Developing ‘The Museum of Me’: a sentimental person’s 5-step guide to decluttering paper mementos

aerial view of a field

Sentimental items are often the hardest things to get rid of when you’re trying to pare down your possessions.

Once you have created your capsule wardrobe, sold your DVD boxsets and ditched those trinkets you never really liked anyway, often you are left with a pile of paper mementos to somehow sort through.

Photos, concert tickets, wedding invites, hand-written letters, sketches and doodles, newspaper cuttings and perhaps the odd autograph or two. Fragments of a life well-lived.

If you’re anything like me, they’ll be found in boxes, drawers and cupboards all over the house. Sometimes they will be in some semblance of order, like that year you methodically put all your photos into an album, but more often than not they’re a bit of a jumble.

They’re also not taking up too much space, so you end up torn about whether to let them go or let them be.

Yes, you hear the argument that your memories don’t lie in these objects, they lie in your mind, and that as a result they will always be with you.

But it’s not the reality you experience when you stumble across that movie ticket from your first date with your high-school sweetheart and you are unexpectedly transported right back to the bench outside the cinema where you shared that awkward kiss.

You also hear the assertion that looking back on years gone by is unhealthy, that it stops you from looking forward.

But that’s not how you feel when you find a silly caricature drawn by one of your oldest friends and then realise you really should give them a call.

So how can you start to clear away these mementos when you still want to be able to use them to reminisce about the many twists and turns your life has taken to this point?

I’ve been trying to develop a solution.

But first, a confession: for a so-called minimalist, I’ve discovered I’m a deeply sentimental person.

I really wish I wasn’t. When I was a teenager I went as far as writing a punky fanzine called Anti-Sentimentality with a close friend. The irony isn’t lost on me that, 20 years on, I still have copies of each issue stashed in my spare room.

In fact, I’ve kept a hell of a lot from my teenage years onward. Programmes for plays I’ve seen, certificates from minor achievements in school – the kind of thing that might have been valuable had I somehow turned out to be the next John Lennon.

It’s almost as if I’ve been keeping items to display in some future Museum of Me.

So if it’s all so damn important to me, why on earth haven’t I been curating it, like a real museum would?

For the past few months I’ve been trying to set this right, and if you want to try it out for yourself, here are the steps:

  1. Find somewhere on your computer hard-drive, a cloud account or a pen drive where you have a spare few gigabytes of storage.
    .
  2. Create a folder for each year of your life (an optional step for the ultra-nerdy like me: create sub-folders within each year for each month, labelled 01_Jan, 02_Feb, and so on. Using numbers at the beginning of the file names means they will stay in date order).
    .
  3. Scan all your ticket stubs, party invites, letters and so on, and save each image into the relevant folder. Make sure to back up your files as you go. For safety, I have mine saved on my computer, with a back-up in the cloud and a back-up back-up on a pen drive.
    .
  4. Add to your collection with a selection of photos, videos, music files, screengrabs of social media posts, or anything else that helps piece together the story of your life. Once your library is assembled, you can use it as a permanent archive to trawl through when you want to reminisce.
    .
  5. Use web programs to bring the collection to life by creating digital yearbooks. Choose a few photos, images or other files from each year that really make you smile – that picture of you mid-skydive, that time you met the minor celebrity – then compile a slideshow, video or collage for each year (or each five years or decade if you prefer). A quick web search will bring up a host of free and easy-to-use programs that will take you through the process, but I personally like PhotoCollage for collages and Kizoa for slideshows.

Once your ‘Museum of Me’ is properly curated, and you have found a way of honouring all those paper keepsakes, it should be far easier to get rid of all but a select few.

Rethinking television

 

Ten weeks ago, we got the flooring in our living and dining room replaced.

To prepare, we had to move all our furniture out of the room, and at the time I joked that this was the look I’d been going for all along.

Finally got that #minimalist living room I've been working towards all these years! 😉

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

We managed to squeeze the sofa into the conservatory, dragged a dismantled Ikea dining table into the kitchen and carried a blanket box into the hallway.

