When Life Moves On, Move With It

Have you ever found yourself going through old paperwork and feeling strangely nostalgic about it?

Recently, I was cleaning out some files and found receipts and paperwork for a remodel we did about 14 years ago, in another house.  I started to read through the notes and look at the old paint sample cards and fabric swatches I had filed.  Suddenly, I realized that my brain was playing a trick on me.  I hadn't seen these files in years and wasn't going to be looking at them again.  Was I feeling a bit pensive because we completed this project when both of our kids were in their late teens and still living with us?  Was I feeling wistful about the house we were thankful to sell in 2012?  Whatever the reason for this odd attachment, it made no sense to keep these outdated files.

Sure, those were happy days, and finishing that big job gave my husband and me a great feeling of accomplishment.  But these are happy days too, and I can tackle new projects that make me feel purposeful, challenged, and competent.

monarch butterfly

How attachments grow 

I think the lesson of the file folder is that if I keep something long enough, it will seem sentimental, even if it wasn't sentimental to begin with.  I develop an attachment over time, even if the item doesn't really merit one.

This is something we all need to understand.  Keep that tee shirt long enough, and it won't seem like something that's ready to be turned into a car rag – it will morph into a memento of that band you used to like.  Keep that luggage long enough and it won't seem like something that your daughter used to use but doesn't need anymore – it will become a relic of past trips that evoke fond memories.  It becomes that much harder to donate or offer in your next garage sale.

If we let it, our stuff will take up all of our time and energy.  There is always something to clean, fix, sort, file, organize, or maintain in some way.  And it takes no effort at all for things to become piled-up and disordered (proving the Second Law of Thermodynamics).

That's why having less is so freeing, and why constantly acquiring more is a form of indentured servitude.  And in our culture of abundance and affluence, it takes a certain amount of grit to reduce that flow of stuff.

Maybe you think minimalism sounds too extreme.

Maybe you don't think you're a minimalist because you don't live with white walls and white furniture, or one pot and one pan, or a ten-piece wardrobe, or zero books and one hobby (meditation, perhaps, or maybe yoga).  

But as bloggers Liz and Eva at PrairieGarden.net have written, "Anyone who consciously tries to live with less in our current culture could be called a minimalist to some degree."  If you like to buy just enough, creatively repair and recycle items, are always conscious of how much you already own, and have regular times of purging and decluttering, then you are a minimalist.

I am a minimalist.  So I shredded those files along with a few others.  I found a home for some old opera and classical music scores.  (Yes, once upon a time I performed them, but my grandchildren don't need to come upon them someday after I'm dead in order to know that Grandma could sing.)  I donated some shoes I bought that look cute but for various reasons are rarely worn.  And I withstood the impulse to buy new wall d├ęcor, a scented candle, and some cute springtime dessert plates.

When I resist attachment to shoes, plates, and even tangible reminders of past challenges and successes, I not only free myself of clutter and chores, but I make room for something new and different.

Looking back can be rewarding, but finding joy today and hope for tomorrow is even more important.

Decluttering doesn't undo your accomplishments.

I noticed that my ego was entangled with some possessions (like the music scores), so that's something else to be aware of.  You know, it really is okay if your grown children don't want their basketball or chess tournament trophies.  (By the way, those can be reused – check with your local trophy shop.)  You still earned your college degree even if you don't display the impressive-looking certificate.  "Star Realtor" or "Best Local Restaurant" plaques more than a year or two old can be recycled too.  (Do you really choose a dining spot based on 2017 reviews?)

If you're an Oscar- or Grammy-winner, go ahead and display that award forever!  But for everyone else:  When life moves on, consider moving with it.

Updated August 2023


  1. Thank you for the reminder, Karen, well said!

  2. Very timely, thank you. I recently retired and received a huge, ugly, crystal thing that everyone said I "have to keep." After all, it's engraved. It represents 30+ years of my working life. It symbolizes all that I sacrificed. Etc. Nope. It's ugly. It gives me a bad feeling every time I look at it. I don't need it to remind me of anything. Unfortunately, I know of no way to recycle or donate it, so I'm trashing it w/o a backwards glance.

    1. Good for you, Bette! Especially if the ugly thing makes you feel bad when you look at it. You'll remember plenty from your working life, even without a tangible thing that is supposed to do it for you.

  3. Perfectly timed! I'm hosting a Get It Done Day with a few friends tomorrow and the only real decluttering task that remains for me after a few years at it are a file cabinet from my former vocation and a few boxes of family papers and travel memorabilia. I've been putting them off because everything triggers a memory. This reframe is epically helpful, thank you!! I already feel lighter and haven't cracked the lid on a box yet.

    1. Hi Tammy, and thanks for your comment! Your Get It Done Day sounds amazing, and you'll be able to celebrate your success at the end of it. Meanwhile, enjoy your memories and the stories they prompt, and remember that your memories live in your mind, not in your stuff!


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