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The Waning Shelf Life of of Boomer Memorabelia

levi jeans_opt-2It’s hard to believe that my baby boomer generation is getting on in years.  Our ages range between 51 and 70 by now. We’ve celebrated so many decades of milestones along the way, including the births of our millennial children. That all adds up to one heck of a lot of memorabilia.

Most boomers save stuff, it’s part of our culture. We’ve not only held onto our own personal mementos, we’ve saved and stored all of our children’s stuff as well.

For certain, they are not lost or forgotten.  Through the years, we may have stumbled upon an old treasure that rekindled a memory or two, or intentionally went digging to find the wedding album or that elementary school class picture. And yes, we’ve probably shared some epic childhood stories and old classic photographs with our children.  At least once or twice, lol.

We wanted them to know who we were.  At least for me, it was important and a very intimate way to share my past. It was storytelling at its best, and we probably told the story on repeat for most of their young lives.  But those memory boxes were soon to be overtaken by a whole new generation of memories. Their own.

To no surprise, I saved it all; their artwork, projects, camp letters, school work from 1st grade through college, and photos galore. When we sold our home, we were faced with the daunting pull of the purge. (excerpt from my Diary of a Move-documented in 2010) Although we edited, condensed, and down-sized, our basement was still filled with an impressive stack of memory boxes.  Baby boomers and millenniums sharing space side by side. It never occurred to me that they were to be roommates for over 30 years.

But with both of our children recently married, it was time for them to claim their stuff and begin their new lives. Another downsize and yet another purge.

I asked them each to come home and go through their boxes.  As it’s been said of millennials, they have way fewer struggles with letting things go than boomers do. I witnessed this to be so true.  They were rapidly tossing pictures (if they themselves were not in them), and trashing old school papers and projects with no remorse. They took pics of pics on their iPhones if it wasn’t already in a sustainable photo album.

When they uncovered their sentimental sweet spot (and it was different for each of them) they hesitated and packed those memories thoughtfully into a “keep” box.  It was their personal decision to savor anything from baby shoes to autographed sports memorabilia, yearbooks, or a handwritten note. The interesting rethink was that now as adults, they too wanted to pass a legacy on to their future children one day. Just like me, they understood it would be important to share who they were as children and adolescents.  As for themselves personally, they will have so many more opportunities within the next 30 years to revisit and enjoy these saved childhood memories once again.  Down the road, it will be a special day when they rediscover these gems.

But here comes the clincher.  I realized at that moment that I did not have the same 30 + years ahead to justify keeping all this nostalgia.  I’ve since moved twice, so I revisited and touched the stuff many times now.  I have reminisced over four decades and have well enjoyed their stay. Perhaps bittersweet but the honest assessment is that my personal memorabilia (excluding photos) has a limited lifespan. Its value is waning even for me. More importantly, my children don’t want my old memories, they have their own. So it begs the question,  why and for whom am I saving this for?

Funny as we age and evolve, what was once considered sentimental, now just feels like clutter. If it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings, I’m OK with letting it go.  After all, they’re just things, not people.

So as my children continued weeding and filling trash bags, I too was compelled to reduce down my memory boxes and shed once more. Amongst my report cards, transcripts, diplomas, and trophies, I was ready to toss my autograph book from 5th grade, our honeymoon airline ticket, and hotel key.

Ahh, but definitely not tossing my patched-up Levi jeans.  Not today. 45 years later and they still fit me like the day I bought them. Sparking joy? Hell yea. Big time 🙂

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Greeting Card Guilt: Save, Toss, or Opt Out?

HallmarkEver since I can remember, opening up cards for family birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, was a special ritual. On those days, countertops were bedecked with a prideful display of numerous heartfelt cards. Happy clutter.

After all, nothing says it like a Hallmark card.  I happen to love greeting cards.  They commemorate both the big milestones as well as the smaller moments that happen every day in our lives.  Whether receiving or giving them, they always makes me happy. They matter to me. Hence, I just don’t buy any old card, and trust me, it takes me lots of time. Honestly, I love the ‘hunt’ for the perfect card for the special person in mind.

Especially in my family, the cards are always sentimental and earnest, and as important as the gift itself. To merely select a generic Hallmark card (with little effort) is not our standard practice. As it is, it’s often difficult to find ample text that captures or expresses the relationship.  And so we are inclined (I admit to starting the trend) to embellish and fill the inside pages with our own personal thoughtful words. I might add, we also have a tendency to buy multiple cards for the same person, same celebration (a serious, sappy, and always a funny one).  I sometimes think that we have helped keep Hallmark in business.  Seriously.  Don’t judge, it’s just what we do.

