I spent yesterday helping my sister-in-law declutter her spare room, so it would be useful as a bedroom. She had a lot of boxes from her mother, things that were too sentimental to pass along right after my mother-in-law died, but with a little more distance it was easier.
My sister-in-law was so brave about letting things go. She is incredibly sentimental, and she has always felt that hanging on to things allows her to resurrect memories. We kept single items from collections, took pictures out of frames (and donated the frames) so the pictures can be scanned and put in a digital frame, recycled a LOT of paper, and just let some things go. The samples of Belgian lace my mother-in-law brought back from her trip to Europe meant that her mother thought of her in Europe, but that was all, and my sister-in-law let the pieces go.
As much as she wanted her space back, the thing that most struck me was a comment my SIL made, just casually, about not wanting to make her daughter go through all this someday. It is such a loving reason to put herself through an exhausting day, physically and emotionally.
We took two full carloads of stuff away from the house. Stuffed animals will go to the firehouse to be loved my children that really need a distraction. A coffee table will go to a group of refugees. Frames and miscellaneous went to Goodwill. Many cans of paper went out to the recycling bin.
We asked questions like: What does this object make you think about? Where do you want to display this? (I'll put it somewhere is not an acceptable answer, that means it will always live in a box.) How will you view these? When will you use this? We also considered the 20/20 rule: if you can replace it in twenty minutes and for less than $20, it's not worth saving "just in case."
I am so happy my sister-in-law has so much more space, and I really hope she is happier with her additional room. But what I keep thinking about is her motivation to spare her family from having to clear out several generations worth of clutter when the time comes.