Letting go of sentimentality

During this time of year, the post offices are getting completely swamped with Christmas present packages, last minute internet purchases and of course, Christmas cards.

When I was a kid, I used to love writing and receiving cards, but as I got older I sent fewer cards and received much fewer in return. Now, it’s been a few years since I’ve written one. If I want to wish my friends “Happy Christmas”, I would say it to them directly, or else just get in contact with them on the phone or online.

Personally, I no longer see the need to send Christmas cards. But there are many people who still do. And there are many more who believe in sending real letters, photographs, souvenirs, and postcards.

three questions

In this age of technology and constant connected-ness, I wonder about a few things.

1. Should we still be doing it?

There are so many other ways we can get in contact with the people we love. The internet may be a modern-money making monster, but it has enabled us to share our thoughts, photos, videos and stories with almost anybody we want. Letters were good in the old days when telephone was the only other option.

Because of the prevalence of the internet, there are people who want to go back to those good old days and handwrite everything. But there are other things to consider – such as the environment, money and of course what happens next.

2. What will I do with all these things for the rest of my life? Shall I leave it to collect dust in my parent’s attic? Or take them with me whenever I move house? Will I be able to endure keeping them now only to let my kids throw them away for me? Shouldn’t I be the one to let them go?

As much as I love getting letters, they’re not that much different from general clutter. They don’t provide any good use, apart from to make me feel better every couple of years, they’re a hassle to store and look after and they’re meaningful only to me.

3. Why do we keep stuff?

When we get special cards and letters, most people tend to keep them because we feel grateful for the time and effort a loved one put into writing them for us. It’s not something we want to discard easily, unlike other paperwork like bills, magazines and so on.

This was a very big problem for me because I found it so hard to let go of old birthday cards and handwritten letters, but I now I know I can’t  hang onto them forever.

how to let go

1. Realize what they really mean.

Here was the problem: I actually believed that letters and cards were a physical manifestation of somebody’s love for me.

But then I had to ask myself – is that what they really are? I came to the realization that a piece of paper had nothing to do with it. My family and friends would love me all the same, whether or not I kept them. It was the thought of sending the card that counted, not really the card itself. To be honest, most of them probably had forgotten that they even sent me that stuff, and there I was hanging onto them for dear life.

2. Think about the future.

The problem only gets worse the longer you leave it. The older something becomes, the more attached you get to it. One of my biggest fears is becoming an old lady hoarder with a house full of trinkets, ornaments and boxes of stuff I couldn’t bear to throw away. If something should happen to me (touch wood), who will the burden fall on to get rid of that stuff?

Nothing lasts forever. One day, that stuff will be dumped. You’ll have to let go sometime, so why not make it soon?

3. You can still save them.

Thanks to technology, a part of those letters, cards, trinkets and so on can be saved. During my summer purge, I scanned/took pictures and recycled/donated a lot of stuff.  And I have to say, it felt quite liberating to get the burden of those boxes off my back. I can still read the letters when I want to, even if it’s not the real tangible versions. To me, being able to read their words was more important than being able to touch the piece of paper they were attached to.

Also, because I have digital versions of them, I don’t have to bring them with me wherever I go. It would have been quite inconvenient to take them with me to Japan, or to anywhere I would end up living for that matter.

It’s up to each person if they feel it’s worth trading, you should do whatever feels right for you. Because of course, minimalism isn’t about throwing away everything, especially the stuff that really matters to you. If you’ve decided that you really want to keep something, it would probably only cause more pain for you to get rid of it.

In that case, keeping a little shoebox of photographs wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it?

Related Posts

Interested in more de-cluttering tips? If so, check out Minimal Student’s Christmas Challenge over at Twitter for daily prompts. See you there!

Picture credit: Jayegirl99
  • This is a great post. When I took the 100 Thing Challenge I knew I would have to face getting rid of some things I really loved. I brought a friend along with me to help me make the better decisions. I did end up keeping a small box of stuff but I was able to let go of quite a few things. It was a great feeling.


  • Interesting – this is one area where I’m not so minimalist.

    I have a whole shelf of photo albums I do NOT intend to get rid of, or stop adding to.

    There is something about sitting down with the book, with the pictures I selected to go in it to tell the story of that time in my life, that is so much better than looking at them on the computer.

    Digital-ness to me is overwhelming, impersonal, it makes me dizzy.

    I send real Christmas cards, we always do a quirky photo, and I write a personal message on each one. I love doing it. People love getting them – some friends still have their cards up on the fridge years later, because they get such a kick out of the photos.

    I don’t keep everything… only a small expanding folder full of notes, letters, and papers. I went through it recently, threw out some that was no longer relevant, but cried reading some that I didn’t even remember keeping, like letters from my late grandpa, I was SO happy I kept them.

    Just my two cents on what’s valuable to me… I’m too sentimental to be an extreme minimalist =).

    • Jessica

      Hello Frugal Vegan Mom,

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, there’s something about photo albums and letters that are a little different, especially the really old kind where the paper has turned a little yellow. They’re really comforting to look through too. However, I also worry about what would happen to them if there was ever a fire or something, even if I didn’t get rid of the album after scanning it, I would still scan it just in case of emergency 🙂

  • Great entry. I’ve been reading the blog over at exilelifestyle.com, and he has an entry about how he had a “shred party” where he shredded all his old journals, drawings, etc. No way for me!

