Simplifying Sentimentality


Living in a caravan can look a bit untidy.

I’m sure when an unexpected visitor looks in through my door and sees a giant jar of sludgy looking water (water kefir fed with brown sugar), a bunch of rather ripe bananas, a wash cloth, a backpack, a few books and a bicycle tube all scattered about seemingly willy-nilly in “the lounge” area (two seats, one in each corner, separated by a small floor area populated by a rubbish bin, a crate of frequently worn shoes and a basket of toiletries) a few expressions may come to mind.

Maybe “frittering ferret”, “hoarding hippy” or “forest dwelling pack rat”.

I can be a bit of a ferret-like hippy and do aspire to inhabiting a hobbit house under the trees one day.

But I’m almost 100% sure I’m not a frittering hoarder. Most of the things I have I use on a daily basis and/or need.

As for the pack rat part, Wikipedia says:

“Pack rats are nest builders. They use plant material such as branches, twigs, sticks, and other available debris. They are particularly fond of shiny objects. A peculiar characteristic is that if they find something they want, they will drop what they are currently carrying — for example, a piece of cactus — and “trade” it for the new item… Getting into everything from attics to car engines, stealing their ‘treasures’, damaging electrical wiring, and creating general noisy havoc can easily cause them to become a nuisance.”


Well, my “nest” does consist of more 2nd hand/traded/swopped items than it does newly bought/paid for items but I’m not attracted to shiny things and definitely don’t steal my treasures from out of attics and engines.

Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash


In the process of simplifying my life, I started noticing there are quite a few things I can repurpose to use but will seldom actually use even once they have been repurposed. It seems for me that as the number of steps required to be taken to make something useful again increases, so the likelihood of actually remembering to repurpose and even use it in the end decreases.

In the tradition of representing this on a graph it would look something like this:

I drew this especially for you


And then there are the sentimental things…

There’s a book The Art of the Idea by John Hunt I was given by a friend because I couldn’t stop reading it after it had jumped out at me (figuratively) from his bookshelf. What attaches me sentimentally to it is not only the memory of our hilarious times together but also that we are now out of touch. And then there’s the fact that it got damaged. I’d been storing it in my caravan under “the lounge” seat where damp had seeped in after the rains — its pages and thick cardboard cover now warped and stained by faded black outlines of mold. The discovery of it in this state broke my heart and since drying it out I’ve been thinking of cutting out the pages and pasting them into one of my journals.

But then it won’t be what it was.

Does that matter? Isn’t it already not what it was?

Fortunately I stumbled upon this great post on what to do with things like these here.

I love everything she said, but particularly this thought:

Tell the story of your stuff.
 Take pictures of your sentimental items or write about the reason you saved them. If you saved your daughter’s first bathing suit, write the story about when she first dipped her toes in salt water. Write about the time your grandmother taught you how to cook one of her favorite recipes from the cookbook you held on to. Tell your friends about why you saved a letter of recommendation from your favorite teacher.

As you share the stories, you’ll notice that the item isn’t what your heart is holding on to. Your heart doesn’t want to hold on to stuff. All it wants is love.

And this:

“After much thought, I created a process I call the ‘victory lap.’ I give each item one last intentional, loving use.”

Having a little send-off party for each thing. Yes!

So that is what I will do. With all these memory-soaked things. Especially the mouldy book.

I will write a story about/make a video on/have a party with each item. Or, as she suggests for photos/drawings/cards/letters/pieces of books — to reimagine the most treasured pieces or photograph/scan to save somewhere digitally.

In the end, perhaps we hang onto things for fear of forgetting all the treasured memories of the past.

But she goes on to say:

Things still feel sentimental to me, but now it’s mostly moments, glances, rising new moons over mountains, ocean sunsets, and precious words. Letting go of the sentimental items, my hold on the past, and fear of the future allowed me to find magic in the present.

Letting go gave me room to adore and appreciate what’s right in front of me.

This got me thinking that perhaps letting go is trusting that you won’t forget the truly meaningful things in your life and that, even if you do, there are many more experiences to have and memories to be made in the present. When we hang on to the past — always hoping to remember or worrying we won’t — it can make us feel distrustful and dissatisfied with the present. That we don’t think the present can bring more meaningful experiences to be remembered in the future.

But over and over again the opposite is proven true.

So how’s about it?

Let’s go forth and purge with (slow and gentle) abandon!

Although the caravan in the featured image looks a little like mine, it isn’t.  Nor is the photo (’tis courtesy of Unsplash)


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Simplifying Sentimentality
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One thought on “Simplifying Sentimentality

  1. I forgot to leave a comment on your post! I think that was because I originally read it on my phone. Anyway… (1) I’ve never thought funny things about what I saw through the door of your caravan. (2) I do like the idea of taking photos of sentimental items rather than keeping them. I know of someone who is doing exactly that – and having a professionally printed photo book done. It’ll obviously take up a lot less space than all the actual items. It is a great idea. I always worry that if I get rid of something someone gave me, they might be offended. However, you really cannot just keep everything always.

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