So you can only imagine if we all saved our cards through the years, it would be a staggering amount of cards. It would be an insurmountable quantum of card clutter, for sure. Truth be told, I use to save ALL of my the cards.  Through the years, I edited them down and considered just saving the special ones from every year, but that still left with me an unmanageable amount of cards.  Sentimental clutter tugging at my heartstrings again.

As a Professional Organizer, I’ve seen too many boxfuls of sentimental cards take up prime real estate in client’s closets, overfilled drawers, or stuffed into crowded bookcases.  More often than not, this memorabilia is rarely revisited or sadly, neglected. As a result of this realization, I’m now becoming more ruthless with what I save. For me, the likelihood of sitting down and re-reading every special card I’ve ever received is slim.  One could argue this; feel what you need to feel in the moment, enjoy it, and let it go.

My new rule of thumb is to display the cards for one week, then toss. I do keep a small box to preserve some special milestone cards and some beautifully written sentiments from my family.

Setting limits has helped eliminate any regret. You can’t keep them all, but you can definitely keep some.

One of my favorite vendors @ NAPO conference, Clearly Noted, has managed to eliminate the card clutter dilemma in a very simple and tender way. As a Professional Organizer herself, (along with Sandra) they design unique and thoughtful cards that convey special sentiments specific to our relationships with our clients.  They’ve cleverly created so many heartfelt ways to thank, encourage, motivate, inspire, and champion their organizing efforts. It’s a very personal reminder that we understand their journey. Inside such a card in small print it says,  “This card is good for one week-then you have my permission to toss it!” How great is that? I’ve given them out to so many clients that are learning how to clear their clutter and they appreciate the irony.  Of course, their first impulse is to keep the card “forever”, but they understand the benefits of letting go.  No guilt.  Clearly noted, indeed.

But if you are one who does struggle with letting go of your sentimental cards, avoid storing them haphazardly.  No need to shove them in drawers or pile in overstuffed shoeboxes.  Give them pride of place.  Consider this viable option;  Card memories is a great clutter-free product that preserves and displays the card (both inner and outer text) in a clear-sleeved album.

Another clutter-free option is the virtual greeting card.  It’s paperless, immediate, and guilt-free. Easy peasy, right? You open the e-card, read it, delete it, or save it. Have you noticed that there’s an increasingly popular trend to text or post to FaceBook? So many more are opting to send instant and free greetings, in lieu of a physical card.

For me, I still love a hand written note, always.  It feels very different to me.  It tells me that someone took the extra time.  Don’t get me wrong, personalized texts are heartfelt too.  I appreciate any kind of attention, lol.

FYI, you can still be sure to find me stalled in the Hallmark aisle searching for this month’s celebrations. If you are the object of my affection, I apologize in advance for giving you card clutter to deal with. Touch, read, toss, I’m OK with that.

So tell me… when it’s your birthday, what do you wish for? A written card, an e-card, or a text?

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The ABC’s of Organizing: Simple But Not Easy

At one time or another, everyone will organize somethingIn theory, it sounds like a pretty simple thing to do.  But it’s actually not so easy, especially if your intentions are to restore order to a really disorganized space.

First, you must make the real distinction between merely “straightening up,” and the methodical process of emptying a space entirely.  Huge difference.  It’s far simpler a task to just skim the surface of a drawer or clear a section of the floor, than to thoroughly deconstruct a complete space and re-organize it. I’m talking about space-altering organization.  Yep, that kind of organizing is another animal indeed.

If you’ve reached that point that you can no longer find anything in your cluttered spaces, it might be time to consider a space make-over. But before you toy with the idea of being more organized, you might first consider these ABC’s prior to undertaking any of the spaces in your home.  This will help you put thought to action.

  • “A”-  Assess:  Take a look around and see if you can identify the trouble spots.  What is not working for you?  Where does the bulk of your clutter seem to land?  How long has it been like this?  Has any specific life event contributed to this neglected mess?


  •  “B”-  Be the Change:  Consider your options.  We can all agree that if you don’t change the way you think about things, then essential nothing will really ever change.  Implementing new organization to your life could be a game changer.  So ask yourself, are you ready to make significant changes in your life and what are the consequences of remaining disorganized?


  • “C”-  Commit:  Once you’ve decide to change your old habits, you must committo the actual process.  Junk in drawers, clothing piles in closets, paper towers on desktops, or cluttered counter tops are not going to miraculously vanish by themselves. You must do the work. In order to tackle the project, you must schedule it to happen. Think about how much time you will need to carve out of your day or weekend to begin the process. The challenge is, of course, to stay committed until the task is completed.


The next step is how to begin.  Where do you start? What to keep or toss? When do you pause? No matter which room or small space you choose, (or whether it be things or paper), the basic principles of organizing are the same.  They are easy to comprehend but are often difficult to execute by yourself.  Here’s the simplified and very abridged version.

