Different kinds of Mementos
I tend to collect clutter - a LOT of clutter. Most of the things I collect fall under the broad category of "mementos", and I keep them for that reason - to remind me of things I've long forgotten, to bring to mind friends I haven't seen in years, to help me reconstruct a past that I've never been too good at keeping track of.
In fact, one of the main things that keeps me from throwing things out is an idea that most people would classify as fantasy. I imagine that hundreds of years from now, archaeologists with amazing new technologies will be able to go through the things I've kept, and reconstruct an intensely vivid picture of the 21st century. This makes me hesitant to even throw out things like receipts, or sometimes, pebbles that have somehow made it into my possession. I mean, they can tell where the Shroud of Turin has travelled by analyzing pollen samples, so why not keep a record of my life in small flakes of rock?
Today, I've been going through a lot of my stuff, and getting rid of things. And having to wrestle with what exactly is okay to get rid of has made me realize there are quite different types of mementos. Here are some of them:
Objects with character. These are usually related to an intense memory, maybe of an amazing night with friends, maybe of a trip across the country - maybe we stopped at a weird gas station, and one of us happened to see something strange, and pick it up. Maybe we had a conversation about it, maybe we told jokes, maybe that object just reminds me of those people or that place. This object then becomes a kind of totem, accessing memories I wouldn't otherwise be able to pull up. Some of my collection includes a rock that is shaped like an appearance of the Virgin Mary, a golf ball stained by lake water (we hiked into the middle of a lake to find this one), and an Alabama-themed garter from a friend's wedding, that I kept hanging around my rearview mirror for years.
A small gift from someone. These usually come with some guilt - I wouldn't necessarily hang on to this thing, but I'd feel like I was cutting out a small piece of our relationship if I were to get rid of it. These are hard for me to let go of, especially if it was from someone I am no longer around. I'm becoming better at this, however. If the object doesn't fall into the category of "objects with character" as well, then I am more and more able to let this stuff go.
A record of my past. These things don't have any special meaning to me, but they record an event I may or may not remember. As such, they might be useful in reconstructing when I did a specific thing, went to a specific place, or met a specific person. These are things like movie tickets and receipts and business cards. It's dumb, but I have gas station receipts from years ago, recording trips I don't even recall. My new way of dealing with this is to photograph them, so I keep the record, and then throw the physical item away.
The best overall approach I've discovered so far is to ruthlessly segment this stuff, based on why and how I value it. I get ziplock bags, write something like "ticket stubs" or "receipts" on each one, and then isolate each type of thing.
This allows me to easily see the things I need to get rid of, easily store the things I still want to keep, and photograph or record any information I'm trying to preserve.
For years I've had boxes of these "mementos", collecting dust and doing nothing for me. But when I separate them out, I've discovered that most of them fall into the third category, small things that I held on to in order to record what I was doing. By separating everything by its use, I'm able to deal with each item most efficiently, and it's making a huge difference.
I'm getting closer to minimalism every day.