We all have those items that we could never throw away. Whether it’s a too-small t-shirt, a child’s baby blanket, or a vintage figurine, there’s seemingly no intuitive reason we keep these things, but they tend to bring warm, fuzzy feelings. Emotions are strong drivers for decisions, and sometimes those decisions result in more stuff – but that doesn’t mean we should feel bad about them. Holding on to keepsakes and precious memorabilia is part of being human, as are the emotions certain items evoke.
The Science of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is defined as the sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. The thing about it is that it’s almost always idealized. Many of us may remember something from our childhood this way – whether it was a family trip, a responsibility-less routine, or the daily ice cream truck in the summer. Typically not included in this memory, however, are the things that go wrong: getting lost on the way to the hotel, getting grounded from video games, or missing out on ice cream a few days of the season.
Memory goes through stages, moving from short-term memory to long-term memory – the one responsible for the nostalgic memories of your grandmother when you smell chocolate chips. This happens through a process called encoding, which is strengthened through visual, sound, and semantic (meaning-based) cues. During this step, minor inconveniences are lost to simplify the memory and make it easier for your brain to store. Because of this, some memories become a fantasy of sorts in an idyllic past.
Physical Belongings and Their Associations
Nostalgia can often be assigned to an object. This physical connection to your feelings and memories with an item can hold a lot of weight. This connection helps to solidify memories to long-term storage in your mind, meaning that often those memories with associated belongings are clearer than those your brain has to work harder to commit to long-term storage. So, even if you don’t use or look at an item every single day, its presence can help retrieve certain memories, allowing you to more easily relive them.
There are also items that we hang on to out of hope or rationalization, as we tell ourselves to be prepared to use them “just in case.” Maybe you’re keeping a pair of pants that used to fit or a disco top that may or may not come back into style. Not directly tied to memories, these things are tied to the ability to merge the past with the future – a longing that occurs out of our idealized version of the past, thanks to nostalgia.
Many items that we hold on to have been ours from years ago. These items have aged with us, and as such, we have self-identified with these possessions. As people, we tend to collect and curate items, and as we welcome them into our lives, they become symbols for intangible things: Keepsakes that represent an important time in our life, a feeling, or an idea. These possessions provide a physical anchor, making these intangibles more real.
A Human Experience
Often, we’ll learn about the psychology of stuff and things in a negative connotation. But, in reality, it’s a human experience. We aren’t all medically-diagnosed hoarders for wanting to keep a box of old letters or a collection of our children’s artwork. We’re just human. If certain possessions give you warm, fuzzy feelings or have helped to shape who you are, you should keep them. We call certain belongings keepsakes for a reason: The word literally means “for the purpose of retaining.”
While there are certain motives behind decluttering, that can only be done to a certain extent. While largely physical labor, decluttering, at some point becomes harder emotionally. That line is crossed when it comes to items that do have emotional, nostalgic, or an identity attachment. In these cases, pressuring yourself to impulsively toss belongings can do more harm than good – the power of regret is worth avoiding.
Things: A Hobby
Our hobbies also make us human, and one such hobby is specifically connected to things: collecting. From branded memorabilia to music and more, collectors vary across mediums, but intents remain the same. Whether in it as an investment, social, or entertainment opportunity, collectors do so for the sense of control and community. As interests develop, collections can be a positive outlet for curating passions in a unified manner. Collections show case-in-point how physical possessions can be symbolic of our emotional, intellectual, or spiritual growth – and how they affect our individual identities.
Self Storage: Validating the Psychology of Things
Because items are so tied to us as humans, it’s important to feel comfortable in keeping what’s important. While this varies for everyone, what doesn’t change is the need for space to accommodate them. At Devon Self Storage, we offer a variety of storage units to satisfy your storage needs, whether you’re a family historian or a serious collector. Don’t feel pressured to get rid of the items that mean most to you – keep them at a self storage facility near you.