When Is It Time to Throw Stuff Out?

I’ve been in a cleaning mood lately. It’s probably a combination of this early winter weather (cold enough to stay indoors) and my pent-up guilt about the many boxes of “stuff” in the attic that we brought to our new home three years ago.

Here’s what my attic looks like…..


I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to decide what to throw away and what to keep, but it’s been much worse than I expected. And, I’ve realized that my age has something to do with that.

Here’s what I have to deal with:

• Dozens of boxes of pictures (printed before online storage) from my 25 years with Ray
• Another dozen cartons of photos from Ray’s previous life and mine, and more left to us by our parents
• Old Christmas cards, some containing notes and family photos
• Lots of cards and notes from Ray
• Letters and mementos from my college years and former jobs
• Several notes from old boyfriends
• Cards and notes from my friend Patty and a couple of other girlfriends
• Hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s (and books that I can’t fit on my bookshelves)
• Old bills, tax records and receipts
• Other miscellaneous weird stuff, including two files marked “stuff I like”!!


I decided to tackle one large box of paper files first. I was exhausted in less than two hours.

The old bills and tax records from the 80’s and 90’s were easy. Out they went.

The old receipts … wait… should I keep that receipt for the watch I bought in 1992? How about the one for that expensive St. John jacket? No, it would take hours to go through them. Toss them!

Cards, notes and letters from Ray? Of course they stay!

Old work and college stuff? Toss it all.

Old Christmas cards and photo cards? I haven’t finished with these yet.


A poem from a college boyfriend I haven’t seen or talked to in 45 years? I read it one more time, smiled and tossed it out.

An apology letter from my first husband for being such a jerk? I read it, grimaced and tossed it.

Then I found something that was harder to deal with.

It was a copy of a letter I had written to my mother when I was 29, trying to explain to her why I got divorced and how I was now “in love” with an older man. I have had that letter for 35 years and although it is well-written (if I have to say so myself), it is definitely not an example of my proudest moment. At 29, what did I know? A sad story, finger pointing and hurt feelings. Although I couldn’t really re-capture those feelings, the letter did remind me about the ups and downs of my relationship with my mom over the years.

But, now what? Keep it? Throw it away?

I’m 64. If I keep it … will I look at it again when I’m 74, 84, 94? If so, why? Should the one point in time reflected in this letter stick around as long as I do?

If I had kids, would I keep the letter for them? Would it help them figure out who I was at 29? Would I want them to? And, would they really care?

If I throw it away … am I letting go of an important memory about who I was? Or am I doing the right thing so that someone else doesn’t have to go through these kind of things when I’m gone?

I obviously kept stuff like this letter all these years in order to revisit my earlier life at some point in my later life.

But now I am in my later life.

Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t need to keep the letter to my mom. But I know there will be more of these decisions as I continue to tackle those boxes in my attic.

When is it too soon to throw things from the past away? I really don’t know, but I’m moving on to photos next week.

I’m already exhausted.


p.s. Patty … I kept some great notes from you, girlfriend!