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Paired Associations & Decluttering Your Space

Or: What's the shelf life on your memories?

How much do we save, display, preserve that has little or no intrinsic value; but we've imbued with meaning because of how it was acquired? You will still have the memory - even without the item; but parting with the object can still feel like a loss. Why? Because psychologically you've created a paired association. Advertisers do this all the time to trick us into purchasing a product because we like their spokes-model, or because they're donating a few pennies to one of our pet causes. Our minds just work this way. Biologically, it's because the limbic system which controls emotions is physically linked in to our memory storage. It's also close to the place where your brain processes smells, so if an item smells good you will likely find it especially difficult to part with.

Here's a new way to break those associations, and start letting go - or at least paring down!

Look around your room. How many memories does this inspire? The painted rock your son made way back in kindergarten. The pencil holder your daughter made for Mother's Day three years ago. The spirit items with which you cheered on your favorite team how many months ago? A gift from a faraway friend or departed relative. Souvenirs of trips, mementos from relationships, cards, awards, even photographs may be contributing to clutter, rather than adding value to your space.

What have you been dusting for so long you barely remember when, why, or how you acquired it? Don't try too hard! Quick, chuck it in the wastebasket before you recreate that associated memory.

Take a few minutes to look at these with a more critical eye. Which one(s), if any, would someone who did not know their story of origin be able to appreciate? It can be great having just one or two stand-out pieces that make people wonder, provoke questions, start conversations, elicit disclosures, and otherwise help people get to know you better. Much more, and they become clutter. Just as you can't see the forest for the trees, so too your treasures don't stand out in multiples. You don't have time to tell 20 or 30 stories; nor does anyone really want to listen to them all (let's be honest!)

This critical association is a first step in separating the wheat from the chaff. Although it's just a molded piece of non-precious metal, no one would doubt the value or meaning inherent in an Academy Award. So if you're fortunate enough to have something like that on your mantle, let's work on opening up a space around him so Oscar doesn't get lost among the lesser items. Similarly, if you have a piece of finely made glassware , a beautiful painting, or a sculpture, these need some room so they can get the focus they (their artists) deserve.

Ask yourself, which of these items would others appreciate enough to bid on were I to sell them at an auction. If you decide you don't want them, you can always do that. For now though, it's just a way of assessing inherent value of an object.

Next ask: Which of these items would a thrift store probably be unable to sell were I to donate it. These are the items we want to focus on purging today.

How to purge:

* If your VARK score registered high in Kinesthetics: DO NOT TOUCH! Either find someone to help you or pull on your heavy duty kitchen gloves. You are most highly susceptible to reforging your emotional bond every time you handle one of these items.

* Are you more Visual? Is this something you could take a Digital Photo of, and save to your hard-drive where you can still see it on demand, but it isn't actually consuming any "space."

* Reading/Writing: Write a journal entry about the process. Better yet, write a short story about the item: it's acquisition, it's meaning, and the process of letting go. Is this an item that you've imbued with meaning because to you it holds the memory of a loved one? Hold on to the story (which takes no room on your hard drive), because it can become an important memento of its own in years to come. Your child might LOVE to hear stories about the clay apple s/he made back in preschool. Other relatives may appreciate receiving an email about those flowers you'd saved from Auntie's funeral until you were ready to let go. You're very likely to hear some great stories in return, that will make you far richer & more fulfilled than a misshapen green lump of dried clay or some crumbling dried flowers.

* Auditory? You probably have less difficulty in this area, and may actually have less clutter to begin with. However, if you are having trouble, take a cue from R/W and make a phone call, or share that memory face-to-face over the beverage of your choice. IMPORTANT: Don't allow yourself save the napkin or other memento of THAT new memory you've created!

Ideas if you can't bear to purge:

* Rotate your collection! Allow yourself a special space or spaces for a Very Limited Number of special pieces. Into what sorts of categories do your memory items fall?
- If you have children, perhaps each one could be represented separately. Do you have enough room to store a bin of other special items in each of their rooms? Maybe just a shoebox? You still have to make some decisions about what to keep & what to part with; however, allowing yourself to keep a set mass of treasures - which can be safely and easily stored out of sight - will make those you display matter much more.
- If you have collections or hobbies, take the same technique and designate some focal area (e.g., a shelf or display case) to highlight just a select few items from that collection.
* Assess seasonal or holiday tie-ins: Many of us have a higher tolerance for ornamentation around the holidays. Can any of your sentimental items be packed away most of the year, and just come out to display during a holiday season? Maybe you really don't want or need to part with the handmade heart made of paper mache and love. Perhaps it could be packed lovingly into a box, and become part of a centerpiece each year from February 1st to the 15th. Footballs and spirit items from your favorite college team can also be packed away from one season to the next. You'll appreciate all these things more if you're not seeing them all the time. You may even save money, because your spirit wear feels new again. You'll be less tempted to invest more money in the buttons, beads, yell cones, etc. each year.

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