Last summer I moved into a new house. We sold our 1288-sq. ft. home, which I had lived in for 13 years, and moved into one that is almost twice the size at just under 2300 sq. ft. Many people might have been tempted to just box up their belongings and move. After all, a bigger house means more space, right? Not necessarily.

On the contrary, while our house was on the market, I weeded out items that we, as a family, no longer liked, used, or needed. One of the places I focused on was our garage. In addition to the usual assortment of tools, home improvement supplies, Christmas ornaments, and bicycles, I had a cedar closet and boxes full of childhood stuff. Since many people assume that as an organizer, I don’t struggle with common organizational issues and challenges, I thought I would share what was in my garage and lessons learned from the experience of packing it all up.

Lesson #1 – Your place in life influences the items you keep. Looking through the boxes of my childhood mementos, I was struck by the quirkiness of what I had decided to keep. Why did I still have a collection of insect scatter pins (yes, glittery ants, lady bugs, grasshoppers, etc.)? I thought I had already gotten rid of them. Apparently not.

When I had originally packed those boxes, I was a young teacher saving items to pass down to my future children. (Yes, the bug pins still don’t make sense.) I didn’t take into account how time would wear and fade these treasures. Many years later, my Mrs. Beasley doll no longer talks when you pull her string, and the oversized pink pencil from Seaside Heights doesn’t look quite as cool. Many of those childhood “treasures” didn’t seem like toys I would give my daughter now that I am a mother. My old stuffed animals are just that—old. I donated the better ones to charity and threw the rest away. They had lived a good life.

I kept a lot of my Barbie stuff, which handled the heat of 30 years in the garage quite well. My Barbie sports camper is in perfect shape; the yellow plastic sleeping bags roll out like I had put them away yesterday. My daughter may get a kick out of the 70’s clothes and shoes Malibu Barbie wore. If not, they will be donated.

Lesson #2 – Other people may not value things the way that I value them. My mother had kept a crate of clothes from my childhood. Each year I added favorite outfits to it (remember maxi dresses?), but I hadn’t ever looked at the entire contents.

Opening the crate, I was surprised at the number of baby dresses and outfits my mother had kept. While a few items had weathered the years of storage, others were yellowed and faded.

What should I do? My mother had given me these items, but I didn’t even know that most of them existed until opening the crate. Did I have an obligation to save them just because she did?

I chose a few items of sentimental value—my baptismal gown, a dress my mom had made for me, a quilt sewn by Grandma, and kimonos from Okinawa that I wore in preschool. I had no problem throwing away the clothes that were damaged, but I kept the bag that designated for charity in the garage for a week in case I changed my mind. I didn’t. You can’t save everything, nor should you.

Lesson # 3 -- You can’t remember everything from the past, and that’s okay; we live in the present. Looking through my childhood toys, clothes, and mementos, I found things that I didn’t remember at all, which surprised me, and things that had seemed important at the time, but whose importance had since faded.

Is it important to remember each person and all the details of the past? Would focusing on the past keep me from living in the present? Valorie Burton writes, “Those whose eyes are looking back cannot see the opportunities that lie at their feet.” I needed to let go of less important items to make room for the truly meaningful ones.

I let go of my collection of “R” stickpins from junior high but saved Children of Many Lands, a favorite book. While the stuffed porcupine (an interesting gift from a former boyfriend) went to Goodwill, I kept my high school yearbook.

In the midst of filling bags for donation, I suddenly panicked. What if my childhood treasures were actually worth something? (Think Antiques Roadshow.) Was Mrs. Beasley now worth big bucks?

Lesson #4 brought me back to reality: Most things aren’t worth what you hope. If you think your treasures are worth hundreds or thousands, then eBay is a great reality-check.
Just for fun, I looked up my 42-year-old Midge (Barbie’s older cousin) doll, which I thought would be worth something. Just $4.50 for one in mint condition (which mine wasn’t). I had a similar experience with my Brady Bunch paper dolls and my Barbie pool.

Surely, my genuine Norwegian wool sweater that I had actually purchased in Norway for over $200 was worth something. Nope, $9.95. I would rather give my sweater to someone who really needs it than go through the hassle of selling it. Another item for Goodwill.

Fast forward four months to my new house. The old toys are boxed up in my daughter’s closet, waiting their turn until she’s old enough to decide if she wants to play with them. My baby and childhood clothes are in a small box along with a few of my daughter’s baby clothes. The blanket made by Grandma is in her drawer.

The old things, though, take a back seat to the new. While it is good to look back and remember, I need to live in the present.

What about you? Is your stuff getting in the way of enjoying today? Perhaps it’s time to take out a box and let go of what you no longer need, use, or enjoy. If it is one of those childhood treasures, try something I borrowed from the children’s book, “Goodnight, Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown. In the book, the narrator says goodnight to each individual object in her bedroom before going to sleep. As I drove away from the house I had lived in (on and off) since I was in high school, I said my goodbyes: “Goodbye, high school. Goodbye, first job. Goodbye…”

Say goodbye to some items from your past, and leave room for the next chapter in your life.

Renee Ursem, 2008

Author's Bio: 

Renee Ursem, Professional Organizer and Consultant, is the owner of Get It Together, LLC, offering clients in Las Vegas and surrounding areas simple, practical solutions to organizational challenges. She can be reached at Renee is on Facebook and Linkedin.