Sentimentality is the Enemy of Evolution

The Conversation

I was having a conversation over orange juice with one of the handful of English expats I’ve met since I moved to Buenos Aires, and the topic of sentimentality came up. It went something like this:

Me: “…so that’s why I’m traveling from country to country.”
English Expat: “So you sold everything? But haven’t you anything left at home?”
Me: “Well no, actually. My girlfriend and I had a shredding party before we left LA, so all those old photos and journal entries are gone.”
English Expat: “Oh my, how DREADFUL!”

And so on and so forth.

It should be noted that up until that point in the conversation she was totally on board with everything I was saying, even the usual points of contention. Pulling up my roots and moving on? Just fine. Breakup party with girlfriend? How interesting! Getting rid of old mementos? DREADFUL!

The Why

The trouble is that memories tend to get stuck to things. We might only remember a loved one because of the car they left us in their will, or a particular summer with friends because of the sand dollars we are still holding on to from the beach. And it’s great to hold on to memories: there are some periods in my life where the great memories I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire have been almost all that’s kept me going. But as soon as we attach significance to a thing instead of the memory itself, we’re on a downward slope.

This is something I avoid pretty well, but I still find myself falling into it from time to time. An old article of clothing that I was wearing when this or that happened that no longer fits well. The buttons given to me by a famous designer I met back in the day. Silly things that have lost their practicality and so have become clutter, taking up space that I could be using to hold, oh I don’t know, a toaster oven. Something useful.

Don’t Hate Me

I know it sounds cold and callous; trust me, I’ve gotten that response to this aspect of minimalism enough to recognize how it seems to anyone who doesn’t adhere to the same practices. But I want to make it clear that ‘out with the old’ does not mean ‘out with the memories.’ It simply means clearing out the physical baggage you’re carrying around so that you can more comfortably live life. The good stuff is still there, and in fact it’s there whenever you want, not just when you happen to stumble upon that old knick-knack.

In some ways, I imagine it’s probably easier to tuck memories away into an old toy or rocking chair or coffee cup. By imbuing SOMETHING with those memories, you don’t have to deal with them except when you’re in visual or physical contact with those items, and that can free you from the responsibility of carrying around that extra mental weight.

Get a Mental Workout

Unfortunately, though, mental muscles are a lot like any other muscle in that if you don’t exercise them regularly, they can atrophy. I’m not saying you’ll get stupid if you rid yourself of the weight of your memories, but I am saying that not dealing with and accepting old memories can lead to some serious psychoses, and keeping those happy memories separate from your day-to-day thought process can limit the amount of joy you’re able to experience in every day life. You might not be able to appreciate the comedic value of an awkward situation because you aren’t able to drum up the memory of that one time that one thing happened that was similar…too bad you don’t have the dress you were wearing that day with you. It would have been a gas.

Along those same lines, it can be more difficult to learn new things when your memories are kept at arm’s length. Making connections between new things and old things is a big part of forming new long-term memories. The more old things you have stored in that biological hard drive in your skull the more new things you’ll be able to grasp and maintain immediately.

The Most Practical Argument

Lastly, it can just be really physically burdensome to keep so much extra STUFF around. That expat I mentioned at the beginning told me that her room is always a mess and that her friends comment that her place looks like ‘a little girl’s dream,’ full of origami gum wrappers made by friends, old ceramics projects and magazine clippings from years before. Moving, she told me, is a ghastly experience, requiring an inordinate amount of transportation to haul it all. She admitted that traveling here to Buenos Aires was actually a big relief, in part because she didn’t have to deal with all that baggage (literally and figuratively).

It is, of course, everyone’s personal decision how they deal with their past, and some people will always be more willing to have it constantly lingering around the back of their mind than others. Minimalism isn’t for everyone, but if you give it a shot – get rid of something you’ve been holding onto forever ‘just because’ – I guarantee at the very least you’ll have more room for that toaster oven.

88 comments

  1. Hey Colin, I mostly agree with you.
    As you said in one previous post, I would scan/digitalize photos, sketches, letters & writings (with parcimony however).
    We need space in our minds & souls for so many new -real- things.

  2. Hey Colin, I mostly agree with you.
    As you said in one previous post, I would scan/digitalize photos, sketches, letters & writings (with parcimony however).
    We need space in our minds & souls for so many new -real- things.

  3. Hey Colin, I mostly agree with you.
    As you said in one previous post, I would scan/digitalize photos, sketches, letters & writings (with parcimony however).
    We need space in our minds & souls for so many new -real- things.

  4. I envy your ability to toss crap. I’m not sentimentally attached to much, but being sentimentally attached to anything really sucks for me. I want to get rid of so much, but it’s a difficult thing for me to overcome. It’s completely illogical, I know.

    What’s worse is, I know that if I get rid of it I won’t miss it. I won’t ever regret getting rid of it.

    Memories, I guess, are really great inventions. A way to keep things without being burdened with a physical presence. I wish I could learn for “memories alone” to be okay. I’ll try to make that my motto. Memories alone. Really great post, Colin.

  5. I envy your ability to toss crap. I’m not sentimentally attached to much, but being sentimentally attached to anything really sucks for me. I want to get rid of so much, but it’s a difficult thing for me to overcome. It’s completely illogical, I know.

    What’s worse is, I know that if I get rid of it I won’t miss it. I won’t ever regret getting rid of it.

    Memories, I guess, are really great inventions. A way to keep things without being burdened with a physical presence. I wish I could learn for “memories alone” to be okay. I’ll try to make that my motto. Memories alone. Really great post, Colin.

