We all own items that we treasure. You know the ones – they are the objects, big or small, that bring a little smile to your face or a slight lifting of the heart or mind.
These items are as unique to you as your fingerprints! They may fill you with pride, tenderness, laughter, and gratitude. It doesn’t matter what they cost or what they look like to others: when it comes to what we treasure, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Special items are precious because they are meaningful. As mindful decluttering and organizing experts, we’re often asked how to best manage these meaningful items, particularly if there are many of them. Here are some of the questions we hear:
- I have so many treasures. Should I pack them away or display them?
- I really want to declutter. Should I take a picture of my treasures and give them away?
- What if my treasures make me feel sad, but they’re still important?
These are great questions! Read on to learn how professional organizers work with such treasures.
Are Your Treasures Hiding?
There is no right or wrong answer to whether to pack away your treasures or display them. It depends on what makes you feel best or works for your household. It may help to think about it this way: every item in your life has a function. Some have practical functions (like scissors and pots and pans) and others have aesthetic or emotional functions – like the child’s painting or vase that simply makes you feel good.
If an item has the power to make you feel good, why not put a spotlight on it? Give treasured items a place of honor in your home, such as on a mantel, shelf, or table. If you have more treasures than space to display them, consider rotating the treasures seasonally so they each get some “stage time.” If the item is hiding in your basement, it can’t bring you joy!
Some Treasures Are Meant For Others
You may have some treasures that simply never make it out of storage. After you’ve decluttered and organized a few times and still haven’t found a place to honor an object, it may be time to ask yourself, is this really a treasure for me? Julie Morgenstern, in her fabulous book SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck* says that “a treasure does not generate mixed feelings.”
Confession of a Professional Home Organizer:
For years I had a collection of beautiful sea shells in my attic. Time and time again I would declutter and find them, and think to myself, I really ought to display these. But I never did. Finally I realized that while the shells are beautiful and I collected them carefully, they just aren’t treasures for me. I gave them to my massage therapist, whose children now happily enjoy them. The idea of this young boy and girl enjoying the shells brings me a joy that the shells in a box in the attic could not offer. The youngsters have permission to pass the shells on to someone else or put them back out in nature whenever they wish.
If you have beautiful or meaningful items that are no longer a good fit for your home, consider gifting them to a loved one or donating them to charity. Take a picture of the item if you want to remember it. Rest assured that there’s nothing wrong with letting go of something – even if it’s beautiful or expensive – if it doesn’t currently create ease and joy. Quite the contrary! Energetically, you will have now made space for something new to enter your life.
Not all treasures bring wholly happy memories. Many times we support clients through decluttering and organizing treasures that are painful, such as when we go through items that belonged to a deceased loved one. While remembering the loved one can be joyful and healing, the process is often tinged with loss and can be very difficult.
This process is especially challenging if the loved one died suddenly or tragically. Many people prefer to pack mementos away rather than be reminded of the deceased. If this is familiar to you, know that it is completely normal. We urge you to be compassionate with yourself and to give yourself time to process your feelings about the situation. There’s no timeline for when you “should” declutter and organize these emotionally charged mementos. Rather, it’s important to listen to your inner wisdom and do so when you feel ready. When you feel it’s time, we are here to support you. One client, a lovely woman who clearly loved her husband deeply, began by gradually letting go of items that they had purchased together. She kept his shirts in the closet for over a year, knowing that someday she would be able to pass them on to someone else. We focused first on easier things, such as glassware, books, and DVDs. Much progress was made and we honored the fact that she was not quite ready to let go of the shirts.
Another client dissolved in tears at the thought of handling anything related to her recently deceased father, with whom she had been very close. Unfortunately, the objects were in her bedroom closet, taking up valuable space and serving as a daily reminder of her loss. After we worked together a few times, we agreed that I would take any objects of a personal nature downstairs into a little used closet. I was able to take medical supplies that had collected from her father’s many hospital and rehab visits to a local medical clinic where they could be used for the good of others.
An Altar For Your Treasures
As you organize and declutter items that belonged to a loved one, you may feel moved to honor that person’s treasures and memory in some way. We loved the solution that our client R.A.K. of Washington, DC chose to honor her deceased father. Rather than keep all his possessions or declutter them all (such extremes are rarely the best solution!), R.A.K. designated a space in her home as a kind of altar to her dad.
Here’s how she and I did it:
On the left is a before image of the shelf in R.A.K.’s bedroom. Just an ordinary shelf! In the after image on the right, you can see that the third shelf has been designated as an homage to her father. She chose to display a few of the things that reminded her of him: a favorite book, some rocks from a place they often visited and some beautifully carved wooden objects that he had given her. In this way she was able to display the treasures that reminded her of the kind of person her father was and what she loved about him. She was thrilled that her treasures were now more visible in her life and felt both lifted up and comforted by the sight. Here’s what she said about the process:
How satisfying it was to finally sort through all the gifts from my father into logical groups, like “keep,” “give to relatives/friends,” and “donate” — with Pam’s patience and suggestions. I think of my Dad each time I see his gifts displayed in my home. – R.A.K.
A behind-the-scenes look at the decluttering and organizing process!
When decluttering, you will often need to make a mess in the process of bringing order to your home! In this case, we laid out all R.A.K.’s treasures on the bed so we could group like with like and help her decide what to keep and what to let go. Above you see the most revealing image: a behind-the-scenes look at the decluttering and organizing process. It’s important to emphasize that things can look and feel messy before they look organized. If a situation like this starts to make you feel anxious, take a pause and give yourself the space to take a few cleansing breaths.
To Treasure Is Human
Human beings make meaning through memory and emotion, and often a physical object connects you to a memory. It’s normal and healthy to hold on to items that give you a sense of connection and happiness!
When we work with clients, we often bear witness to their rediscovery of such meaningful treasures. Many clients have forgotten the items that are packed away, and are delighted to find them and share their memories. It’s a privilege to hear the stories our clients share as we uncover their treasures – one of the many privileges of being a professional organizer!
What’s one of your treasures? What does it remind you of? Share below in the comments!
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