We unhooked our television from its connections and precariously balanced it on a kitchen counter top, hoping we wouldn’t accidentally knock it and send it crashing down.

The flooring was laid and we pulled all the furniture back again. But when we reconnected the television, something wasn’t right. The colours seemed all off. I meddled with the wires, and promptly broke the connection for good.

It has stayed that way ever since. Laziness and apathy mean we have accidentally disconnected ourselves from live television.

To be clear: we can still access streaming services. But it’s been interesting to see how our habits have changed without that ready access to all those channels.

In the mornings, I no longer stick on breakfast television and lose 45 minutes to the comforting patter of the presenters. Instead, I tune into Radio 4 on my phone and get my daily briefing while I’m getting ready around the house.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading more, a habit I’d been meaning to get back into but had somehow not been able to make stick.

There has been one TV series we’ve actually wanted to watch on terrestrial television: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. So every week, at a time to suit us, we would watch it back on catch-up.

And there has also been one thing I really had to tune into live through my laptop: Saturday’s Eurovision. When I was a teenager I would meet up with my two closest friends for a Eurovision party each year. Now we’re dotted all over the country, we watch it while WhatsApping each other with our thoughts on the craziest songs and whether Latvia will ever top Brainstorm’s My Star from the year 2000 (answer: they won’t).

So, why cut down on television?

Often when people discuss this point, the inference is clear. TV is BAD FOR YOU AND ROTS YOUR BRAIN. Quite frankly, I fundamentally disagree with this, and not just because it’s what my mum used to say to me when I was a kid.

It’s the same argument people made about novels in the 18th century, when there was a moral panic about how many people – especially gasp, ladies – were glued to them.

In his book Everything Bad is Good For You, Steven Johnson gives a staunch defence of ‘junk’ TV and ‘mindless’ computer games. He argues that both are far more complex than they have ever been and often require pretty high levels of concentration.

Box-set watching, he says, has led to TV shows with multiple sub-plots, confusing cold-opens, highly technical jargon and vast networks of characters which represent a huge departure from the simplicity of 1970s shows like Starsky and Hutch.

While I think this is true, for me the argument is in danger of remaining a little elitist.

In all honesty, who cares if television is simplistic and trashy?

After years of pretty mediocre shows, I think this year’s Eurovision really was a fantastic television event. But I can’t pretend it was good for me. It was just pure entertainment, mixed in with some vague idea of ‘togetherness’.

I was really stressed out from work recently, and do you know what helped me calm down? Binge-watching the whole series of Queer Eye on Netflix. I feel not one iota of shame.

And I completely understand why haggard parents sit their young children down in front of Paw Patrol while they get to enjoy a quiet cup of tea in the other room for five minutes.

But it’s all about what is appropriate for you. The fact that TV had been so easy for me to access meant I had been more likely to switch it on than go and find a book to read. Making it just that one step harder meant I really had to decide whether it was something I wanted to do.

It’s why people wanting to cut down on social media often find it helpful to delete the apps from their phones and make themselves log on through their browsers. It’s still there, you just have to really want it to go and get it.

I’m not advocating that you all go and break your TV connectors. But if there’s something you feel you’re getting a little too distracted by, try to place a few hurdles in your way.

The tourist at home: seeking adventure on your own doorstep

How has another month passed?

Today is May Day, which means it’s time for me to start another month-long challenge.

But first a recap on how last month went. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Instagram this April as I shared a few things from my life which weren’t exactly Instagrammable.

My ‘veg patch’, which, with its delightful piles of dead sticks, looks more like a giant bird’s nest after it has been ransacked by egg-hungry monsters.

This is my veg patch. Yum. #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

My dog, who, God love him, got an upset tummy and decided to be ill in both directions all over the house for days. (The results, fortunately, were not pictured)

This poor little bean keeps being sick. All over the house. #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

And while I was enjoying a hugely photogenic trip to Japan, those bits of travel that rarely make the social feeds: time in airports. More time in airports. Then unexpected delays meaning, yup, more time in airports.