  1. Bundle “like” items with “like” items to evaluate the inventory. Eliminate overabundance.
  2. Sort items you want to keep into categories.
  3. Toss the broken or unusable into trash or recycle.
  4. Donate those items that no longer serve a purpose in your life.
  5. Then and only then, decide how you want to store and containerize your wanted items for easier retrieval.


If you become overwhelmed with this method and get stuck in the decision-making process, you will most likely lose the drive to continue. Very often, because it is so difficult to measure what is too much, or discern how much sentimental clutter to let go of, you don’t let any of it go.

Don’t feel the need to go it alone.  Seek out a  Professional Organizer who has the expertise to guide and provide you with the strategies to help complete the process.  Trust in the organizing process because it works.  But don’t underestimate it either, it can be daunting.

So before you begin, get your ABC’s in place, and perhaps a trained professional can coach you the rest of the way through. A simple solution for a not so simple task. If only it could be as easy as 1-2-3.

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Moving? How Much Sentimental Clutter Makes the Sentimental Journey?

I’ve thought about this often.  When I moved last year (33 years of “stuff”), and realized that ALL of my sentimental mementos could not move with me, I painstakingly pondered over what things to keep and what to shed.  Here’s how I made those tough decisions.

First off, whatever doesn’t hurt to let go of…let it go! If it’s just taking up space because you never got around to tossing it? (procrastinating?) Well then, time to purge.

As for the things that are tugging at your heartstrings, well that requires a great deal more of thinking, particularly if your new space is smaller than your existing one and will not be able to accommodate everything you currently own.  So for me, I took a lot of digital photos of things I wanted to remember but didn’t necessarily need to keep. I actually donated my wedding gown because it had yellowed, my daughter thought it was ugly, and looking at it didn’t even rekindle a moment. I had inherited an enormous box of camp letters from my childhood, and naturally had preserved a collection of camp letters from my own children. I wrote a blog about that very special day and indeed was a very teachable moment. After a very emotional day, I walked away with one or two very special handwritten letters (an archaic practice these days), that I couldn’t bear to part with from my deceased Dad.

The funny thing was that most of the things I was saving for the “children”, they had no interest in. Go figure. Their sport trophies, random school projects and papers, stuffed animals, cheerleading pom-poms, naked barbie dolls with missing body parts, and  broken ceramic crafts, were apparently more important to me than them, and so they did not make the journey with us.

Across the board, all photos were revered and since they were mostly organized in albums, they were a no-brainer to pack. Even loose photos were coming with us.  I kept some classic board games like LIFE, MONOPOLY, and donated the rest.  The ten framed jigsaw puzzles that once decorated my playroom walls,  now adorn a hallway at a senior care facility.

In the end, moving while a traumatic event, gives you an opportunity to revisit your stuff, your past, and check in with yourself; to see where you’ve been, decide where you’re going, and most of all, what you’ve prioritized to take along with you on the journey.

Remember this.  We will all move somewhere at sometime in our lives.  Good food for thought.  How much sentimental clutter do you have?

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Emotional Organizing as a Teachable Moment



Day 13: (May 13) OK, so it’s Mother’s Day, the kid’s came over to obviously celebrate with me today, but what they didn’t know was that they were going to be a key part of a significant, personal and emotional purge.  I insisted they indulge me and sit down beside me to help me through this process.  After all, it was Mother’s Day…and I got to choose how to spend it!   

We were all mindful of the fact that it was my husband’s first Mother’s Day since her passing, and the vibe was a solemn one.  The emotional triggers for the day were already present, and reminiscing my past only exacerbated the sentimentality of the day.  We all gathered on the den couch, and as I read aloud each letter, I realized how grateful I was for that moment.  For me, it’s all about the family, and I was so touched that they could support me in a way that I needed them to.  This was very important to ME, not so much for them. At first they were casual and light-hearted, resisting the gesture to get all sappy,  but as my voice was cracking, and my tears puddled down my cheeks, they soon got that this moment was something more.   

With some of the more tender cards, I could barely read the words inside.  You see, with my family, one simple Hallmark card could never capture or express adequate feelings.  It was never enough. We always felt the need to embellish and fill the inside pages with our own thoughtful words. I might add, we also have a tendency to buy multiple cards for the same person, same celebration. I tossed most of them yesterday and saved only a couple of really special ones. So when I read some of the anniversary and birthday cards my husband wrote years ago, we were all moved by the beautiful sentiments expressed.  The kids were engaged with his words, now privy to his personal promises and dreams, and were happy to see that the ink on the page was not the only thing that persevered.  Their Dad is their mentor, and has always been their rock , but he was also once a young romantic, naive, and vulnerable young man . This was a teachable moment, for sure. My kids could not believe I had saved all these special memories and now I can appreciate their immeasurable value.   

