04/28/2014 03:35 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

To Heave or to Hold: 10 Things to Toss or Save This Spring

Jody Gastfriend

I've known people for whom less is more. I have friends who showcase perfectly-curated collections in well-chosen spaces, but who otherwise have no clutter, no mementos, no bric-a-brac shoved into the nooks and crannies of their homes. They avoid sentimental attachments and have no compulsion to acquire ... stuff.

I am in awe of their tchotchke-free homes, but I could never be them. Reminders of my past--old letters, the kids' artwork, vacation souvenirs and the bad poetry of my angst-ridden teen years -- all make me smile.

That said, there comes a time when the remnants of years (and years) pile up... literally. My husband and I have actually started trying to toss some stray bits and pieces -- alright, yes, crap -- from the hidden and not-so-hidden places around the house.

My company,, recently conducted a global spring cleaning study and found that cleaning the basement is one of the most reviled tasks. However, every time I go down to the cellar to throw things away, I get immersed in memories. Now, I would hardly consider myself a hoarder, but I'll admit that some things are really hard to part with. Recently, I started re-reading my diary from the sixth grade! My brother, whom I adore, was mostly referred to as an idiot. I loved my friends one minute, hated them the next. That left me bemused and certainly more understanding of my daughter's moodiness. Definitely want to save that diary.

Some other things I've found and considered keeping:

•Two Barbie doll heads circa 1965. (I should at least wait until I find the bodies to decide if they're collectibles, right?)
•Love letters from my high school sweetheart, sent to me while I was away at college. This was a tough one because it's a sweet memory, but I am not sure I want my grandchildren reading these one day.
•A tooth I lost in second grade. (Pretty gross, but worth saving.)
•My son's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll that may be worth something someday. (They're back, by the way.)
•An official certificate from the school nurse for my then 5-year-old daughter stating she was finally nit-free. (You never know when you might need blackmail fodder.)

Happily, I did come across things I could toss without equivocation:

•Thirty years' worth of old bank account statements. (We are busy shredding and are already up to 1994)
•My college art history term paper about Caravaggio and chiaroscuro.
•My children's crib. It's nice, but not hand-me-down worthy. It would probably be considered a deathtrap by today's standards and certainly will be by the time my kids (hopefully) have their own children.
•The very un-flat black-and-white dinosaur TV from the late seventies.
•Items that belong to my children, which they've conveniently forgotten to move. I may not haul these to the trash, but I'm definitely boxing them up. Their rightful owners can sort, save or discard at their venues.

I'm sure I'll come up with more items to toss or donate to charity. My closets harbor clothes that no longer fit, clothes no longer in style (how did we wear those shoulder pads??) and clothes bought on sale that never fit. There are duplicates of small appliances, books that -- should we need to re-read them -- can be downloaded digitally, and cartons of wires, parts and peripherals to electronics we no longer own. Someone may need these things or have the ability to recycle them, but we don't.

Getting rid of items with no intrinsic practical or emotional value is liberating. No question about that. But, I have to say that the process of going through it all, while occasionally tedious, has been cathartic. Purging the detritus of the past while consciously saving its little treasures reminds us of the things we value. Spring cleaning is helping my husband and me carve out space in our lives as we move forward -- while rekindling memories that connect us with the past.

Tell me, are you a pack rat or do you hate the sight of clutter? Is there anything you can't part with? When do you stroll down memory lane?