how to part with memory clutter

Photo: Burcu Avsar

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7. Part with Unnecessary Memory Clutter

Your home is not a museum. Many people subscribe to the unwritten rule that you're obligated to keep your great-aunt's dishes, even if you don't like them, just because she used them. But maybe your great-aunt never liked them either and also felt too guilty to let them go. Things don't have to become yours simply because they belonged to a relative. You're not living her life, and you're not a bad person for giving inherited items away.

If the acquired stuff is worth money, you may feel bound to it financially: "It's real silver—I can't give it away." Yes, you can. Donate it, document what it's worth and take it off your taxes. Or give it to another family member who would really like it. Or sell it on eBay. And if you like something enough to keep it, consider it a replacement, not an addition—keep Grandma's reading lamp, but donate the one you already have.

Mementos from your own life are harder to part with because when you see them, you relive the story: To you, it's the cashmere V-neck you wore on your first date with the man who would become your husband; to anyone else, it's just an old sweater full of holes. The key to parting with items suspended in time is not to replay that story. Leave the room, come back in and see what you're really holding on to—a sweater that's seen better days. Rule of thumb: If it serves no purpose, let it go.
Andrew Mellen