Living Forward

Being overloaded with sentimental items can become an obstacle to creating new memories
By Cheryl Smith
Cheryl Smith
Cheryl Smith
August 19, 2021 Updated: August 19, 2021

The most cherished mementos we have from loved ones are carried inside us. The minimizing process is often done in layers. Famed tidying expert Marie Kondo suggests reducing possessions in stages and starting with easy items like duplicate kitchen utensils and finishing with sentimental items like photographs.

The sentimental layer of minimizing has been the most agonizing for me. I associate things with people and memories from the past, and it just feels so wrong to let the associated thing go.

Somehow I feel like I’m betraying my precious parents if I dare to donate the gifts Mom bought for me or all the decoupage pictures Dad took so much time to make for me. After all, there will be no more gifts from them. I miss them so much, and holding onto the things they gave me during their time on Earth brings a great deal of comfort.

Or does it?

Sometimes it all starts to feel heavy. Seeing certain items seems to accentuate the blatancy of my parents’ absence more than it delivers the comfort I felt the day they were given to me. It’s not that day anymore.

Many moons have passed, and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge during the 19 years since Dad went to Heaven and the seven years since Mom followed him there.

We recently had to move again, due to circumstances beyond our control and completely against our will. As we packed and prepared for the move, I was completely dumbfounded as to how we could still have so much stuff. We began downsizing in earnest four years ago when we sold our four-bedroom home with the oversized garage. At that time, we released about 90 percent of our physical possessions. We moved into a two-bedroom, furnished rental that provided very little storage.

And we continued downsizing the entire time we lived there.

We were intentional about not bringing new things into our home, yet when we got ready to move again, I was overwhelmed by all that we still owned.

How could this be?

As I unpack boxes and crates in our new place, I see that a lot of what I’m unpacking is sentimental in nature. Oh, there are the things that we actually use, need, and want to keep, but there are a lot of things I am clinging to simply because I feel guilty letting them go. As I contemplated all of this today, several epiphanies dawned on me.

Sentimental items are tethering me to the past.

These items feel like an anchor keeping me from embracing the now and what’s to come. I cling because I want to maintain a bridge to yesterday, but that bridge is an uncrossable, unrealistic fantasy. Holding on to the things that belonged to or were given to me by departed loved ones will never bring them back or transport me back in time.

When an item evokes more sadness than happiness, it no longer deserves a place in my life.

I no longer want to be reminded of what used to be but will never be again, because I want to enjoy today and the memories still to be made.

These sentimental things are no longer making me feel joyful.

They bring pangs of heartache when I look at them, and as I watch my husband and son lug these crates around, I cringe thinking about how my sentimentality is the cause of their sore muscles and backs.

I am not betraying my parents (or anyone else) by letting go.

Loyalty is not marked by keeping every greeting card they ever gave me or holding on to every single thing they ever bought for me. I don’t have to give up everything, but I don’t need to keep everything, either. It’s unhealthy and unfair to the loved ones who remain and mean the world to me.

Thankfully, I have the option of keeping choice, meaningful reminders of my time with them and still feel OK about not clinging to the rest. I can almost hear my very practical, sensible parents telling me it’s not only OK, but high time to let go.

Letting go eases the burden my son will one day face.

One day when our son has the unpleasant job of sorting through our things after we are gone, the memories associated with the things we leave behind will not be attached.

These are our memories, not his. It won’t make sense to him why I kept a restaurant receipt from a meal Mom, Dad, and I shared when I was a teenager. He wasn’t there, nor will he understand its purpose. So why burden him with it?

Most of the sentimental stuff hasn’t seen the light of day in years.

I just keep it stashed away in crates that are never opened and keep dragging it from place to place like a ball and chain. Opening it now feels like reopening an old, painful wound. I don’t want to do that anymore.

As I purge the sentimental, I start to realize that these same truths apply to relationships.

Some of my social connections may have at one time been healthy but have become toxic. Clinging to a detrimental relationship out of sheer guilt is counter-productive to my new forward-looking life.

As I’m assessing every single thing I take out of boxes and crates before finding it a place in our new home, I’m analyzing each relationship to see if it still brings benefit, joy, and enrichment to my current life.

It feels good to shed what’s no longer healthy.

From now on, I want to live life looking forward. I’m excited about changing my perspective from mourning what is gone to anticipating what may come. After having gone through some scary medical stuff lately, I’ve been freshly reminded just how fragile life is. I don’t want to waste any more time longing for what has already been lived.

Deeply thankful for more time, I want to embrace this moment and live it to the full with an outlook of eagerness and gratitude. Cherished memories are important, but cherishing the moment to create new memories is essential.

Cheryl Smith blogs at Biblical Minimalism.com. Her family sold their home, released 90 percent of their physical possessions, got out of debt, and now share their story and their Christian faith on their blog. She is the author of the books, “Biblical Minimalism” and “Homespun Devotions: Volume One.”

Cheryl Smith
Cheryl Smith