There was a time when I proudly referred to myself as “the keeper of the family history”. By this I meant that I held on to all the items from my family’s past, as I considered it important to keep things that others had kept. I kept items which had belonged to family members who had died, and to things that were part of the past of still-living family members. Worse, because "sentimentality", it turned out that I was storing stranger's stuff, too, that had been stored by these family members for reasons unfathomable.
Dead People’s Stuff:
I had boxes dedicated to my father, and to my maternal grandparents, and they were filled with "stuff". I had my grandmother’s button box, some recipes, and old toys from my childhood that she had kept, though I felt no attachment to them. I had my grandfather’s old hats, old lists that he had written, even, inexplicably, an old pair of his shoes . I had my father’s wallet and it's contents (he’d died more than 30 years in the past at this point), rusty tools and newspaper clippings that he had kept. I had an entire case full of my dead dog’s toys and grooming items, even a jar of some left-over, 10 year old kibble.
Living People’s Stuff:
I had report cards from my mother’s and my uncle’s elementary and high school days. I had their yearbooks. I had their baby books. I had baby books for my brother and myself, and records from OUR elementary school days.
The reality was that I had been storing these items in boxes for 20 years or so, and other boxes that had been stored by other people for years (and years!) prior to that. Why? What purpose was it serving?
Was I honouring the people and the memories by keeping these things, or was I simply afraid to let go of them because I worried that it might reflect badly on me if I did? What might people think of me if I chucked out mildewed reminders of my family’s “glorious” past? Would it make me an unfeeling monster? Would it mean that I hadn't loved these people if I got rid of it all?
The reality was that these stored-away-in-boxes-in-the-basement had become clutter and allowing my loved ones to become “clutter” was the worst POSSIBLE way to cherish them and my memories of them. I let it go. I cleared out physical space and I cleared out mental space.
As it turned out, there was more room in my mind for actual memories, now that I no longer had a mental picture of a bunch of boxes in the basement when I thought of these dear people.
As it also turned out,the living people whose stuff I had were actually surprised that I even HAD their items, and they certainly were living well without them, and did not want them back. Further, not a single person (even me!) has judged me for letting it all go.
Nor, incidentally, have any random stranger's families come looking for old photos or keepsakes.