  6. I envy your ability to toss crap. I’m not sentimentally attached to much, but being sentimentally attached to anything really sucks for me. I want to get rid of so much, but it’s a difficult thing for me to overcome. It’s completely illogical, I know.

    What’s worse is, I know that if I get rid of it I won’t miss it. I won’t ever regret getting rid of it.

    Memories, I guess, are really great inventions. A way to keep things without being burdened with a physical presence. I wish I could learn for “memories alone” to be okay. I’ll try to make that my motto. Memories alone. Really great post, Colin.

  7. Strong title, but I agree with you. Mentally enjoying your past and the different experiences you’ve had is something I hadn’t thought of before. Its like meditation, or prayer…I mental conversation of sorts which goes against the grain of our (USA) typical materialist “I want it now” doctrine. Good thoughts.

  8. Strong title, but I agree with you. Mentally enjoying your past and the different experiences you’ve had is something I hadn’t thought of before. Its like meditation, or prayer…I mental conversation of sorts which goes against the grain of our (USA) typical materialist “I want it now” doctrine. Good thoughts.

  9. Strong title, but I agree with you. Mentally enjoying your past and the different experiences you’ve had is something I hadn’t thought of before. Its like meditation, or prayer…I mental conversation of sorts which goes against the grain of our (USA) typical materialist “I want it now” doctrine. Good thoughts.

  10. I think it’s fine to hang onto a few things, but you need to be strict and set a limit. Having photos, etc will serve you well in your old age when you look back upon your life and will help you recreate some nice memories.

  11. I think it’s fine to hang onto a few things, but you need to be strict and set a limit. Having photos, etc will serve you well in your old age when you look back upon your life and will help you recreate some nice memories.

  12. I think it’s fine to hang onto a few things, but you need to be strict and set a limit. Having photos, etc will serve you well in your old age when you look back upon your life and will help you recreate some nice memories.

  13. Your idea that by using material objects to capture memories we are in fact hindering our own development (through mental atrophy) and keeping them at arms length is fascinating. I’d be curious to see some empirical studies done on the subject.

    Certainly, for me, it is these objects which are the hardest to throw out or the easiest to justify keeping even when they serve no purpose.

    I have some qualms about linking minimalism with the purely utilitarian. I don’t know.

  14. Your idea that by using material objects to capture memories we are in fact hindering our own development (through mental atrophy) and keeping them at arms length is fascinating. I’d be curious to see some empirical studies done on the subject.

    Certainly, for me, it is these objects which are the hardest to throw out or the easiest to justify keeping even when they serve no purpose.

    I have some qualms about linking minimalism with the purely utilitarian. I don’t know.

  15. Your idea that by using material objects to capture memories we are in fact hindering our own development (through mental atrophy) and keeping them at arms length is fascinating. I’d be curious to see some empirical studies done on the subject.

    Certainly, for me, it is these objects which are the hardest to throw out or the easiest to justify keeping even when they serve no purpose.

    I have some qualms about linking minimalism with the purely utilitarian. I don’t know.

  16. It is something of a relief that those old journal entries will never be found :)

    You definitely sold me on this whole concept. Having to buy furniture for my new place was ten times more emotionally exhausting because I kept thinking, but I’m just going to get rid of it in 17 months anyway…

  17. It is something of a relief that those old journal entries will never be found :)

    You definitely sold me on this whole concept. Having to buy furniture for my new place was ten times more emotionally exhausting because I kept thinking, but I’m just going to get rid of it in 17 months anyway…

  18. It is something of a relief that those old journal entries will never be found :)

    You definitely sold me on this whole concept. Having to buy furniture for my new place was ten times more emotionally exhausting because I kept thinking, but I’m just going to get rid of it in 17 months anyway…

  19. I agree it’s good to purge, but I’m not sure that pitching a ticket or a picture will increase ones mental capacity to remember it. I supoose if you have no proof of its existence and you forget it then you don’t realize you don’t remember. None the less I do get a genuine joy when I stumble across a poem written for me on a cigarrette pack by my high school buddy at a bush party. Of course I’m older and maybe I’ve challenged my brain with too many drugs and not enough positive stimulus ;)

  20. I agree it’s good to purge, but I’m not sure that pitching a ticket or a picture will increase ones mental capacity to remember it. I supoose if you have no proof of its existence and you forget it then you don’t realize you don’t remember. None the less I do get a genuine joy when I stumble across a poem written for me on a cigarrette pack by my high school buddy at a bush party. Of course I’m older and maybe I’ve challenged my brain with too many drugs and not enough positive stimulus ;)

  21. I agree it’s good to purge, but I’m not sure that pitching a ticket or a picture will increase ones mental capacity to remember it. I supoose if you have no proof of its existence and you forget it then you don’t realize you don’t remember. None the less I do get a genuine joy when I stumble across a poem written for me on a cigarrette pack by my high school buddy at a bush party. Of course I’m older and maybe I’ve challenged my brain with too many drugs and not enough positive stimulus ;)

  22. Inspiring.
    I have a 1200sqft house packed to the gills with crap. there are boxes in the basement and garage that haven’t been opened in 3 years or more.
    what good are they? I clearly don’t need any of it.
    Time to purge. . . it’s getting my wife on board that’s the hard part.

  23. Inspiring.
    I have a 1200sqft house packed to the gills with crap. there are boxes in the basement and garage that haven’t been opened in 3 years or more.
    what good are they? I clearly don’t need any of it.
    Time to purge. . . it’s getting my wife on board that’s the hard part.