    I’m in the process of scanning and backing up all my old journals and drawings (an almost excruciatingly long process!) Once I have them backed up redundantly, I’m going to tear out the best bits and shred the rest. I agree with you – you don’t need to touch the paper to bring back the memory of writing or drawing it!

    • Jessica

      Dear Abby,

      Yes it’s really surprising how long it takes to scan everything! I’m always thinking ‘oh it’s just one small pile’ and it ends up taking me an hour! But it’s worth it in the end 🙂

  • I got rid of my old birthday cards and stuff, except for about five, which I decided to keep, because they were really special to me. I still send Christmas cards though, because I think they make a house look cheery, and then throw them out after Christmas.

  • Jessica, your idea of scanning precious words that we don’t want to forget is great instead of ending up with stacks of stuff and becoming the old lady hoarder — a scary thought especially because many of us hoard way before we get old. Great questions and insightful answers. Nice post.

    • Jessica

      Hello Katie!

      Thanks for the encouragement, I really appreciate it! Yes, becoming an ‘old lady hoarder’ is one of my worst fears, but at least it’s definitely one thing I can do something about.

  • I have one word: tradition!

    I believe many people want to get rid of Christmas cards, but fear to do so, because what “the other person” might think (i.e. ‘what a cheapskate for sending an e-card!’)

    And I hate to admit… I’m actually guilty of that, too.

    But my list of Christmas-cards gets shorter and shorter each year. Perhaps, in a few years time, I only need to send my non-digital-grandma a *real* card 🙂

    greetings from the netherlands!

    • Jessica

      Hey Jurino, thank you for all your comments!

      Yes, ‘tradition’ is the answer to a lot of the things we still do, especially in these times when we are still transitioning from no tech knowledge old people to fully immersed young people, but like you said, there will probably come a day when every single person knows how to send/receive messages online, so perhaps then we don’t need to send paper cards?

  • Annie

    My grandmother must have had hundreds of her and my late grabsfathers letters and photos stacked in boxes, and at 93 she has every right to have all of them! She will NEVER enter the digital age now, and if anyone mentions thrown some of them… Well, on their head be it!!
    One idea I did see for using up some old letters was to pick th ones most important to you. Then, draw a large simple silhouette of something that could be to do with the letters, eg for Christmas letters a Christmassy silhouette; or for letters about a wedding, the silhouette of a bride in a big dress. Paint the smaller parts of the silhouette, eg the head and the hands, black. Then fill the rest of the silhouette with letters, black and White/ sepia photos… Glue down when your happy with yourareangement, then paint over the letters with a glossy cream paint to wash then out a little. These collages look fabulous when framed and hung, but they have a special meaning to you. Petals it would be an idea to scan the letters first, as you may never be able to read them very well again!!

    I adapted this from Kelly Dousts book “The Crafty Minx”. The original collage was a Victorian-style bride and used old wedding invitations! They always seem too expensive and pretty to just throw away!! 😀

  • Sarah

    I used to keep all my cards, birthday, get well etc etc from each year. It took up an incredible amount of space but somehow I couldn’t get rid of them. Then one day I decided I would just keep one card from each person who has sent me one in my life, the “best one”.

    How do I define the “best one”?
    Well it could be for a variety of reasons;
    the one with the longest comment / letter in it
    the last one they gave me before we lost contact by death/ falling out / drifting apart
    the one with the nicest picture, or verse inside
    the one from the most significant event eg 18th, 21st etc etc

    I sometimes “weed through” my box and replace an individuals card / letter with a “better” one as time goes on.

    I now have a box full of “friends / family” to reflect on, and it takes up very little space and won’t be a huge burden on my family to clear out when I am finally gone.

    I would strongly suggest this to anyone else aiming to be minimalist who struggles to chuck correspondence out.

    • Jessica

      Thank you Sarah for your insightful idea, I’m sure a lot of readers will find it helpful too!

  • Hey there,
    I discovered your blog after it was featured in a newspaper article last Sunday (the Sunday Herald if you’re interested). I have been reading my way through your posts and they have been very thought provoking. Ever more so because my chosen career path is to be an archivist which can rely on people hoarding items, especially their personal papers!

    As a professional, I should not promote the idea of discarding the original in place of a digital surrogate. That is a constant battle facing archivists in the digital age. But for personal record keeping it doesn’t seem to be any harm.

    • Hi Laura, thank you for letting me know about the article! I can’t seem to find it online… I wish I could have read it 🙂 Wow, yes your job seems to put you in a good position to argue the other side of it, I do agree though that for really old pieces you can’t just throw them in the bin. I suppose hoarding is how those precious pieces came about, but I could make a guess that most of the junky stuff people are hoarding aren’t really worth keeping compared to the kinds of things you probably put a lot of care into looking after. Thanks again!

      • Hi there, here’s a link to that article: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/guest-commentary/alternative-living-1.1077526. A bit disappointing that the author didn’t make an effort to contact you before letting it go to print. If you can’t access it, let me know and I’ll scan in the copy I have (see hoarding can have some uses! :p).

        • Dear Laura,

          Thank you so much for the link! I don’t know why I couldn’t find it before, but I got to it fine with your link, it was an interesting read! Thanks again 🙂

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  • Mary Angeline Howe

    Jessica, my father died in July and I’m cleaning out the family home of 60 years where my parents raised 8 kids. I’ve found too many boxes of letters, postcards and greeting cards. I’d like to scan some of them and was wondering how you do this? Did you invest in a company to do it for you?