Still in transit… #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

I love looking at beautiful photographs on Instagram as much as the next person. (Especially of Japan. Man, what a beautiful country…) But this has been a helpful reminder to myself that it’s never an accurate reflection of reality – my own or anyone else’s.

Talk of my trip, however (did I mention I’ve just been to Japan??!!) leads me nicely on to this month’s challenge.

While we were out there, my wife and I clocked up some serious mileage on foot, just wandering about the city and exploring.

It was great to head away from the big tourist sites and find ourselves sitting at the counter watching the chefs in a back-alley ramen joint, drinking sake in a wood-panelled izakaya or browsing the tat in a 100 yen shop, feeling like both complete outsiders and something resembling locals at the same time.

But it made me wonder why I don’t spend more time exploring my own neighbourhood. Adventure doesn’t have to be found half-way round the world, after all, and it’s a darn sight cheaper if you find it on your doorstep.

I’m sure we all have parts of our own neighbourhoods we’ve always meant to check out but never quite got round to because… well, it’ll still be there next week, right?

How would you think differently about where you live if you were visiting it as a holidaymaker?

So this month I aim to be a tourist in my own back yard, exploring areas of Yorkshire I’ve never been to. Again, I’ll be sharing the journey on Instagram, I’m @wantlessblog.

30-day challenge: close your eyes and really listen to one piece of music each day

Aerial photograph of the sea and rocks

Thank you to those who helped choose my second 30-day challenge of 2018.

After spending January battling with a shopping ban, I was ready for something fun.

So I put a few options together and let the people of Twitter decide.

Option one was spending a month trying to get to grips with Japanese: I’m off there in a few months but my efforts to learn the language have so far been halting to say the least.

Option two was to rediscover the art of writing real, proper letters – with no dog-turd emojis or anything – by writing and posting one a day.

And option three was a suggestion from my wife, a musician, who said I could put on some headphones each day and really listen to one piece of music.

Just like any good race, this one was decided in the final furlong. Option two had long been in the lead (to the extent that I had already accepted the inevitable and written the first letter) but then at the final straight, option three pulled off a daring overtaking manoeuvre and clinched the title by one vote.

So two days ago I settled down to properly listen to one piece of music, with eyes closed.

I really recommend the exercise. Focusing on one sense, just for a few minutes, felt like an act of meditation.

Like many people, I struggle to focus on just one thing these days, so it was interesting to notice how many times my mind started to wander in the middle of a track or I began to itch to do something else while I listened.

But on the whole I’ve been enjoying the experience – it’s pulled me right back to my teenage years, listening to cassettes on my Walkman in the dark when I should have been asleep.

I think setting aside some time each day to choose a new song to devote a few minutes to will be a really nice habit to get into.

If anyone is interested in the tracks I’ve listened to so far, day one was Shake Em Off, a track from Syd’s album Fin (my most recent download), day two was Lights On by FKA twigs (which I found surprisingly troubling for some reason) and today I’ve just sat down in my favourite armchair to listen to Billie Holiday’s charming I Get Along Without You Very Well.

They have all been female artists so far and I think I’ll stick with the theme.

Looking through my music collection, I was struck by how many of the albums are by male musicians. It feels apt, somehow, and very ‘2018’, to take the time to really listen to some lesser-heard voices for a while.

The reverse bucket list

Hillside in sepiaThere’s a dark side to wanting to improve your life.

It’s a depressing one, but it’s one I want to talk about today.

Many people get to a point where it hits them: this isn’t the life they want to live. For me, I realised stress and debt were pulling me down.

You might then start to wonder how your life, once so carefree and full of spontaneity, friendship and joy, somehow became all about the daily grind, paying the bills and doing the chores.

You might start to question everything: what you do for a living, how you spend your time, what your home looks like or even where you live.

You might start, as I did, researching different ways to live. You might start reading about people who retire in their 30s after saving like mad and drastically cutting their expenditures. You might start reading about people who sell almost everything they own and start travelling around the world, living out of a backpack. You might start reading about people who make their fortunes by setting up their own businesses after leaving low-paid jobs. You might start reading about people who, conversely, packed in highly-paid but soulless jobs to pursue their creative passions despite earning peanuts by doing so.

