Decluttering to Downsize Part 3: Dealing with Memorabilia

Welcome back to the Decluttering to Downsize Series! If you are thinking about downsizing your home, or you know a loved one who is considering it, then this blog series is for you.

As a reminder, last week we talked about the second step in the downsizing process — decluttering for downsizing.

Downsizing your home is a MAJOR life change that’s both extremely emotional and physically demanding. That’s why I’m addressing this as a series, to give you a deeper dive into each step in order to help remove some of the overwhelm surrounding downsizing. Having a plan in place, along with the right support will help you move forward in this process as smoothly as possible.

There are six steps for successful downsizing:

  1. Plan for this move.

  2. Declutter.

  3. Address your memorabilia.

  4. Pack.

  5. Move.

  6. Create supportive spaces in your new home.

Today we’re taking a deeper dive into step #3: Address your memorabilia.

Out of all the downsizing steps, this is the one I’m asked about the most. It’s very emotional and complex. And that’s why I suggest addressing memorabilia last in the decluttering process before you move.

Before we dive into addressing your memorabilia, I want you to really think about this question and what it means to you: What is a memory?

The way I define a memory is that it’s a story that needs to be shared. All memories are stories. The best way to declutter for a downsize is to start sharing those incredible stories with your loved ones.

Oral history is a fascinating and important tradition. Please do not think that because we live in a digital age, oral stories don’t need to be passed along. Sharing our stories is more important than ever. As you’re going through your sentimental items and your memorabilia, share your stories with loved ones. Write them down. Or, use technology to your advantage here by Facetiming with your family members and friends to share the stories behind the stuff in your home.

Sharing your stories is a critical part of bridging the gap between hanging on and letting go. It can be very difficult to let go of our things. But it’s one step over that bridge to letting go of the things that are ready to be let go of.

Share your stories.

Even if it feels like no one will care about it right now, believe me, they will in the future.

Now for the “how.” Here is the exact method for sorting and properly storing archivable memorabilia such as old photographs and artifacts:

Start with the big items first.

Start by figuring out where large items and furniture need to go. For example, say you have an heirloom bedroom set. Ask your family members if they want it.

Do not be offended if they don’t. Our homes right now are full of so much stuff already. Adding more to our home must be carefully considered. If a family member declines an heirloom piece, it’s not because they don’t cherish the history and the sentiment of that item. It’s simply because they don’t have the space for it in their house. It’s just not practical.

If family members don’t want it, then figure out where to donate it or sell it. The goal is to get rid of large items first because it creates lots of space. Space is always hugely valuable, but especially so when you’re decluttering to downsize.

Categorize smaller items.

With smaller items such as papers and photographs, categorize them according to the person who needs to sort them. When you’re decluttering to downsize, a lot of the stuff in your home isn’t necessarily yours. We tend to have a household full of multiple generations of things, and sometimes other people need to be involved in making decisions for them.

Figure out who needs to be involved in making these decisions. For example, your daughter’s high school photos — make a clearly labeled box for your daughter to sort through. There should be one box for every person who needs to do further sorting.

Sort chronologically, in phases.

Once you have these collections together you’ll have a better sense of what should stay and what should go, and what is redundant within the collection. Maybe you have lots of photos from your prom, or from family vacations. Do you need to hang on to all of them? Or, maybe you just need to pick a few of your favorites.

PROPERLY store the items you decide to keep.

Once you decide what to keep, now is the perfect opportunity to honor what you value enough to keep with proper storage. I cannot emphasize this enough. My basic home archival storage guidelines include avoiding basements, attics, and garages for the storage of these items. Basements, attics, and garages are prone to infestations of bugs and rodents, they’re prone to drastic temperature changes and humidity levels which can degrade paper quickly, and they’re prone to natural disasters such as flooding or smoke — which will destroy any items stored in these spaces.

The best place to store this memorabilia is in an interior closet. Ideally, a closet with constant temperature and humidity levels, not a lot of sunshine or UV light, and not next to a pipe that could burst or has had prior infestations.

Whenever possible, use acid-free enclosures to store papers and photographs. You can find acid-free photo albums and folders at most box stores such as Target. There are also reputable archival supply stores such as Gaylord for storing very important family documents.

Never use tape or anything that will puncture these items, such as staples. Avoid paperclips, because over time they’ll leave indentations or rust on papers. Just be sure to put everything into folders or acid-free enclosures, and your documents and photographs will be safe for generations.

Turn memorabilia into decor items.

I love turning memorabilia into household decor. It’s very personal, and warm and inviting. For example, maybe you have a postcard your grandfather sent in WWII. Frame it and hang it in your house. If you want to display items like this, be sure to use UV filtering glass. Even if the room isn’t very sunny, over time the light can affect the integrity of paper and photos. You can find UV filtering glass pretty much anywhere now.

Make digital copies.

Anytime possible, make digital copies of your memorabilia. Making a digital copy can be as simple as snapping a picture with your cell phone. It doesn't have to be complicated, you don’t have to buy a scanner — just snap pics as you go and make sure they’re backed up to a cloud.

Make memories with memories.

Finally — and this is really timely with the holidays approaching — I love the idea of making memories with memories. If you have boxes of family photos that have been in your house forever, go through them with your family over the holidays when you’re all together.

Share the stories that exist in those photos with your loved ones. It’s also a good opportunity to give family members these photos or to make copies for them. It’s a way to share your family history in a way that’s making new memories. Make memories with memories this holiday season.

Think about all the ways you can share the stories of your family history, and it will lessen the emotional load of sorting through these sentimental items.

Next week is the final week in the Decluttering to Downsize series! I’ll share how to pack, move, and how to create a supportive space in your new home.

If you’re looking for decluttering support to help you (or a loved one) with downsizing your home, please join Clutter Bootcamp. There is a whole community in the Prioritize Your Sanity group who are going through downsizing, and they’re ready to support you!

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Subscribe to my YouTube channel for my weekly podcast, “It’s All Clutter,” to follow more tips in my Downsizing series!

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