Purging your home of childhood artifacts doesn’t mean erasing the memories 

About four years ago I wrote about letting go when it was time for my daughter, Olivia, to move away to college.  

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t too hard for me and my husband to spread out in the empty nest. I like my new life.  

Of course, in the back of my mind, I believed Olivia would return after college. But this is not going to happen -- New York City will be her home.  

So now we downsize; a smaller home will not feel so empty. This introduces a new round of letting go -- of objects.  

With my own stuff, I’m pretty good at weeding out things I don’t need. But I’ve struggled with what to do with Olivia’s things.

Maybe it didn’t help that my daughter is a bit of a hoarder, and we were blessed with a large home with lots of storage.  

It’s not that Olivia wanted me to save the silly things most moms do. I have organized storage bins (pre-k through high school) with art projects, awards, cards, photo albums and yearbooks.

There are dolls, doll houses, collections of all kinds and tea sets galore!   

Here’s the strange thing -- I’m not particularly sentimental. I have kept all this stuff because I felt a sort of duty to curate my kid’s childhood (I only have one).  

Cherish the memories, not the stuff 

Why is it so hard to give your grown kid’s stuff away? Pictures, handmade things and objects cherished by a loved one trigger potent memories that make neurons spray happy chemicals all over our brains.  

But it’s the memories, not the stuff, that makes us happy. I can talk with my daughter and conjure the same memories a scrapbook will.

Besides, the only time we really look at the trove of mementos is when we’re trying to get it out of the way, right? 

Hurricane Katrina taught us the lesson of letting go of objects, cherishing experiences and being together. We don’t have to hold onto objects to remember the past. 

Truth is, I was looking forward to letting things go. I anticipate the next chapter of my life in a clutter-free place.  

But there was trepidation and procrastination. It felt like guilt.  

I had vague thoughts that by purging her objects, Olivia would feel I was purging her childhood.

But a chat with her cleared up that misconception. She doesn’t want most of that stuff either and cannot contain much in a Manhattan apartment.  

It’s you that wants the stuff, not them 

As parents, we have weird ideas about our kid’s thoughts, and we tend to project our own feelings onto them.  

Young people today are less attached to tangible mementos like photo albums and scrap books. Digital and disposable are the way now.

Parents may say they are holding onto things for their kids, when they are the ones having trouble letting go. 

Speaking of digital, scanning photos, kids’ art work, awards and so forth is a practical and guilt-free way of shifting the physical weight of the mementos!  

 Save the things that mean the most

So, I got started. And as I progressed, it was liberating and joyful. Three little girls next door glowed with delight when I handed over Olivia’s vast doll collection. 

Downsizing the hoard of childhood stuff made me feel lighter and eager to move on. By the way, downsizing doesn’t mean eliminating.

A good curator knows how to retain only the greatest selections, which make those objects even more precious. 

Getting rid of old stuff makes room for new things, spreads joy to others and keeps us from getting stuck in the past. Purging makes room for open space.  

I like the idea of creating a new place for me and my husband that allows room for a visitor (Olivia?) and new memories.  

Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933