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How To Know What To Keep When You’re Decluttering

Declutter Planning - How To Know What To Keep When You're Decluttering


As a former EMT, I was always interested in what items people choose to surround themselves with when they knew they were close to death. Nursing homes don't offer much in decorations, so many people (or their family members) bring in pictures or trinkets to give the room a feeling of home. From stuffed animals, to ceramic frogs, it's amazing how our attachment to items can take us to another place and time, or bring us peace in times of trouble. I always wanted to sit down with my patients, or their families, and talk about how they knew what to keep when they decluttered their house and brought what was left to comfort them. What bittersweet or happy feelings do they get when they see or hold these treasured items. What’s the story behind them all?

Of course, I was never really given the privilege to inquire due to the fact that I was there because of an emergency. Still, it makes me wonder what I will have surrounding me if I have the opportunity to gather a handful of items in a room to see me off into eternity.


I turn 40 this year in November and I’m highly surprised at what items have survived this journey with me from my childhood. Yard sales, thrift store drop offs, broken toys, and lost treasures have removed 98% of the items that I once called mine. Still, hidden away in my Harry Potter Hide-away, otherwise known as the closet under the stairs, is a small desk where I write. Behind that desk lies a few treasure chests that hold what few items I still cherish. Things that make me smile every time I see them. Things that I share with my children that give me the opportunity to tell them a story about my childhood. Anything to help them realize that I was once just as small and curious as they are now.

These items aren’t clutter. These are the items that taught me how to identify what clutter truly is. They taught me the feeling an item should give that lets me know there is no way on earth I will give it up unless God asks me to do so. It just means too much to me. I invite you to join me as I offer some pics and stories from my own collection in hopes that each one will help you better understand, for yourself, what’s truly valuable to you as you begin the often emotionally overwhelming task of decluttering.



Declutter Planning - Teddy Bear

This is the item that I’ve had the longest. It was a gift to me as a child from my parents and something I can remember dragging around the house with me wherever I roamed. The weirdest thing about this, other than it only has one eye, is that I never really gave it a name. I just always referred to it as, “My Bear”. It now rests comfortably on a bookshelf next to my bed beside my wife’s childhood doll. It's a pretty interesting observation to note that while we found each other, they found each other, as well. It's hard to not have something like this and not look at it as if it has a life of its own. This is one of the first traps we fall into as we begin to gather everything around us and refuse to let it go. We must always remember that the things we own are not alive. They do not have feelings, nor will they get lonely or sad if we remove them. In all honesty, now that I’m a father myself, it makes me smile to see my own children find the perfect stuffed animal to help them feel a little less alone at night. 


These particular trading cards are what I have left of a huge collection from an assortment of different kinds (cartoons, baseball, football, etc.). My brother and I began to collect cards as children, and they were a giant escape for us as we lay in our hospital beds after undergoing numerous hip surgeries due to Perthes Disease. As you can see by what I keep in cases, the 80’s Baseball Cards, 1992 Marvel Trading Cards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990 Movie and 1987-1990’s Cartoon, and Dan Marino Trading Cards are by far my favorite. I have a box about the size of a kitchen drawer where I hold a bunch of miscellaneous cards (The Simpsons, Looney Tunes, Disney, Dinosaurs, Doug, Nascar, G.I. Joe, and doubles of the Marvel Cards that I already have in a case).

Declutter Planning - Baseball and TMNT Trading Cards

Declutter Planning - Baseball and Marvel Trading Cards

These are the items that not only take me back visually, but kinetically. The feel and the smell of these cards have me laying in my bed at Children’s Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, being taken care of by some of the most amazing doctors and nurses you can imagine. I think every single person I knew to have a bed there was always smiling no matter what they were going through. These cards help me remember to find joy during times that can be considered hard.

