could easily evoke the same memories. For example…

An object that reminds me of my mother will bring up images for me of her laughing. I know that whenever I see someone uproariously laughing I always think of my mother. Cooking and sewing also remind me of my mother as does the shape of my mouth and some of my behavioural traits. I encounter all these things on a regular basis therefore I have no need of physical reminders collecting dust in my home.

For my father I only have to be working on a project and putting my all into it. My dad always says “A job worth doing is worth doing well.”. Kangaroos remind me of my father as do cars (he worked in the automotive industry). As you can imagine these things affords me plenty of opportunities  to think fondly of my dad and all the things I learned from him.

Seeing photos, artworks, documentaries etc. of places I have been remind me of my travels as does hearing names and accents specific to these places. Australia is multicultural enough that I am constantly reminded of my adventures in other parts of the globe without feeling the need to acquire souvenirs.

So give it go. Match the things you wish to remember to everyday things that don’t waste space in your home. You will be surprised how much more often you think of these things in the future. As I right this Jamie Oliver is on an ad on TV, this reminds my of my vacation in the UK.

For further inspiration to let go of sentimental items read the following links to so great comments by your fellow readers.

Todays post was inspired by this comment form Alicia. I immediately wanted to assure her that there are lots of memory triggers out there that will remind her of her friend without needing to possess physical reminders.

Then Andréia left this comment which summed up what I was thinking quite nicely. Andréia also left this comment that inspired this week’s mini missions.  She is living proof of how a person can change their ways when it comes to clutter.

Rebecca also left this great comment explaining how she is paring down her mementoes.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a family heirloom you possibly never really liked. Give it to another member of the family. Last week I gave my Grandmother’s engagement ring to my sister. I like it but I rarely wear it, however I am sure that she will.

Eco Tip for the Day

Don’t throw away that old electric kettle or use harsh cleaners on it because it is all stained inside. Fill it with cold water, add a lemon wedge and bring to the boil, that stain will miraculously disappear.


For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

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. Good post. You know it is funny but I think of people a lot without having any sentimental items sitting around. there are just certain things that remind me of them. I see any kind of rabbit and I think of my friend who started my old collection of rabbits (now gone). I’ve known her since I was 11 and I can sit here and think of all sorts of things we did together. I see rabbits and I also think of my best friend who used to collect them. It’s like that with many people. Say their first name and a video runs in my head. I really don’t need “things” to remember them by. I really don’t even need pictures. The pictures are already in my head.

    • Hi Deb, I am sure this is the same for everyone if they just thought about it. Hence why I write posts like these to get them thinking. My mother commented to me just last week that she doesn’t feel the need to have family photos all over the place and I agreed. Loved ones are always on my mind.

      • You know Colleen, I have been trying to figure out how to help our family & friends who all live far away from us understand that one good snapshot every year or so to keep up with changes in looks is all we need. We put them in a small album and then switch them out and throw the old ones out. Mom has some pictures in her room but I think she only has them there because it’s something to decorate the walls with because she can’t stand to have empty walls.

        • Deb J – what about a Facebook account or some similar social media site?

          • We do have some friends who use that but none of the close family. I am trying to get them to realize they can use it just for family but it’s not going far.

        • Ooooooo this is a good one for me. I send out a photo card each Christmas, and I want to capture all the fun of my children in them for the relatives and friends far away-and this being my baby’s first year I want to capture all his changes for a whole year…all on one photo card. Really just one smile that show how he looks right now is enough. If they really want to see a years worth of changes, they’ll ask to see them. :> Thank you…now you’ve made my choice easier as I am making the photo card today so I can be done addressing soon!

        • Deb is the problem that they send too many photos or that they don’t send any?

          • Too many. Example–10 photos of one of the boys standing in formation the day he joined the Navy. 10 pictures of him and his wife, they both joined, in their dress uniforms. And on and on and on. Give me one good one of them in their dress uniforms. That’s enough.

  2. This goes right along with your MMM post!
    I think that what you have emphasized about your parents is a wonderful example. I often think that my boys aren’t inheriting junk, they are inheriting our character traits and values. Their faces are the culmination of many generations of ancestors.
    I am still not to the point you are though. I keep a fabric tote for each of my boys with things they may want they love to look through them. I have two small decorative boxes that I have paired down from my own mass of sentiment I once owned. It seems like such a hoard now! I keep my husbands photos and boyscout memorabalia in two leather bound boxes. I think now that I take care to use quality products to store what’s left it gives me a much better mind set and attitude from once storing crap in dilapidated cardboard boxes and big cheap plastic totes.

    • Hi Jean, I do still have some sentimental items. Decluttering isn’t about getting rid of everything that isn’t used. That being said they do take up a very small portion of the space in my house. Although I do question why I keep these things if they are just hidden away in a box somewhere. I probably wouldn’t loose any sleep over it were those boxes to be destroyed. In fact it has been a while since I looked in them to see if there is anything else in there that I would be happy to declutter. My husband on the other hand has many more items than I do. He has pared down over the years, since our mission to declutter started but the historian in him won’t allow him to let go completely. My children have both left home and as they did I sent their stuff with them or decluttered what they didn’t want.

    • Jean – I have a sentimental item box and both my girls do too. We can put whatever we want in it and its ‘untouchable’ but once the box is full, well, that is that. About once a year we each end up going thru our box and sometimes things get removed, they no longer have the same need to be kept, but its up to the individual. Sometimes the strangest of things get kept the longest, its just a personal collection of items, and as long as it can fit in that box, its ok with me. Like you, I wouldn’t lose sleep if my sentimental box was destroyed in a fire or flood, but its kinda cute every now and then to have a looksee.

      • I definately don’t think that if they were destroyed in a fire I would lose much sleep, but my external hard drive would have to be pried from my cold, dead hands! I do want to get that stuff out of the boxes and have a framed Scouting display put up for everyone to enjoy. It’s hard with very active boys who sometimes overzealously destry things, but then again that makes it easier to get rid of some things!
        My husband has willingly pared down alot, but definately has a little more than myself, but then his childhood/youth were so much more positive. But I do question all of his duplicate photos. Why keep them?

  3. In the last 5 years, I have made a memory board in my kitchen area. Starting 1 Jan, I add any pictures, notes, papers from events, and even small trickets throughout the year. Then, when the year starts over, I snap a picture of it and save it to my computer. I then clean off the board, usually saving the pictures, but recycle everything else. And of course start over again. I have enjoyed looking back at these photos of the boards and remember the good times I have experieneced and remember the sad times(like a program from a funeral of a dear friend) that year. I use to hold on to these physical things, but a picture brings back all the memories.

  4. I still have an empty (although now dusted!) china hutch in the corner of my kitchen. This a.m. I unpacked the items that had been in the hutch prior to our remodel and washed them. I didn’t put anything in the hutch yet as I needed to head off to work, but as I washed an item, I was trying to remember when I had gotten it or who had given it to me, do I really want to put it back in the hutch?, could it go to someone else?, could I donate it? I came across some family items that I do love, but that I’ve sort of forgotten the history. I need to ask Mom. I have a sugar bowl, minus lid, that some family member brought over from Germany way back when and a salt and pepper set that my great-grandmother used to have on her stove. I’ve got to get with Mom on some of this stuff and have her tell me the stories again. I guess nobody will care about these things when I’m gone, but right now, I care. 🙂

    • Hi Michelle, I agree you need to relearn the history of those items from your mother otherwise they are really just clutter. Memory triggers aren’t much good without the memories.