Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I have a lot of stuff. Just stuff. Things for my future home, souvenirs from various trips, books, lots of books, baby clothes, photo albums, pictures in boxes, yearbooks and autograph books, and a random assortment of items that I keep "for sentimental value". I have stuff in Shanghai, stuff in NYC and stuff in FL. This summer I had the opportunity to go through my collection of NYC crap, and got rid of the bulk of it, but I still have a few bins and an attic storage closet of things with my name on them. I said that I would only keep things that I'm willing to take around the world with me, which helped me get rid of a lot, but some things are difficult to let go of. I might not take them with me, but it would be nice to know they are in my mother's garage. I know this is a slightly flawed philosophy, so I decided to look for some tips on how to de-clutter my items of sentimental value.

Here's a sample of what I found (taken from here):

Here are eight ways to break free from the sentimental clutter:

1. Photos: We all have boxes of pictures waiting to be organized into albums. Luckily, the Digital Age has made this easier to tackle., a Gilbert-based photo-scanning company, scans photos for as little as 16 cents per image. The company also digitizes videotape and negatives.

When photos are digital, they're preserved for the ages on a DVD. Plus, you can create photo books in minutes. Sites such as,, and walk you through every step of creating a photo book, from uploading and organizing photos to adding captions. (And they're affordable - for example, a 40-page notebook-size photo book is $19.95 at, and smaller flipbooks are just $4.99 at snap That way, you can ditch the clunky, mismatched albums.

If you're willing to ship photos out of the state, California-based charges $50 to scan 1,000 photos onto a DVD. Arizona Scanning (, which started in Arizona and moved to Virginia, charges 20 cents per image for higher-resolution scans.

2. Children's artwork: McGivney suggests buying an artists' portfolio case at an art-supply store such as Aaron Brothers to store kids' artwork by date, then periodically sorting it and keeping the best. Steill helps clients make memory boxes for kids' treasures.

For her own household, Steill takes photos of her daughter holding her artwork and school presentations, and prints them in a photo book. She said the photo is a better memory of her daughter's age and lasts much longer than glitter glue on poster board. (I love this idea!)

You also should take a digital photo of the artwork itself. Digitizing your child's artwork allows you to showcase his or her creativity in clever ways. Turn it into greeting cards and stickers at or, where you can print 10 personalized photo greeting cards with a different image on each one for $24.99.

3. Kids' rooms: The dolls and the trophies don't have to live with you forever. McGivney has a perfect antidote for empty nesters dealing with a child's room: Buy an appliance box at a moving-supplies store. Then make an agreement with your college-bound kid to store everything he or she wants to keep that fits in the box until after college. In four years, most of that memorabilia won't seem important.

Haber hopes to edit her children's stuff as they age to a few key objects and present them with one special box or trunk. "I really want them to have their history accessible to them in a fashion that isn't overwhelming," she said.

4. Souvenirs: Steill said a lot of clients have trouble getting rid of travel tchotchkes - the majority of which end up in boxes rather than on display. Again, she suggests taking photos of the objects and adding them to the trip's photo album. (Um, why buy it? Just take a pic of it in the store and then you can put a caption: Another thing I wanted to buy, but didn't.)

"You have the memory but without having the three-dimensional object that is taking up space," she said. For special items, place them in a shadow box along with a few favorite photos from the trip.

5. Books: "I find a lot of people hold on to books for sentimental reasons," Steill said. One client purged his beloved law-school books after making shadow boxes from his favorite textbook covers. The rest of the textbooks were recycled.

McGivney helped another book lover sell the collection on, leading to a part-time business. You may feel better about giving up treasured books by donating them to a library. (I tried that in NYC, and the library wouldn't take them, they didn't even see them). Blanke also encourages people to visit to send paperback books to those in the service.

6. Parents' belongings: Baby Boomers are grappling with the belongings of parents who have downsized, moved into an assisted- living home or passed away. (We just downsized with my grandmother. Again.)

Julie Hall, an estate expert and author of "The Boomer Burden" (Thomas Nelson, $14.99), urges people to pare before burdening loved ones. She also said aging parents should talk to their children about what items they want and leave detailed documents about their final wishes.

"My goal is to make both generations aware the burden is not our parents, the burden is their stuff, because their children don't know what their things are worth or what to keep and what to sell," she said.

Have an appraiser evaluate items before anything is distributed or sold. Capture the home and contents with still and/or video cameras, making for warm memories while helping loved ones let go of all but a few cherished heirlooms.

"Keep the stuff that really, really means something to you, and let the rest go," Hall said. "Let people make new memories."

7. Family heirlooms: One of Blanke's clients inherited her mother's collection of china figurines. "They just weren't her thing at all, but her mother had loved them," she said.

Blanke encouraged her to set them out at an estate sale and take solace when buyers fell in love with them.

Blanke has this test for keeping heirlooms: "If having it around me makes me feel really happy, I'll keep it. But if it's up in the attic and someone else can use it, then I'll give it away."

8. Correspondence and documents: There's no way you can hang on to every Christmas card or letter. McGivney suggests treating holiday cards like kids' art. Keep only the best. Then make a holiday album you store with the seasonal decor to remember great holidays past.

If you're cleaning years of paperwork out of a den, a shredding service can be a godsend. Remember that almost any bill or statement can be retrieved online, so there are few essential documents you must keep.

What do you think? What are your time tested secrets to staying clutter-free?

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