  24. Inspiring.
    I have a 1200sqft house packed to the gills with crap. there are boxes in the basement and garage that haven’t been opened in 3 years or more.
    what good are they? I clearly don’t need any of it.
    Time to purge. . . it’s getting my wife on board that’s the hard part.

  25. The timing of this is actually quite amusing to me. I just got rid of most of my clothing, and now I’m looking to get rid of pointless stuff like this.

    I’m way against things that can hold you back from doing what you want, and if being over-sentimental and hoarding pointless stuff is one of them, I like this idea you have. Just get rid of it.

  26. The timing of this is actually quite amusing to me. I just got rid of most of my clothing, and now I’m looking to get rid of pointless stuff like this.

    I’m way against things that can hold you back from doing what you want, and if being over-sentimental and hoarding pointless stuff is one of them, I like this idea you have. Just get rid of it.

  27. The timing of this is actually quite amusing to me. I just got rid of most of my clothing, and now I’m looking to get rid of pointless stuff like this.

    I’m way against things that can hold you back from doing what you want, and if being over-sentimental and hoarding pointless stuff is one of them, I like this idea you have. Just get rid of it.

  28. I just can’t destroy/loose/erase photographs. It’s like erasing a part of history, it’s over me and it hurts too much when I have no other option than destroy them for something.
    I like to have mementos, Even if they are no longer useful, it’s a part of my life. A part of my history.

  29. I just can’t destroy/loose/erase photographs. It’s like erasing a part of history, it’s over me and it hurts too much when I have no other option than destroy them for something.
    I like to have mementos, Even if they are no longer useful, it’s a part of my life. A part of my history.

  30. I just can’t destroy/loose/erase photographs. It’s like erasing a part of history, it’s over me and it hurts too much when I have no other option than destroy them for something.
    I like to have mementos, Even if they are no longer useful, it’s a part of my life. A part of my history.

  31. Wonderfully said! You’re making me want to get rid of everything I’ve accumulated since I’ve moved last year and start over. I have one foot out of NY and I just want to leave everything and go somewhere. And like you said in one of your other posts, all photos and journal entries can be scanned onto a computer so really all we’re getting rid of is the physical clutter. Its so much better to live in the present moment and look towards the future rather than pining a way over an object connected with a memory. I’m not saying sentimental value isn’t important, but I do agree that being able to live life to the fullest means de cluttering the past we too often weight ourselves down with.

  32. Wonderfully said! You’re making me want to get rid of everything I’ve accumulated since I’ve moved last year and start over. I have one foot out of NY and I just want to leave everything and go somewhere. And like you said in one of your other posts, all photos and journal entries can be scanned onto a computer so really all we’re getting rid of is the physical clutter. Its so much better to live in the present moment and look towards the future rather than pining a way over an object connected with a memory. I’m not saying sentimental value isn’t important, but I do agree that being able to live life to the fullest means de cluttering the past we too often weight ourselves down with.

  33. Wonderfully said! You’re making me want to get rid of everything I’ve accumulated since I’ve moved last year and start over. I have one foot out of NY and I just want to leave everything and go somewhere. And like you said in one of your other posts, all photos and journal entries can be scanned onto a computer so really all we’re getting rid of is the physical clutter. Its so much better to live in the present moment and look towards the future rather than pining a way over an object connected with a memory. I’m not saying sentimental value isn’t important, but I do agree that being able to live life to the fullest means de cluttering the past we too often weight ourselves down with.

  34. The assignment of emotional value to items is a nefarious trick of consumption culture. The fact that it’s acceptable (and probably a majority opinion) for people to judge those who choose to experience life trough living rather than through clinging to objects is a reflection of that. That reflection is kind of depressing. Isn’t it more callous to transfer the memories and emotions of a person to a proxy object?

    Did people have less feeling before the invention of the photograph?

    I went trough the purging process when I left the U.S. for Panama in 2006. All I had left was whatever would fit in two checked bags and a carry-on. I still love my mom. Shocking. I know.

  35. The assignment of emotional value to items is a nefarious trick of consumption culture. The fact that it’s acceptable (and probably a majority opinion) for people to judge those who choose to experience life trough living rather than through clinging to objects is a reflection of that. That reflection is kind of depressing. Isn’t it more callous to transfer the memories and emotions of a person to a proxy object?

    Did people have less feeling before the invention of the photograph?

    I went trough the purging process when I left the U.S. for Panama in 2006. All I had left was whatever would fit in two checked bags and a carry-on. I still love my mom. Shocking. I know.

  36. The assignment of emotional value to items is a nefarious trick of consumption culture. The fact that it’s acceptable (and probably a majority opinion) for people to judge those who choose to experience life trough living rather than through clinging to objects is a reflection of that. That reflection is kind of depressing. Isn’t it more callous to transfer the memories and emotions of a person to a proxy object?

    Did people have less feeling before the invention of the photograph?

    I went trough the purging process when I left the U.S. for Panama in 2006. All I had left was whatever would fit in two checked bags and a carry-on. I still love my mom. Shocking. I know.

  37. i was just taking a break from packing up my apartment for a temporary move…

    I am the child of a compulsive collector (empty picture frames, cermaics and textiles form around the world, vintage clothes, instructions, books on almost all subjects) and as such I often find myself immobilized by the desire to be UNlike my mother and the indistinguishable pull of genetic hoarding instinct and the guilt of wasteful-ness.

    So far I’m taking each move as an opportunity slim down and reassess. unfortunately the reassessing part can be *quite* time consuming.

    (p.s. Colin, I’m really enjoying your posts.)

