It’s All Rock n’ Roll to Me

It’s been a fun and relaxing summer for me, with lots of travel across the US for pleasure. Often when I’m away from my regular routine and familiar surroundings, I experience moments where my perspective shifts and my mind expands. This time was no exception. I just recently returned from Cleveland, Ohio where I had the opportunity to visit the Rock &  Roll Hall of Fame. While looking at the exhibits, it occurred to me that much of what was on display could have been considered clutter, had the owners of these items not become famous. For example, there was a special exhibit of Bruce Springsteen’s memorabilia, including several displays of coffee-stained pages torn out of a notebook with lyrics scribbled on. I could just imagine working as his professional organizer before he became famous, and saying something like “You already have the final version of these lyrics on paper, so do you really need to keep all the rough drafts?” What about all those costumes encased in glass boxes – I would have said, “They no longer fit you, so why are you keeping them?  Take a picture and let them go.” And all those old Rolling Stone magazine covers that were so prominently displayed – if I had been working with the people who donated them, I would have advised, “Tear out any articles you want to refer back to and toss the rest of the magazine”.

But keeping everything doesn’t always have a happy ending. I’ve also seen the other side of this scenario: The person, who keeps everything for sentimental reasons and, as a result, is suffocating in the stuff. I see it every day – well-meaning folks who keep everything but have no space in their home for themselves and their family members to comfortably sit, sleep and eat. Often, loneliness and depression sets in because they are embarrassed to have people over, so they isolate themselves. There’s such a fine line between hoarding everything and purging it all.

The best advice I can give, now that I have a slightly new perspective on ‘stuff’, is this: Imagine yourself becoming famous several years from now. There’s a glass case, say the size of your bathroom, devoted to displaying your ‘artefacts’. What items would you choose to put in that case? Which mementos best represent significant events in your life or truly reflect who you are as a person? If you have the space, put those items away for safe keeping or display them in a way you can enjoy them.

Although my perspective has shifted in terms of the value of memorabilia, I’ve never been of the mind-set that we should get rid of everything. I’ve advocated keeping the items that matter most to us, provided we store or display them in a way that honours them (i.e. not jammed in plastic grocery bags in the leaky corner of the garage or a musty basement). The key is to limit what we keep to what’s most precious to us so that the ‘stuff’ doesn’t deteriorate our quality of life. Keep the memorabilia to a reasonable amount and these treasures will provide pleasure and joy to you and to those who care about you for years to come.  Would be really interested to hear your thoughts on this perspective,  so please comment below.

Here I am at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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This post has 17 comments

  • Kerith says:


    I tell my clients that EVERYONE needs a treasure box. It’s a box though, not a room…not a house.

    It is worth mentioning too, that it wasn’t Bruce Springsteen collecting those things. No, he was out living life, doing what he loves.

    Kerith Paterson @ Visual Girl Home Therapy, Canada

  • Fabulous article Hellen!! I had to smile because I thought the opposite as well. What if I became a famous artist – what things would I NOT want people to see. A number of journals, begun then discarded. Clothes that were never flattering from the beginning BUT were on sale! Knick-knacks that were cute or meaningful at one point and now tucked in drawers and cartons.
    Definitely quality over quantity!
    Glad you are enjoying your summer!

    • Hellen says:

      Linda, what an interesting perspective you bring up! I’ll add one more item to your list of things you don’t want people to find once you become famous….photos: with your eyes closed, something growing out the back of your head, taken from an unflattering angle or in bad lighting and, most importantly, photos of you taken in the 80s.

  • Denise says:

    This is a great post…Your comments about the museum through your eyes — the eyes of a professional organizer– are hilarious.

    I constantly struggle with memorabilia. I have a box (twice the size of a shoe box) near my work area where I put the current year’s memorabilia — ticket stubs, programs, greeting cards. At year’s end, I go through the box and get rid of things that already seem extraneous. However, this means that I have a box of memorabilia for each year…I realize this is still too much, since I’ve been doing this since 2001.

  • Trace McG says:

    great article hellen!

    i’ve beeb saving bits & pieces from my life for decades and that’s a lot of stuff; i’m in my fifties. however, i do keep it down to a minimum by using a basket and scrapbooks. when i find the time, i do a page or two, so the basket never gets out of control. i don’t even use proper scrapbook stuff; i buy binders secondhand and just use construction or other paper that i have here. my rule is, if i can’t put it in a scrapbook, i don’t keep it. good rule for me ’cause i can be a pack rat!

  • Martine says:

    All I have to say is letting go of things is a good thing..I keep reminding myself that you can’t take it with you. Last week I was invited to a 50th wedding anniversary, I asked my cousin what do I give your parents, the response I was given was that at their age they are at the point that everything they have they are giving away..umm..I thought. Well what did I end up giving people that ultimately are at the point in their lifes that they are giving things away…. a lovely bouquet of flowers and it was enough to give my aunt a sparkle in her eye..that was worth more than something material.

