My biggest challenge to date: the childhood bedroom

stuffsmlI take it all back. I’m a terrible minimalist. I’m no good at this at all.

Last week, I went through the clear-out to end all clear-outs: my old room in my parents’ house.

And despite all the advice on minimalism I’ve been peddling on this site for nearly a year, I found it REALLY hard.

The room is by no means a shrine to my childhood self, it’s now a fully functioning guest bedroom. But lurking under the bed and in a few boxes at the side of the room were artefacts of a previous existence, one of Take That scrapbooks, silly teenage fanzines and tap dance exam badges.

I went in with a solid game-plan. I had four big boxes of stuff, a few bags and some other items to sort out, because my parents wanted my stuff gone (and why the hell shouldn’t they?? I am 33).

So, I planned three piles: bin/recycle, donate, keep. I blog about this, I thought. This will be a piece of piss.

I started strong: all my university work, bar a few key bits of paper, went straight in the recycle pile. My mum said it was a shame after all that work, but I hadn’t looked at it for over 10 years so I knew I didn’t need it.

Next was a pile of CDs. This was easy, straight in the donate box. My dad came in and started flicking through the stack looking for CDs to pilfer.

“Don’t bother, Dad,” I told him. “They’re all bloody Robbie Williams.”

“Ah,” he said, backing off. “A lovely chap.”

There were a good few items where taking a photo meant I could let go for good. A beer bottle that served as a prop for my high-school musical, photographed and gone. A clock I made in school during a design class, photographed and gone. Three Beano and Dandy comics I had kept in the misguided off-chance they would be worth something one day, photographed and gone. A lighter from the sweaty rock club I used to go to with friends before I was legally old enough to go out drinking, photographed and gone.


But then I hit the skids.

Photographing my old art projects and binning them was a real struggle, but I made myself do it.

Things were starting to get harder. It was almost like I had a reserve of willpower for throwing away sentimental goods, and I was running out of it fast.

I stumbled across a box of mix-tapes lovingly made by friends when I was a teenager. Photographing those was hardly going to work, was it? I shut the lid and shoved it to one side.

My mum came up to my room half-way through the day to see how I was getting on, and she  suggested getting rid of a cuddly horse that came with an accompanying story on cassette.

I clutched it and pulled a comedy sad-face.

“Not Bobbin,” I said.


Bobbin went in the end, but I was losing my grip on what was worth keeping.

I discovered a heap of magazine articles about my favourite bands as a teenager, and instead of throwing them away I wanted to read them all, then keep them so I could do the same in another twenty years’ time. I found autograph collections, letters from friends and photographs. This task suddenly felt incredibly daunting.

I decided to put the most heart-wrenching items in a box and leave them for another day. I talked my parents into accepting this, and hid the box back under the bed. I also brought home a few treasured items I know I’ll want to keep.

Now, if I force myself to look on the bright side, then first off, I did get rid of A LOT of stuff last weekend. More than three-quarters of it was discarded.

Secondly, if it hadn’t been for this minimalism kick I’ve been on in recent years, I honestly think I would have kept far more if it and found this all the harder.

But this was my most difficult de-clutter so far, and I’m not sure I passed the test at all.

17 thoughts on “My biggest challenge to date: the childhood bedroom

  1. Getting rid of sentimental stuff can be hard, kudos to you for at least giving it a good tonk. A lot of people would simply have stuck their head in the sand. 🙂

  2. Leesa says:

    I’ve consumed a lot of articles, blogs, etc. on minimalism that say sentimental items are THE hardest to get rid of. I agree, you did great!! You might want to set a date on that box of items say 6 months or a year from now and if you have forgotten what’s in there ask your mom or dad to just donate the box without you going through it. One other thing I kept in mind when moving out of my house of 23 years – it’s not the thing it’s the memory it recalls – those you can’t take away. Bravo!!

  3. I recently went through this process of going through childhood mementos also. I knew that sentimental items would be the hardest, so I used the same strategy that you did by photographing certificates, ribbons, and such. I had about 5 boxes to go through. My goal was to condense everything down into one box. Since I knew that this would be one of the more challenging aspects of minimalism, I thought that one box full of stuff from growing up would be acceptable because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get rid of it all. Great job on getting through 3/4 of your’s!

  4. Alix says:

    If you’ve read any of Marie Kondo’s books, you’ll know that she firmly advises leaving sentimental items til the end of the decluttering process — because you need practice to be able to handle the tough stuff! Sentimental items are excruciatingly hard to part with, and sometimes can only be let go in stages. I say, if you managed to get rid of 3/4 of the stuff on your first go-around, you did superbly. Don’t beat yourself up at all, you did (and are doing) great!

      1. Béatrice says:

        It definitely is the way for me. I have no problems being a minimalist with clothes, beauty products, make-up, music, kitchen stuff etc… but sentimental items, well, that’s a big one for me! It is just hard, it touches the chore of your being, like if our cells had memories. I had kept a lot of stuff from my childhood, and I have been going through it consistently, in different stages. I would definitely not recommend getting rid of it all at once or giving the box to your parents and ask them to dispose of it. Going through it yourself is very therapeutic and there is a healing component in it. Progressively, little by little, I have discovered that after a few times of going through some sentimental stuff there were loosing grip on me. And that has been a wonderful, freeing feeling. But it takes time and the willingness to invest emotionnally. I am not done yet, and maybe I will never be because there will be a meaning in going through the 1-2 boxes left after 10 years again but the journey is amazing!

  5. Sounds like you did a great job. I enjoyed hearing about Bobbin and the lighter – posting about them probably honors them more than keeping them. I think that maybe if you had to take that last box with you instead of stashing it back under the bed that it could help you either accept keeping the items inside or finally let them go.

    1. I think you’re right, I’ll have to take that pesky last box back to my (proper) home so I can sort it out with a clear head and the time I need!

  6. Christine says:

    It sounds like you did really well! Sentimental items are harder than most things. Plus people usually get more attached to things the longer they own them and then on top of that you had decision fatigue start to kick in. If you got through 3/4 of it, that’s a huge success! You don’t have to go through everything at once, and you don’t have to do things in a certain way to be a good enough minimalist.

    I’d like to reduce the number of mememtos I have. I’d also like to keep them somewhere that I could see them more often, rather than in a box in the closet. I have a plan to work on that later in the summer.

    1. Wow, I’d never thought about the fact that people get more attached to things the longer they own them, but it’s totally true. It’s like, ‘I’ve looked after it for this long, so if I let it go now, it’s just wasted years’. Great observation.

  7. Carol Harris says:

    I agree with Clearwing; I think at the very least you should have brought the box home with you. Yes, you did GREAT, and it is HARD to deal with sentimental stuff. But you still have work to do and it’s not fair to make your parents store your stuff. If you had brought it home you might have taken the time to read some of the old magazines and then realize you can part with them after all…

  8. I know!!!! Going through my childhood room has been such a struggle. I’m still in the easy stages of “I know I don’t want that, I’ll get rid of it” instead of tackling the harder, sentimental things.

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