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Melissa Schmalenberger, Published January 19 2014

Ms. Simplicity: True memories found in experiences, not ‘things’

Take a look at what you are saving in your home. Are you saving your kids’ school papers? Are you saving their toys, baby clothes or books? Or perhaps you are holding onto grandma’s china for your daughter or son. Maybe it is a set of bedroom furniture that is a maybe-someday-somebody-will-need-it piece of furniture.

It’s time to start getting real with yourself. Who are you really keeping these things for?

If you have boxes of things that you are saving, or worse yet, bedrooms still filled with all of your 20-something’s high school memorabilia, it may be time for a reality check. If you have Vanilla Ice posters in a bedroom in your house, it is time to take them down.

I have found that we keep this stuff because of our own issues. I plan on moving when my youngest child graduates from high school in three and a half years. I am starting to look at my house differently. I don’t want to take much with us when we move. We want to be able to leave most things behind and start a minimalist life.

But I have things I need to work through first. I have book cases filled with children’s books. I loved reading to my kids. I was an English major, and I love books. Even when we were dirt poor and new parents, I still found money to buy books.

So how am I going to part with these treasures? Easy. I am going to give myself one box and ask myself the question over and over, “What books would I want to read to my grandchildren?” My boys will each get a chance to look through the books, too, but after that, the rest will be donated. I am giving myself three and a half years to do this because it will take that long!

I know the first books to go in the box are all the “Harry Potter” books. These are the books that my husband and I would take turns reading to the boys every night as they fell asleep. We would sit in the hallway outside of their bedrooms so that they all could hear. We went into their classrooms and read these books during our volunteer time. My oldest read as an escape from being bullied. These books are my treasure, and I know it and own it. Ask my boys, and they would probably select a different set of books. That will be their choice. The “Harry Potter” ones are mine.

I have a group of 200 women currently working on a kitchen organizing challenge. When talking about what to get rid of, I hear side talk of keeping items for their children, such as special serving pieces or holiday dishes or even china.

But if you are holding onto something for someone else that you think they might want, think again. I challenge you to ask those adult children what they want. And then start sending them home with a box of “treasures” each time they visit. Start shipping a box of their memorabilia to their house for them to store once a month. Repeat until all of their stuff and the stuff you are holding onto for them is out of your house.

Make a vow that you won’t “guilt” them into changing their mind. We live in a time where less is more. Our kids are learning that lesson. They just want to leave their childhood behind and let us pick up the pieces and organize them.

We are the ones who feel the guilt over letting go. We are the ones who didn’t have things saved as children and wish we did, so we over saved our own kids items.

But remember, it is just stuff. The memories are not in a room filled with clutter, but rather a few choice items and some pictures.

Here are a few quick questions to get you going:

• Whose memory is it?

• Have my children said they want it?

• Do my kids have the space to take it now?

• Can I limit myself to one box for each child?

• Does it bring a tear to my eye when I look at it?

So once you start going through those questions, the really important stuff that your kids will want to keep will start floating to the top, like cream. Be OK with getting rid of the rest. I promise if you ask your kids, they won’t change their mind and decide they will want it later.

I am not mad anymore that my mom donated the dress that I wore to prom even though I married my prom date.

Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger, operates her business as I Did it with MS. Simplicity. She is a Professional Organizer based out of Fargo. Email her at melissa@mssimplicity.com.