  • Lori says:

    Oh I can’t believe you were right here in Cleveland! I live here (well just outside in the suburbs) and would have loved to have met up with you and shown you around our city. Cleveland is the ‘best location in the nation’!!

    • Hellen says:

      Was only there for 2 days but had a great time – wish I could have stayed longer. Great city!

  • Kristen says:

    Magazines were difficult for me. They contain such useful and important information. And they might wind up in a museum someday! But when the bookshelves started sagging, I realized it was not my job to be the archivist for my favorite magazines. Now, I have one box for each title, and use the one in, one out rule. When the newest issue goes in the box, the oldest gets recycled. After I clip the keepers, of course.

    Next step: getting a scanner so I can scan the keepers instead of filing them!

    • Hellen says:

      Way to go Kristen – you did it! By the way, I love that line….”it was not my job to be the archivist…” So true!

  • Liz says:

    I think it’s nice to keep photos and things that you love & regularly use. But ultimately, getting rid of what some would think of as treasures (cards from deceased relatives, school ribbons, etc.) really did not add to my life. It kept me in the past. I will always remember that those deceased relatives loved me when they were alive- reading something they wrote tends to just make me sad and long for times that I can never have again with them. When people are surrounded by too much of their past, it doesn’t leave much room for the future. And for me, personally, that means 99% of my past has been donated, re-purposed or thrown away. It was utterly necessary to moving on, setting myself free from dogma and limiting beliefs & becoming less materialistic. Everyone’s different, I know. But what we THINK we are is probably more illusion than fact. The more things that we surround ourselves which confirm what we think we already know, we are probably stunting the growth of what we could become. But that is my opinion and I fully expect people to disagree, even quite heatedly.

  • dawn says:

    Another good one from Liz. No offense but are you like me and having a mid life realization? My thoughts exactly. The material stuff should be lower on our priority list. Afterall it is just stuff. People who survive catastrophe often are grateful to be alive and well. That is the real priority.

  • Hellen says:

    Liz, I totally agree with you and I especially like what you said about ‘what we think we are is probably more illusion than fact’. It really does keep one stuck.

  • Liz says:

    Dawn- Thank you for your kind comments. I am actually only thirty but actually feel about sixty in terms of how long I’ve lived. That may sound strange, but I went from being a naive and devout Mormon to a skeptic & atheist in a period of less than seven years. In five years I have gone from near-perfect health to having had six surgeries and am suffering constant pain. So you can imagine the journey I’ve been through.

    Needless to say, I’ve come to understand that attempting to mold yourself to some ideal or obtain some particular “must-have” item or person is most likely a waste of time. And even if you got it, it would probably not end up making you happy, if you aren’t already. And, no, I am not bitter or angry. I am free from the constraints, mental and otherwise, which keep people in a self-made prison of living to please others. I enjoy my life and my freedom, and am grateful I didn’t get trapped into a life not in line with the way my brain is really wired.

    Hellen- The more I studied science, history & even just myself, I realized what I thought I am is really all just a product of genetics, social environment & the era that I happened to live in. With different parents, or had I been born in another part of the world, another time or had come from a different heritage- I would have been an entirely different person. People can become what they want to sometimes- but it is always going to be within the limits of what they were born to. Try to live excessively outside those limits, and you are likely to get watched by the government, put in a mental institution or get thrown in jail.

  • Sylvia says:

    I got many remarkable revelations this year, after the unexpected an sudden passing of my health conscious eldest sister at 44; one of which is regarding memorabilia…

    While sorting, the message that stood out was, what would she want kept for her children … and what information would they find important when they have the milestones in their lives (turning 18, marriage, babies).

    I felt unqualified to make that decision, and decided to keep what reflected her as the beautiful loving awesome person I know… all of her discoveries of herself while attending seminars and coaching; letters from college, photos of friends … anything that, if a stranger went through her memory box one day, by the end they would have felt as if they’ve known her, and those important to her.

    My suggestion, to put it out there, would be that you are the best one qualified to narrow it down to your one box, as you know what’s the most important reflection of you.

    This includes having office files/papers organized and filed by year, which I worked on for myself – if someone came into my world and had to figure out my system and where I left off could they do it?(good business practice at any rate).

    The other request is, the stuff/clutter you-cant-take-with-you… if you don’t deal with it, somewhere, someone else does!

    It’s better if you find qualified homes for it.

    A recent quote I came across: “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.”

    From my experience…. hope it helps with perspective… Warmest regards.

  • Love your take on Springsteen’s memorabilia ! Quite funny. I’ve always wanted to visit this Hall of Fame … put it on my list for next summer. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Sheila Pilgrim says:

    I have just been re-reading this blog prior to finally getting our guest room cleaned out and re-painted. There was quite a bit of clutter, especially under the bed. I was pleased that I was able to deal with everything quickly. The thought, “if my husband and I died tomorrow, would I want our kids to have to go through all this stuff?” helped me get rid of most of the, let’s face it, junk. Our goal for this winter is to carry on in the rest of the house with that thought in mind.