  38. i was just taking a break from packing up my apartment for a temporary move…

    I am the child of a compulsive collector (empty picture frames, cermaics and textiles form around the world, vintage clothes, instructions, books on almost all subjects) and as such I often find myself immobilized by the desire to be UNlike my mother and the indistinguishable pull of genetic hoarding instinct and the guilt of wasteful-ness.

    So far I’m taking each move as an opportunity slim down and reassess. unfortunately the reassessing part can be *quite* time consuming.

    (p.s. Colin, I’m really enjoying your posts.)

  39. i was just taking a break from packing up my apartment for a temporary move…

    I am the child of a compulsive collector (empty picture frames, cermaics and textiles form around the world, vintage clothes, instructions, books on almost all subjects) and as such I often find myself immobilized by the desire to be UNlike my mother and the indistinguishable pull of genetic hoarding instinct and the guilt of wasteful-ness.

    So far I’m taking each move as an opportunity slim down and reassess. unfortunately the reassessing part can be *quite* time consuming.

    (p.s. Colin, I’m really enjoying your posts.)

  40. @Corinne: Yeah, and if you can get that stuff online (so you aren’t even taking up hard drive space on your computer with it), all the better. The smaller burden you can place on yourself with these artifacts from the past the better. No reason you can’t leave yourself tiem capsules and keep your Facebook and Flickr pages loaded up, but it’s the possession that seems to be the problem.

    @J.D.: Thanks, J.D.! It’s just a matter of time and small steps. Try using the snowball effect and building up little by little. Get rid of something small, then bigger, then bigger, and soon enough you’ll be where you want to be, possession-wise.

    @Robert: It’s the marketer in me that can’t help going for the emotional impact in my titles :) It’s a LOT like meditation, going over the past. Especially since I’ve been here in Buenos Aires, not knowing more than a few people, I’ve spent a lot of time just sitting, relaxing, and going over the events that led to me being here. It’s a great way to calm nerves and entertain your mind.

    @Gordie: That’s a good point, and one that I’ve heard before and can’t really think of an argument against. When you’re old and your memories start to fade, it can be good to have photos to look back on as small reminders. I feel like, for me, my Internet presence will account for this, but I guess not everyone spends as much time online as I do :)

    @Nathan: Yeah, I did a quick search before writing the article to see if anything scientific popped up, but to no avail. Let me know if you do find something, though, because all I have to go on right now is experiential, and that can make for good advice, but not good science. I would argue that just about anything can be utilitarian to SOMEONE, and for me trinkets and physical photographs don’t serve much purpose, hence the link to minimalism.

    @NomadicNeil: Yeah, it’s tough. And if they give you that much pleasure, there’s no reason you should get rid of them. For me, though, and many other people (it would seem), they are redundant and more or less taking up space.

    @Kristin: Haha, sorry that the furniture buying experience was so taxing for you! It definitely makes the moving process a whole lot easier when you have less stuff, though…

    @Jack: That’s a very good point! Kind of like how keys are always in the last place you looked (because you stop looking after you find them). Something to think about, certainly, though I still feel like the memories have become crisper the less I dilute them with tangible reminders (it’s very easy to let the photo do the remembering for you, so thinks start to look more like they do in the photo over time, even if they weren’t really that way in fact). I may have to start keeping more photos if I start getting into hallucinogens, though!

    @Nate: Good luck convincing the wife! It’s difficult when there’s more than just you making the decisions…seems like the ‘necessary’ items grow exponentially rather than just by a factor of 2. When I live with other people, the same thing happens to me (though thankfully I think I’ll be living alone for a while so I won’t have to face that aspect of cohabitation)!

    @Alan: I’m a toaster-oven convert. To think I once made grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled! All that time I could have been toasting them. Lesson learned…

    @Nate: Glad you agree! Good luck with the rest of your purge! It really does open up a lot more possibilities.

    @Traveling Lost: In that case, you should definitely keep them because they DO serve a purpose for you. I get rid of them because they don’t help me out, but for you they are clearly vital. Keep them, enjoy them, and if there’s something that you’ve been holding on to that means less to you than the photos, scrap that instead!

    @Kristin Quinn: Glad you agree, Kristin! Let me know where you end up going and if you ever need a couch to crash on!

    @Andrew: Very well said! I totally agree, and I think a lot of other people here do, too.

    @Sara: Sounds like you’re taking it step by step, which is exactly what you should be doing (unless your the kind of person who jumps into the cold pool to get it out of the way, in which case you can probably do something more dramatic and live to tell the tale). Thanks for the compliment; I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts!

    Thanks everyone who is taking the time to comment and contribute their two cents. Lots of really great opinions and arguments here, and I for one am much better off for having been exposed to all of them.

  41. @Corinne: Yeah, and if you can get that stuff online (so you aren’t even taking up hard drive space on your computer with it), all the better. The smaller burden you can place on yourself with these artifacts from the past the better. No reason you can’t leave yourself tiem capsules and keep your Facebook and Flickr pages loaded up, but it’s the possession that seems to be the problem.

    @J.D.: Thanks, J.D.! It’s just a matter of time and small steps. Try using the snowball effect and building up little by little. Get rid of something small, then bigger, then bigger, and soon enough you’ll be where you want to be, possession-wise.

    @Robert: It’s the marketer in me that can’t help going for the emotional impact in my titles :) It’s a LOT like meditation, going over the past. Especially since I’ve been here in Buenos Aires, not knowing more than a few people, I’ve spent a lot of time just sitting, relaxing, and going over the events that led to me being here. It’s a great way to calm nerves and entertain your mind.

