What Should I Store?

I’m just 1 person who holds onto a lot of things. I have never had the sort of disposable income to buy whatever I want, so if I have spent money on something, I feel compelled to hold onto it just in case it will be useful in the future. The truth is that much of what I’ve held onto actually has come in handy in ways I hadn’t expected. That Swedish Olympics hockey jersey my dad bought me decades ago was the perfect thing for me to wear during a presentation about Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. That old rotary phone that was in my house when I was growing up made a perfect prop for a Harry Potter event that involved simulating the Ministry of Magic phone booth entrance. But that broken floor lamp I’m holding onto in case I need it one day for spare parts… maybe that’s not going to be as useful as I think. 

Because my instinct is to hold onto everything, my house quickly fills to its capacity, which makes it difficult to find anything. Last spring, during my quarancleaning extravaganza, I got rid of a lot of things I was unnecessarily holding onto, from coasters from restaurants I visited during college to cute but damaged cups from my childhood. I struggle a lot with getting rid of things, and I know I’m not alone in that. I’ve read a half-dozen books on the subject, and some advice has been great while other advice missed the mark for me and created unnecessary anxiety. So here are the techniques I use that help me know what to keep/store and what to get rid of. 

Keep What You Need

Every book or article you read will have different advice about what you should keep and what you should discard. Some will say to shred personal documents after a year, or two years, or ten years. Some will say to save the five best childhood drawings, others say to save a box for each school year. I recommend reading a number of resources then deciding what is best for you and your circumstances. Here is what works for me:

  • Discard broken or expired items- These are the easiest to get rid of! Clearing these out means freeing yourself from something that is not serving you. Warped food storage containers, broken devices, expired coupons or medication or food, pens with no ink, old electronics, etc. can all be recycled (when possible) or trashed. 
  • Keep recent documents- I shred most financial documents after a year or two, but I hold onto tax returns for longer. I have one box where I keep important papers. When that box is full, I know it’s time to go through and shred/recycle older items. I tend to keep medical/vet/dental records for a longer time than most documents, because I have found that I have needed to go back and consult them at times. If I’m really not sure about a document, I can always scan it in to make a digital copy. 
  • Keep useful items and discard “maybe I’ll need this one day” items- I’m the sort of person who will hold onto junk in case it might become useful down the road, but it almost never does. If it truly is useful, with an immediate use, I will put that item in the pace where it belongs. For example, I use old, worn-through socks as rags to clean with and keep those under the sink. But I will recycle or donate shirts instead of keeping them in case I can think of a fabric project down the road. If I don’t have an immediate use in mind like a specific craft project with an imminent timeline, I’m not going to keep it around “just in case one day…” any more. 
  • Part with gifts you’re not attached to- It’s tough to get rid of something that I can’t use when someone I love has generously gifted it to me. If it’s something that’s just taking up space and not adding to my happiness, I feel confident that those people I love would understand that I need to donate it or get rid of it to make my living space cleaner. Once an item is yours, it’s up to you to decide what to do with it, even if what you do is discard it. Once a gift is given, the giver has no say in its future. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t hold onto every gift you’ve ever been given forever; that just isn’t realistic. That being said, if there are cultural or familial expectations attached, think twice before getting rid of a sweater you’d expected to wear at a gathering or a family heirloom that should stay in the family. 
  • Keep what sentimental items are most meaningful- These are genuinely the hardest for me to deal with. I attach a lot of emotion to physical objects that evoke strong memories. So if I am conflicted about getting rid of something, I tend to keep it and save myself the anxiety of deciding. I can always revisit it at the end of the process or next year, when I might feel more detached and ready to part with it.  It can feel freeing to finally get rid of something I’ve been holding onto too long. If I’m ready to let something go but worried about forgetting a memory, I will take a photo of the item so it only takes up digital space in my life, not physical space in storage. 

I will post an article later this month with a list of items it is easier to get rid of. 

Make a List and Stick to It

After going through some of my boxes, I asked myself “What Should I Store?” I started mentally sorting things I would keep into various categories based on their uses and importance. When I had a good sense of everything I was planning to store, I made a short list of those categories and posted it on my fridge to constantly remind me. 

If an item doesn’t fit into this list, then it doesn’t belong in storage. I will either need to get rid of it or integrate it into another part of my house where it makes sense to do so. For example, books I want to read go on my To Be Read (TBR) bookshelves. Craft supplies go in my craft room/office on the shelves of boxes organized by type of supply. 

My list of things that I’m allowed to keep in my storage area are:

  1. Holiday items I use once a year (Easter basket, Christmas tree, Halloween decorations, etc.).  
  2. Book festival items (signs, handouts, tablecloths, banner, etc. for the two book festivals my BookCrossing group attends each year to give books away)
  3. Harry Potter game and party materials/supplies (house point hour glasses, cauldrons, buzzers, Christmas crackers, signs, etc. I use regularly for my Harry Potter meetup group)
  4. Sentimental childhood creations, items, and toys (some old drawings/stories/papers, toys that are dear to my heart, etc.)

If it doesn’t fit into these four categories, I don’t get to put it into storage. For example, sometimes if I am having company over, I will sweep all the clutter off my table into a box and put the box in my storage closet. Then I will forget to get that box out again. That is not something that should stay in storage. By giving myself this list of limitations, I can keep myself accountable for instances like that. But I also give myself permission to keep things like Christmas ornaments or plushies I love. 

Decide what things you want to hold onto based on sentiment, usefulness, the size of your storage area. You can’t store everything, but it would also be a waste to repurchase all of your holiday decorations every year. Find a balance between the two and figure out how to stick with it. 

How do you decide what to store?

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