We laughed and cried together, mostly poking fun of my earliest camp letters exposing embarrassing moments of my summer experiences. It was amazing how similar my daughter and I were at the same age.  She laughed with a joyful identification, but then we tossed them. Found a letter, dated 1969, the very day the man walked on the moon, and wasn’t surprised that at 14, I didn’t understand that history was being made!  I merely thought it funny that it happened on a Monday and I wrote that everyone that day renamed the day “Moonsday”!   The last letter I saved to read was one asking my mom about falling in love (i.e. “how do you know”? and “who should say it first”?…I was only 10!) Laughed, read and tossed.  Once we were done, I filled two huge trash bags with nothing but letters, postcards, birthday and anniversary cards.  Purging the  sentimental clutter emits a different kind of grieving. Certainly, this is not “death”, but a loss and sense of finality just the same.  The camp letters were gone forever, but the memories of today will always remain. I was OK now with loading up the recycle bin.   

On the other hand, re-read a letter from my deceased Dad, who wrote me a letter (at age 15) while away on a business trip abroad.  It was a letter about having a positive outlook on life, and convincing me that the world needn’t be a scary place.  I can recall it was a period of adolescence where I was filled with trepidation and self-doubt.  I have read and re-read this letter multiple times throughout the years after his passing, and his guiding words still comfort me.  It is written in his signature handwriting, on air-mail stationery from a London hotel. I shall savor this forever and you can be guaranteed this will never be tossed.  This a keeper, for sure, and I hope to share this with my future grandchildren one day.   

Dad's Letter



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Weighing in on the Sentimental Clutter

Day 12: (May 8 ) Peter Walsh’s wise words are ringing in my ears today.  “It’s not about the stuff, rather its about your relationship with the the stuff”.  Weeding is an emotional process, and today was filled with  bittersweet reflection and discoveries. I chose to sort through my personal boxes, (my organized childhood boxes passed down from my Mom) containing my high school and college years, and life before marriage and kids. Since I  sensed this to be an intense and emotional journey, I decided to make the weed a joyful experience and celebrate my youth. The weather was spectacular, sunny and bright, and rather than enclosing myself in the basement on such a beautiful day, I carried each and every box upstairs and outside to my deck to sort.  There I was, by myself (my choice) surrounded with my entire life’s trail.  Couldn’t wait to dive in.

It was actually like a visiting day of my life… a chance to check into my past, visit the memories, reflect, remember, and then let go of some of the physical things that ignited them. I needed to feel what I wanted to feel, process the emotions, store the memory in my heart, and then I was able to let it go.

Interestingly, some of the stuff I put aside yesterday, I was able to let go today. Stepping away from it for a day really helped me detach from the emotional connection. My 32-year old wedding gown was never loomed or preserved in any way (who knew?) , it was yellowed with age, not bride-worthy, so I took a picture and let it go. Same for the wedding mementos.  I was thrilled to visit with them, but today I had no real issues with letting them go.  Saving the honeymoon suite keys, or hotel bills, etc.. served no purpose.  It didn’t even rekindle a moment, I had saved it….. just because.

The best revelation about today was that sometimes there is a good thing about keeping and saving stuff. My Mom had kept and organized (of course she did!) all my summer camp letters from age 6-15 yrs. old, passed them on to me, and I simply boxed them for safe keeping.  First thought was to just skim through, but believe it or not, I decided to read each and every one!  As I got immersed into my childhood memories, I couldn’t stop.  This was an awakening. I will now be so much more sensitive about how time-consuming the weeding process can take, in regards to sentimental clutter .  Dare I risk missing out on a priceless letter? If it was important enough to save them in the first place, I thought I should at least respect the choice, and read them.  Letter after letter, postcard after postcard (yes…postcards! dating myself, for sure) my childhood unraveled before me.  Every now and then, a memory would reveal itself as sharp as a tack, recalling that very day, the way it smelled, moments described with such accuracy, that I actually remember writing it.

The earlier years were extraordinary and even with my awkward misspelled handwriting still captured the core of me.  Through the later years, my personality was unfolding and it was at that moment, I realized that I had to share this very personal journey with my children.  What a wonderful gift for them to see the ME before I was their Mom; to get acquainted with a person they never knew.  It’s one thing to talk with your kids about your childhood, but it’s quite different than bearing witness to the actual growth with the authentic tactile letters.  How sweet and rich this is to have my kids catch a glimpse of my innocence and vulnerability. Priceless opportunity.

As I read through the letters, I set aside only the precious ones and filled a shoebox,  and labeled it “Read and Toss”, so when the kids come home tomorrow, we can share, laugh, cry, and then I will be able to let it go. I can’t wait to share this part of my life with them.  Small treasures discovered today.  Sometimes it’s a great thing to save stuff!

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