Many, if not all, of these ways of living might sound very appealing indeed, even the ones which directly contradict each other. You fantasise about every life but your own.

Wanting to make big changes to your life is a worthwhile goal. But it can have the effect of making you even less happy with your day-to-day reality. Very few of us can just flick a switch and retire early, or go travelling, or create a lucrative business empire. These things will take years, if not decades, so if your goal really is happiness, you need to find a quicker way of getting there.

This week, I tried something a little different. I called it my ‘reverse bucket list’. I didn’t make a list of all the high-falutin’ goals I wanted to achieve or things I wanted to do. Instead I listed loads of cool, interesting and impressive things I’ve already done.

This included flying in a helicopter, experiencing an earthquake, partying at a cherry blossom festival in Tokyo, watching an event at the Olympics, getting my MA, kayaking around an island, taking part in jury service, dying my hair purple and (one I can add from just last week) sitting in the cockpit of a commercial airliner.

It wasn’t an exercise in boasting. Other people will have done different cool things – perhaps things that would terrify me, like getting a tattoo or skydiving or even (gulp) having children.

Instead, it was a reminder that life isn’t something that starts when I’ve got that dream job, or I’ve quit the rat-race, or I’ve moved abroad, or sold all my stuff. It’s happening now and it can be bloody awesome.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below.

A total f***ing life-ninja

harmonicasmallDitching stuff, beating debt, getting a life.

That’s the sub-heading I chose for my little blog when I set it up last year. It was these three areas where my life was falling woefully short: I was up to my eyes in consumer debt, drowning under crap and had little time, energy or money to get out of the house, meet people and have fun.

Now my piles of rubbish have subsided and my debts are a third of the size they were a few years back.

But there’s one area I’ve been neglecting: getting a life.

As a result, my life (and by extension, this blog) has been pretty po-faced and serious. Sitting at home poring over the latest zero percent credit card offers has been really important in busting my debt pile, but my god it’s been dull.

I’ve been reining in my spending for longer than I remember, which has put a serious dent in my social life. Restaurant trips, fitness classes, hobbies and nights out drinking all took a hammering.

Now things are going to change.

I’ve just finished a great little book called Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. He describes how he realised he was living vicariously through characters in action movies and computer games rather than getting out there and experiencing things for himself.

So he started his own ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’ by hiking the Inca Trail, living like James Bond for a weekend in Monte Carlo, and all sorts of other great things.

His passion for grabbing life by the balls was infectious.

As a self-confessed nerd, Kamb has peppered his book with references to action films and video games. He talks about harnessing the principles which make computer games so addictive (small challenges, frequent rewards) and using them to improve your life. This can push you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t, like exercising or mastering a new skill.

And it’s not just about doing awesome ‘bucket list’-style things.

I’ve now created my own ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’, with loads of challenges in areas like hobbies, travel, having fun, finance, learning and fitness.

Some examples (complete with my own cheesy titles):

WALKING DEAD: Take part in a real-life zombie adventure

I’ve enlisted my wife and a friend to join me on a 5k run with a twist in October, the twist being you’re chased by zombies. Most other friends recoiled in horror at the idea. All I can say is, they will be the first to the wall come the zombie apocalypse.

SHE’S ELECTRIC: Learn how to change light switches and change at least two

This is something I’d always been too afraid to do myself, for fear of it being ‘game over’. But a friend inspired me, I did lots of research into how to carry out the work safely and now I’ve updated three of our light switches and counting.

THE MUSICIAN: Play the harmonica in a band

I’ve bought a cheap harmonica and instruction book off t’internet and I’ve started teaching myself. At the minute, I well and truly suck (pun intended).

I’ve also been trying to say yes to new opportunities as often as I can, even if they are daunting.

For now, I’ve decided my challenges can’t break the bank or involve buying a lot of stuff, as it’d throw all my other hard work off-course. But that still leaves me with loads of other ways to have fun, meet new people and learn new skills.

As I keep enthusiastically proclaiming to my long-suffering wife this week, I’m going to be a total fucking life-ninja!