    @Gordie: That’s a good point, and one that I’ve heard before and can’t really think of an argument against. When you’re old and your memories start to fade, it can be good to have photos to look back on as small reminders. I feel like, for me, my Internet presence will account for this, but I guess not everyone spends as much time online as I do :)

    @Nathan: Yeah, I did a quick search before writing the article to see if anything scientific popped up, but to no avail. Let me know if you do find something, though, because all I have to go on right now is experiential, and that can make for good advice, but not good science. I would argue that just about anything can be utilitarian to SOMEONE, and for me trinkets and physical photographs don’t serve much purpose, hence the link to minimalism.

    @NomadicNeil: Yeah, it’s tough. And if they give you that much pleasure, there’s no reason you should get rid of them. For me, though, and many other people (it would seem), they are redundant and more or less taking up space.

    @Kristin: Haha, sorry that the furniture buying experience was so taxing for you! It definitely makes the moving process a whole lot easier when you have less stuff, though…

    @Jack: That’s a very good point! Kind of like how keys are always in the last place you looked (because you stop looking after you find them). Something to think about, certainly, though I still feel like the memories have become crisper the less I dilute them with tangible reminders (it’s very easy to let the photo do the remembering for you, so thinks start to look more like they do in the photo over time, even if they weren’t really that way in fact). I may have to start keeping more photos if I start getting into hallucinogens, though!

    @Nate: Good luck convincing the wife! It’s difficult when there’s more than just you making the decisions…seems like the ‘necessary’ items grow exponentially rather than just by a factor of 2. When I live with other people, the same thing happens to me (though thankfully I think I’ll be living alone for a while so I won’t have to face that aspect of cohabitation)!

    @Alan: I’m a toaster-oven convert. To think I once made grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled! All that time I could have been toasting them. Lesson learned…

    @Nate: Glad you agree! Good luck with the rest of your purge! It really does open up a lot more possibilities.

    @Traveling Lost: In that case, you should definitely keep them because they DO serve a purpose for you. I get rid of them because they don’t help me out, but for you they are clearly vital. Keep them, enjoy them, and if there’s something that you’ve been holding on to that means less to you than the photos, scrap that instead!

    @Kristin Quinn: Glad you agree, Kristin! Let me know where you end up going and if you ever need a couch to crash on!

    @Andrew: Very well said! I totally agree, and I think a lot of other people here do, too.

    @Sara: Sounds like you’re taking it step by step, which is exactly what you should be doing (unless your the kind of person who jumps into the cold pool to get it out of the way, in which case you can probably do something more dramatic and live to tell the tale). Thanks for the compliment; I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts!

    Thanks everyone who is taking the time to comment and contribute their two cents. Lots of really great opinions and arguments here, and I for one am much better off for having been exposed to all of them.

  42. @Corinne: Yeah, and if you can get that stuff online (so you aren’t even taking up hard drive space on your computer with it), all the better. The smaller burden you can place on yourself with these artifacts from the past the better. No reason you can’t leave yourself tiem capsules and keep your Facebook and Flickr pages loaded up, but it’s the possession that seems to be the problem.

    @J.D.: Thanks, J.D.! It’s just a matter of time and small steps. Try using the snowball effect and building up little by little. Get rid of something small, then bigger, then bigger, and soon enough you’ll be where you want to be, possession-wise.

    @Robert: It’s the marketer in me that can’t help going for the emotional impact in my titles :) It’s a LOT like meditation, going over the past. Especially since I’ve been here in Buenos Aires, not knowing more than a few people, I’ve spent a lot of time just sitting, relaxing, and going over the events that led to me being here. It’s a great way to calm nerves and entertain your mind.

    @Gordie: That’s a good point, and one that I’ve heard before and can’t really think of an argument against. When you’re old and your memories start to fade, it can be good to have photos to look back on as small reminders. I feel like, for me, my Internet presence will account for this, but I guess not everyone spends as much time online as I do :)

    @Nathan: Yeah, I did a quick search before writing the article to see if anything scientific popped up, but to no avail. Let me know if you do find something, though, because all I have to go on right now is experiential, and that can make for good advice, but not good science. I would argue that just about anything can be utilitarian to SOMEONE, and for me trinkets and physical photographs don’t serve much purpose, hence the link to minimalism.

    @NomadicNeil: Yeah, it’s tough. And if they give you that much pleasure, there’s no reason you should get rid of them. For me, though, and many other people (it would seem), they are redundant and more or less taking up space.

    @Kristin: Haha, sorry that the furniture buying experience was so taxing for you! It definitely makes the moving process a whole lot easier when you have less stuff, though…

    @Jack: That’s a very good point! Kind of like how keys are always in the last place you looked (because you stop looking after you find them). Something to think about, certainly, though I still feel like the memories have become crisper the less I dilute them with tangible reminders (it’s very easy to let the photo do the remembering for you, so thinks start to look more like they do in the photo over time, even if they weren’t really that way in fact). I may have to start keeping more photos if I start getting into hallucinogens, though!

    @Nate: Good luck convincing the wife! It’s difficult when there’s more than just you making the decisions…seems like the ‘necessary’ items grow exponentially rather than just by a factor of 2. When I live with other people, the same thing happens to me (though thankfully I think I’ll be living alone for a while so I won’t have to face that aspect of cohabitation)!

    @Alan: I’m a toaster-oven convert. To think I once made grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled! All that time I could have been toasting them. Lesson learned…

    @Nate: Glad you agree! Good luck with the rest of your purge! It really does open up a lot more possibilities.

    @Traveling Lost: In that case, you should definitely keep them because they DO serve a purpose for you. I get rid of them because they don’t help me out, but for you they are clearly vital. Keep them, enjoy them, and if there’s something that you’ve been holding on to that means less to you than the photos, scrap that instead!

