I've mentioned that I'm becoming more and more attracted to low-impact living and minimalist lifestyles, especially after the consumer shock I'm experiencing returning to the U.S. from another country (albeit a fairly consumerist one). While I'm not quite ready to shuck everything except what I truly need and live out of a backpack, I am going through the already pared-down possessions I stored in my parents' basement when I left for Korea three years ago and purging many things I no longer need or want. I'm selling a few, but mostly I'm giving things away on Freecycle, to friends, to the library (media) or to Planet Aid (clothes).
Unfortunately for me, most of what remains in my possessions are papers/items that have sentimental value for me, but little meaning/value for another person, such as letters I exchanged with friends in elementary, middle, and high school or the seven half-filled blank journals I kept through the same period. I've been pretty ruthless--recycling the letters after reestablishing contact via Facebook with my elementary and middle school friends, taking two of the notebooks that I'd filled less than 1/4 of that were falling apart at the seams and ripping out the pages that contained my bad poetry and musings about boys then recycling the rest. I have plans to scan the pictures onto my hard drive so that I can get rid of the physical clutter.
What are impossible for me to deal with right now, though, are letters and cards from students. Unlike the letters from a young person sent to my young person self, I feel a special responsibility to those "thank you" and kind message cards entrusted to me by the students I've had the joy to work with--maybe even to encourage or inspire just a little. Perhaps it is because I may be in a transition of moving away from teaching as my main form of paid employment (though I'm sure I will continue teaching in some way throughout my life) that I am so strongly attached to these items.
So to preserve my sanity, I am fiercely limiting myself to whatever will fit in a shoebox. Any other purely sentimental item that is not re-usable (like the journals I will finish filling in--I began last night! haha), beautiful (like some of my decorations I've gathered in my travels and want to display in my home), currently useful (like the purse my friend Leah gave me before I left Korea), or I know will have a use in the near future (like the 5-6 children's books I loved because we want to start a family soon) must fit in the box. I am filing all old writing I wish to keep (the stuff that's not electronic) in one plastic portfolio-type folder. Everything else that I want to keep for emotional reasons must go, in one way or another.
Allowing myself to keep a few of these items is helping this process feel good. It makes it easier to decide what really makes me feel the strongest by keeping the physical copy and what I'm ok with digitizing and/or letting go. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to let even more go, but for now, I'm content with this solution.