Declutter Planning - Dan Marino Trading Cards



Declutter Planning - Letters

While I haven’t kept them all, I have kept those that mean a lot to me. For instance, if you look closely, you can see cards labeled from 1 to 12. These were a gift to me from my wife and each of them contained a calendar with a date marked off for a special date night that she had planned. The calendar had a clue but the actual activity was hidden in the envelope that I could open the night before. This was given to me during a time where I worked night shift and she took care of 5 kids all below the age of 9. We realized that if we wanted a date night, then we needed to schedule it. She’s a lot more fun than I am so she took the time to find things that she thought we would both want to do together. While we didn’t get to do them all, we did get to do some; my favorite being white water rafting down the James River after an amazing amount of rain.


Declutter Planning - Gordon Korman - I Want To Go Home

Declutter Planning - Gordon Korman Signature

Reading was very important to me as I was growing up, and there were a few books that defined my tastes. Gordon Korman’s I Want to Go Home being my all time favorite (next to my Calvin & Hobbes collection that I got rid of when I first purged almost everything I owned in 2001). Him, Bill Watterson, and Charles Schultz have always been a driving force behind me own desire to write and create, but Gordon Korman has always been my favorite. I mean, come on. The man wrote his first published novel in the 7th grade and he’s still just as active today as he was in the 70’s and 80’s.


Declutter Planning - Record Player

My grandfather was the world to me. I thought he could do anything, especially when it came to working with wood, and he rarely proved me wrong. This record player, which originally sat above the desk in his bedroom, came into my possession with the hopes to be used to spin early era Jazz records. Even though that idea didn’t play out as I would have liked, it’s still something that I like to have around in case I come upon a vintage Christmas album that isn’t available online.

Handmade Engagement Ring and 10 Year Anniversary Gift

Declutter Planning - Anniversary Box

Declutter Planning - Anniversary Box VHS

Declutter Planning - Anniversary Box Ring Box Open

Declutter Planning - Ring Box

While I did not have enough money at the time to buy my girlfriend a proper engagement ring, I did have a burning passion to marry her. Also, she made a vow at 14 to never kiss anyone she dated until she was married. Needless to say, I had my reasons to propose. I used my grandfather’s wood shop and produced the small ring and ring box you see here. I am by no means a wood smith and there was a lot of trial and error in sanding and crafting a unique ring and ring box to present to her when I popped the question. My sister-in-law burned Beloved on the ring and Song of Solomon 7:10 on the ring box’s surface. I would have burned the house down if I tried.

The 10-Year Anniversary gift was made by my friend John Garthaffner from I wanted something made that appeared to naturally fit on a bookshelf and hold the ring, box, and VHS tape of our wedding. All other anniversary gifts that were made to fit on the top of shelves were broken by my creative, yet chaotic children. I gave him the idea and he ran with it. The reason this is so important for us is that I told my wife I didn’t wanted to watch the video of our wedding. I said that I wanted to remember it the way I remembered it, which made sense to me at the time. She made me promise to watch it with her on our 10th Anniversary. This was how I presented it to her, and she and our 5 children at the time sat down to remember one of the greatest days of our lives.

Declutter Planning - Anniversary Box Side



While I’d rather not live the last moments of my life in a nursing home, I can still see each and everyone of these items placed randomly about if I am. Then again, we all seem to change as we get older. New things come along that take the place of what we previously cherished. Accidents happen and things get broken and are quickly labeled as trash if they are unable to be repaired. All we can really know is who we are now, and all we can really hope for is to be better than who we were with each passing day. Our things help us remember who we were in those seasons of life, but they should never dictate to us who we are now.

Maybe, if for some reason I meet my final days in a nursing home, I will have nothing of my past around. Instead, I might have hundreds of cards and pictures of my children’s families surrounding me. With seven children, God only knows how many grandchildren, or great-grandchildren I could have. Most likely, those are the things I want surrounding me when I go. Not memories of the past, but a reminder that my legacy will live on in them just as my grandfather’s legacy lives on in me.

Till next time, and as always, sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, is greatly appreciated. I hope you were able to take something away, and I know that there are more that would enjoy this article, as well. It is my heart's desire to see you living a life that's not only clutter-free but filled with family, friends, and fun. If you find that your belongings are beginning to bring you more stress than joy, and you live in the Richmond, Virginia, and Tri-Cities area, then I would be honored to come to you for a free consultation. You can find out more at or check us out at Facebook or Pinterest.

Stay for a spell.

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