    @Kristin Quinn: Glad you agree, Kristin! Let me know where you end up going and if you ever need a couch to crash on!

    @Andrew: Very well said! I totally agree, and I think a lot of other people here do, too.

    @Sara: Sounds like you’re taking it step by step, which is exactly what you should be doing (unless your the kind of person who jumps into the cold pool to get it out of the way, in which case you can probably do something more dramatic and live to tell the tale). Thanks for the compliment; I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts!

    Thanks everyone who is taking the time to comment and contribute their two cents. Lots of really great opinions and arguments here, and I for one am much better off for having been exposed to all of them.

  43. Your lifestyle is something I have aspired to for a long time, but the years have found me accumulating mementoes which have now become the embodiment of the emotions and memories they once simply served to suggest. There is the fear that, at some point in the future, I would no longer be able to remember the event tied to that object. Rationally, I can see that this moors me unhealthily to the past, but this hasn’t been enough to persuade me to completely eliminate every physical “treasure”.

    I remember reading a study about the strong sense of ownership in chimpanzees. Allowed to develop an attachment to, for instance, a cup, the chimpanzee will refuse to trade this cup for food even when offered another cup as well (there is more to this story, I’m sure, but I’ll leave it to you to seek out the reference). It seems possible that this sense of ownership, which probably has some value in natural selection, is partly responsible for our tendency to bond with objects.

    I have managed to rid myself, in each attempt, of almost everything with no strong sentimental or functional value, and uprooted myself now and again, but I think I will keep a few boxes in storage in case some future self will thank me for returning lost memories.

  44. Your lifestyle is something I have aspired to for a long time, but the years have found me accumulating mementoes which have now become the embodiment of the emotions and memories they once simply served to suggest. There is the fear that, at some point in the future, I would no longer be able to remember the event tied to that object. Rationally, I can see that this moors me unhealthily to the past, but this hasn’t been enough to persuade me to completely eliminate every physical “treasure”.

    I remember reading a study about the strong sense of ownership in chimpanzees. Allowed to develop an attachment to, for instance, a cup, the chimpanzee will refuse to trade this cup for food even when offered another cup as well (there is more to this story, I’m sure, but I’ll leave it to you to seek out the reference). It seems possible that this sense of ownership, which probably has some value in natural selection, is partly responsible for our tendency to bond with objects.

    I have managed to rid myself, in each attempt, of almost everything with no strong sentimental or functional value, and uprooted myself now and again, but I think I will keep a few boxes in storage in case some future self will thank me for returning lost memories.

  45. Your lifestyle is something I have aspired to for a long time, but the years have found me accumulating mementoes which have now become the embodiment of the emotions and memories they once simply served to suggest. There is the fear that, at some point in the future, I would no longer be able to remember the event tied to that object. Rationally, I can see that this moors me unhealthily to the past, but this hasn’t been enough to persuade me to completely eliminate every physical “treasure”.

    I remember reading a study about the strong sense of ownership in chimpanzees. Allowed to develop an attachment to, for instance, a cup, the chimpanzee will refuse to trade this cup for food even when offered another cup as well (there is more to this story, I’m sure, but I’ll leave it to you to seek out the reference). It seems possible that this sense of ownership, which probably has some value in natural selection, is partly responsible for our tendency to bond with objects.

    I have managed to rid myself, in each attempt, of almost everything with no strong sentimental or functional value, and uprooted myself now and again, but I think I will keep a few boxes in storage in case some future self will thank me for returning lost memories.

  46. Wonderful post! I’ve been at this minimalism thing for about 3-4 years now and it’s been one hell of a ride. It tends to rise some issues to overcome and forces one to do some soul-searching.

    I limited myself to just one box (about 35x25x20cm big) of sentimental memorabilia (2 photoalbums, a DVD case for files and some minor stuff) and am getting pretty good at it :) But the suitcase with all the legal stuff spoils the simplicity of that box… These are the only must-keep-safe items I still have, everything else is replaceable.

  47. Wonderful post! I’ve been at this minimalism thing for about 3-4 years now and it’s been one hell of a ride. It tends to rise some issues to overcome and forces one to do some soul-searching.

    I limited myself to just one box (about 35x25x20cm big) of sentimental memorabilia (2 photoalbums, a DVD case for files and some minor stuff) and am getting pretty good at it :) But the suitcase with all the legal stuff spoils the simplicity of that box… These are the only must-keep-safe items I still have, everything else is replaceable.

  48. Wonderful post! I’ve been at this minimalism thing for about 3-4 years now and it’s been one hell of a ride. It tends to rise some issues to overcome and forces one to do some soul-searching.

    I limited myself to just one box (about 35x25x20cm big) of sentimental memorabilia (2 photoalbums, a DVD case for files and some minor stuff) and am getting pretty good at it :) But the suitcase with all the legal stuff spoils the simplicity of that box… These are the only must-keep-safe items I still have, everything else is replaceable.

  49. I love this post!

    I’ve always found the idea that a person’s essence, or even a memory, can be embodied in an object to be just a little frightening.

    As I’ve pared down my possessions, I actually find that my memories have clarified, solidified. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

    Did I mention I love this post?

  50. I love this post!

    I’ve always found the idea that a person’s essence, or even a memory, can be embodied in an object to be just a little frightening.

    As I’ve pared down my possessions, I actually find that my memories have clarified, solidified. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

    Did I mention I love this post?

  51. I love this post!

    I’ve always found the idea that a person’s essence, or even a memory, can be embodied in an object to be just a little frightening.

