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After my parents died and I emptied their apartment I am left with a considerate amount of moving boxes with memorabilia:

These include among other things:

  • photos of my parents and me and my brother as children
  • photos of my grandparents and the youth of my parents
  • diaries of my parents
  • my parent's study notebooks from college
  • a lot of personal letters from my grandparents
  • old newspapers (begin of the 20th century)
  • parents work notes
  • school notes from me and my brother
  • random memorabilia from our youth, like our first school backpacks or baby bath tube

I have to admit I am a little bit overwhelmed. I think I inherited from my parents the inhibitions to throw stuff away, but I know I cannot keep it all because it is so much.

I read some parts of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and I think I can summarize the book like this: "Pick up each individual piece and decide if it makes you happy. If not throw it away" But still that seems so fuzzy and labor intense and I am afraid, if I just throw everything away I will be sorry in 20 years.

How would you approach such a task?

  • Welcome to Lifehacks SE. I'm afraid that we cannot answer this question as it requires a life hack as defined in the help center. – michaelpri Apr 10 '16 at 2:33
  • Depends how old you are, if you're under 50/55, box it all up neatly and keep it in the garage, basement, attic or hire some storage,you're probably not ready to let go yet. If you're over 55, plough through it all, get rid of some, keep the things that mean something to you, or might mean something to your offspring if you have any, until they don't mean anything any more. And the day will come for you when they don't mean anything any more, objects/things stop meaning anything as you get older, become less and less important till they're unimportant. – Bamboo Apr 11 '16 at 16:37
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Throwing personal items away is not a thing we can do easily as there are memories involved. With these memories there also is a piece of our own life we may want to keep attached.

Exactly this approach is one thing we can use to help u. The question to ask for each item would then be:

  • Do I have a memory with this item?

The items were kept by you parents because they had good memories attached to them. It it their life they kept but only a part of it involved your lifes too. If the answer to above question was no then throwing away may have hurt your parents but it will not hurt you.

Next approach would be to decide together with your brother. Have a look at each item. Then ask in turn:

  • Do you want this?

In case both want to keep it then it is easy. It is a valuable item. If any of you answers with "yes" then give it to whom it wants. If none of you feels like keeping it, just bin it.

Last not least a third aspect may come in place which is not so easy to answer. Any item may be of historical genealogy interest.

  • I the item of historical interest?

It may not be for any of you at present but there may come a day where you, or one of your own children may get some interest on the roots of their family. This aspect especially includes the diaries and photos of people from your family.

It then may not be so much the places that your parents visited but people they had met. Sorting this out needs a lot of time but by keeping all photos showing people and throwing away all photos of places you can't remember helps a lot. You can see there is considerable overlap with the first question for making the decision.

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Start by scanning as much as you can. Digital copies are much easier to store and access allowing you to declutter. Finding a batch scanner is the most efficient method. However, doing it by hand can help you sort through and appreciate each piece as you scan it in. I'm not entirely sure the best way to get access to a batch scanner though - any ideas anyone?

DocuFree and Shoeboxed are services that you can mail hardcopies to and they'll scan everything in for you.

Next, think about when you might come back to the things you can't scan in. Will you ever go back and look at them, talk about them? Would you come back to them with grand kids to tell stories, show them off? If not, take a picture then toss them. If you could see yourself coming back and looking at it, then consider keeping it.

If you want inspiration, in this video Tom Scott burns his beloved hoodie and remembers it only via digital memory, photos.

Best of luck!

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