I knew the time had come to pare down my burgeoning collection of mementos when I tried to stuff just one more greeting card into one of my four keepsake boxes and a cascade of papers came tumbling down - with no lid to hold back the avalanche, I received a very tangible wake-up call that I can't save everything.

Are you hanging on to physical reminders of people and events thinking it will be a great way to reminisce or even to honor the people those things represent? I certainly understand the emotions that greeting cards, ticket stubs, old toys, and even clothing can bring. However, as I discovered, it might be time to realize that boxes loaded with a disorganized collection of memories may be more overwhelming than comforting. I hope my description of the process I went through to turn my muddled mess into meaningful memories will help you do the same.

1. I took it slowly. I took a deep breath and recognized that getting through even one box was going to take quite a bit of time. So I set aside a half hour per day to work my way through the piles.

2. I stored photos separately. I put all photographs in their own box to be dealt with as a separate project.

3. I sorted by person. I grouped the remaining objects according the originator. For example, the greeting cards, "something old" handkerchief from my wedding, and letters from my grandmother all went into one pile.

4. I contemplated the significance. For each pile, I considered which items captured the soul of the person or experience and whether letting go of any particular item would have any impact on my memories of, or relationship with, the person they represented. I had some good laughs, shed a few tears, and at times shook my head and wondered why I had saved some of the items.

5. I kept only the gems. I let go of most items without much trouble, recognizing that their importance had diminished over time or that other items were more meaningful keepsakes of the person or event. I kept any item that stirred a twinge of nostalgia, but later photographed many of them and let go of the original article. Throughout the entire process, I reminded myself that the item was not the person or the event and I was not dishonoring anyone by letting go of things.

6. I stored the remainder in a meaningful way. I put a date on all items, and for some, I also included a sticky note with a description of why the item was significant. I placed the sorted keepsakes into a banker's box and used file folders to divide the box into sections by person. My goal was to get everything into a single box - after all, I just wanted to capture the essence of my relationships and life experiences, not every trinket from them. However, I created a second box for things from my kids and husband after realizing that the most important people in my life were worthy of more than just a couple of keepsakes.

7. I'll keep a lid on it. I don't miss any of the items I've discarded, and I'm glad to know I've got some room to spare in my two boxes so I can add meaningful items as they come along. I've vowed that I will not add any additional boxes to accommodate my keepsakes - I'll have to delete an item in order to add one, take a photo, or find some other means to capture the memory without keeping the item.

8. I'll live in the moment. While keepsakes help me reflect on how meaningful the people and occasions in my life have been, making the most of each day is the best way to make sure I fully experience and appreciate the important people and events that enrich my life.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known professional organizer, author, and speaker Sue Becker is the founder and owner of From Piles to Smiles®. She enjoys helping people from around the world live better lives by creating customized systems to overcome their overwhelming paperwork, clutter, and schedules. She specializes in helping people who are chronically disorganized - those for whom disorganization has been a lifelong struggle that negatively impacts every aspect of their life, especially people with AD/HD. Her hands-on help, as well as her presentations, have helped thousands of individuals create substantial change in their lives.

Sue is Illinois’ first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization. She co-authored the book Conversations on Success, and has appeared as an organizational expert on NBC News and the national TV show, Starting Over. A CPA, Sue has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.