    As I’ve pared down my possessions, I actually find that my memories have clarified, solidified. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

    Did I mention I love this post?

  52. @Dave: I hadn’t heard about that chimpanzee study; really interesting! I have no doubt that the desire to accumulate and hang on to the familiar is a natural survival instinct of some kind. It’s perpetuated by modern consumerist culture, for sure, but marketers better at augmenting and exaggerating what’s already there and not so good at creating new traits out of thin air. I say if it makes you feel good, keep absolutely everything you’ve ever touched! Of course, there are more ‘middle path’ routes like that one you mentioned (keeping some things, but slowly reducing the other stuff as you feel the need) that have equal validity. Thanks for sharing!

    @Darko: Ah, you’ve got quite a bit of experience, it sounds like! I like the idea of having a box of memorabilia…it makes you really consider what’s important, but isn’t as drastic as chucking everything. A really solid option for many people, I’d say.

    @Barb: Thanks Barb! I’ve found the same to be true, and though I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, I think discovering whether or not it works for you, personally, is an important thing to figure out.

  53. @Dave: I hadn’t heard about that chimpanzee study; really interesting! I have no doubt that the desire to accumulate and hang on to the familiar is a natural survival instinct of some kind. It’s perpetuated by modern consumerist culture, for sure, but marketers better at augmenting and exaggerating what’s already there and not so good at creating new traits out of thin air. I say if it makes you feel good, keep absolutely everything you’ve ever touched! Of course, there are more ‘middle path’ routes like that one you mentioned (keeping some things, but slowly reducing the other stuff as you feel the need) that have equal validity. Thanks for sharing!

    @Darko: Ah, you’ve got quite a bit of experience, it sounds like! I like the idea of having a box of memorabilia…it makes you really consider what’s important, but isn’t as drastic as chucking everything. A really solid option for many people, I’d say.

    @Barb: Thanks Barb! I’ve found the same to be true, and though I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, I think discovering whether or not it works for you, personally, is an important thing to figure out.

  54. @Dave: I hadn’t heard about that chimpanzee study; really interesting! I have no doubt that the desire to accumulate and hang on to the familiar is a natural survival instinct of some kind. It’s perpetuated by modern consumerist culture, for sure, but marketers better at augmenting and exaggerating what’s already there and not so good at creating new traits out of thin air. I say if it makes you feel good, keep absolutely everything you’ve ever touched! Of course, there are more ‘middle path’ routes like that one you mentioned (keeping some things, but slowly reducing the other stuff as you feel the need) that have equal validity. Thanks for sharing!

    @Darko: Ah, you’ve got quite a bit of experience, it sounds like! I like the idea of having a box of memorabilia…it makes you really consider what’s important, but isn’t as drastic as chucking everything. A really solid option for many people, I’d say.

    @Barb: Thanks Barb! I’ve found the same to be true, and though I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, I think discovering whether or not it works for you, personally, is an important thing to figure out.

  55. There is a tough balance. It is great to de-clutter and get rid of things, but at the same time stuff actually can improve the quality of our lives.(Computer, iPod, Camera, etc.) Sometimes our stuff actually defines who we are. For me it is my guitars, espresso machine, music, and bikes.

    I hate clutter but at the same time I do value possessions. I have never been able to throw out good books, pictures, my idea books, etc. Those things have too much meaning to discard. Some of this stuff has been accidentally disposed of by others without too much disruption, but personal stuff is still important.

    Another thing I find is that as I get older, those mementos are more important. A great old picture can relive an event that happened 20 years ago. In my 20s I was proud to be able to put all of my life in a couple of bags. Now, I try to keep stashes of important things with friends and family in a few places around the world.

    Did you save the digital versions of the photos?

  56. There is a tough balance. It is great to de-clutter and get rid of things, but at the same time stuff actually can improve the quality of our lives.(Computer, iPod, Camera, etc.) Sometimes our stuff actually defines who we are. For me it is my guitars, espresso machine, music, and bikes.

    I hate clutter but at the same time I do value possessions. I have never been able to throw out good books, pictures, my idea books, etc. Those things have too much meaning to discard. Some of this stuff has been accidentally disposed of by others without too much disruption, but personal stuff is still important.

    Another thing I find is that as I get older, those mementos are more important. A great old picture can relive an event that happened 20 years ago. In my 20s I was proud to be able to put all of my life in a couple of bags. Now, I try to keep stashes of important things with friends and family in a few places around the world.

    Did you save the digital versions of the photos?

  57. There is a tough balance. It is great to de-clutter and get rid of things, but at the same time stuff actually can improve the quality of our lives.(Computer, iPod, Camera, etc.) Sometimes our stuff actually defines who we are. For me it is my guitars, espresso machine, music, and bikes.

    I hate clutter but at the same time I do value possessions. I have never been able to throw out good books, pictures, my idea books, etc. Those things have too much meaning to discard. Some of this stuff has been accidentally disposed of by others without too much disruption, but personal stuff is still important.

    Another thing I find is that as I get older, those mementos are more important. A great old picture can relive an event that happened 20 years ago. In my 20s I was proud to be able to put all of my life in a couple of bags. Now, I try to keep stashes of important things with friends and family in a few places around the world.

    Did you save the digital versions of the photos?

  58. @John: Very true. I myself am suffering from withdrawal from my iPhone, though I like to think that’s more because of the incredible functionality it provided, rather than any emotional attachment (I got an iPod Touch so I can still listen to music and read eBooks while I’m traveling, fortunately!). In any case, I definitely agree that there are things that, simply by owning them, can improve your life drastically.

    That being said, I think having too many of these things, with overlapping functionality, can lead to less joy from them. I’ve found myself in this position in the past, when I would take a trip and bring so many gadgets that I wouldn’t use any of them. The process of determining which to use would be so complex that I would just avoid the situation completely.

    I definitely have a lot of photos online, and I scanned some before they were shredded. It’s good to have memories, and I certainly don’t have anything against photos, it’s the attaching of emotion to an object over the memory itself that I have trouble with. So many people are terrified of losing an old photograph, for example, so they sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice to keep it around, when in reality the real value is in their head. That piece of paper is merely a piece of paper, and being ruled by the desire to possess it is akin to being owned by your emotions.

  59. @John: Very true. I myself am suffering from withdrawal from my iPhone, though I like to think that’s more because of the incredible functionality it provided, rather than any emotional attachment (I got an iPod Touch so I can still listen to music and read eBooks while I’m traveling, fortunately!). In any case, I definitely agree that there are things that, simply by owning them, can improve your life drastically.

    That being said, I think having too many of these things, with overlapping functionality, can lead to less joy from them. I’ve found myself in this position in the past, when I would take a trip and bring so many gadgets that I wouldn’t use any of them. The process of determining which to use would be so complex that I would just avoid the situation completely.

    I definitely have a lot of photos online, and I scanned some before they were shredded. It’s good to have memories, and I certainly don’t have anything against photos, it’s the attaching of emotion to an object over the memory itself that I have trouble with. So many people are terrified of losing an old photograph, for example, so they sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice to keep it around, when in reality the real value is in their head. That piece of paper is merely a piece of paper, and being ruled by the desire to possess it is akin to being owned by your emotions.

  60. @John: Very true. I myself am suffering from withdrawal from my iPhone, though I like to think that’s more because of the incredible functionality it provided, rather than any emotional attachment (I got an iPod Touch so I can still listen to music and read eBooks while I’m traveling, fortunately!). In any case, I definitely agree that there are things that, simply by owning them, can improve your life drastically.

    That being said, I think having too many of these things, with overlapping functionality, can lead to less joy from them. I’ve found myself in this position in the past, when I would take a trip and bring so many gadgets that I wouldn’t use any of them. The process of determining which to use would be so complex that I would just avoid the situation completely.

    I definitely have a lot of photos online, and I scanned some before they were shredded. It’s good to have memories, and I certainly don’t have anything against photos, it’s the attaching of emotion to an object over the memory itself that I have trouble with. So many people are terrified of losing an old photograph, for example, so they sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice to keep it around, when in reality the real value is in their head. That piece of paper is merely a piece of paper, and being ruled by the desire to possess it is akin to being owned by your emotions.

  61. @English Expat: Haha! Just wait, you gave me another idea over sushi the other night. You’re a fount of inspiration, dreadfully ghastly or no!

  62. @English Expat: Haha! Just wait, you gave me another idea over sushi the other night. You’re a fount of inspiration, dreadfully ghastly or no!

  63. @English Expat: Haha! Just wait, you gave me another idea over sushi the other night. You’re a fount of inspiration, dreadfully ghastly or no!

  64. I completely agree with you on this – having been an expat before. It was an odd feeling getting rid of anything that I couldn’t fit into my two suitcases (in retrospect I’m sure I could’ve dealt with just one suitcase) but it was a relief.
    I’ve been moving for 4 years now and have learned that less really is more…gratifying!
    I’ve only just begun reading your blog and am enjoying every bit so far.
    So excited to see where you end up next.
    Cheers!

  65. I completely agree with you on this – having been an expat before. It was an odd feeling getting rid of anything that I couldn’t fit into my two suitcases (in retrospect I’m sure I could’ve dealt with just one suitcase) but it was a relief.
    I’ve been moving for 4 years now and have learned that less really is more…gratifying!
    I’ve only just begun reading your blog and am enjoying every bit so far.
    So excited to see where you end up next.
    Cheers!

  66. I completely agree with you on this – having been an expat before. It was an odd feeling getting rid of anything that I couldn’t fit into my two suitcases (in retrospect I’m sure I could’ve dealt with just one suitcase) but it was a relief.
    I’ve been moving for 4 years now and have learned that less really is more…gratifying!
    I’ve only just begun reading your blog and am enjoying every bit so far.
    So excited to see where you end up next.
    Cheers!

  67. Totally, I think backing up memories via digital means or hosting pictures somewhere in the cloud is a good solution to clearing the clutter.

    I think you’re right about the mental game as well.

    Thanks man.

  68. Totally, I think backing up memories via digital means or hosting pictures somewhere in the cloud is a good solution to clearing the clutter.

    I think you’re right about the mental game as well.

    Thanks man.

  69. Totally, I think backing up memories via digital means or hosting pictures somewhere in the cloud is a good solution to clearing the clutter.

    I think you’re right about the mental game as well.

    Thanks man.

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  71. This is a bit scary – I’m a recovering sentimental hoarder :-) – thus meaning I reduce what I collect now but still have boxes (literally boxes!) of stuff weighing me down that needs sorting through. Common sense would say chuck it – just chuck the lot. Maybe tomorrow?

  72. I used to be the type that held onto everything as a momento…but now I really keep it down to photos and other things like letters that are important to me. For instance, my grandmother passed a few years ago, and every now and then I’ll read an old letter she sent me or look at a few pictures of her and it makes me smile. I really do think that as time goes by, at least for me, we do forget. And I think these kinds of things become part of history. What is nice about today is I can keep all my new photos on a memory card =)

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