Make It Stop: Do I Burn My Ex’s Stuff Or Keep It For Posterity Or What?!

Me and my ex, “Louie”, ended things on bad terms a year ago. At the time, I shoved anything that reminded me of him into the back of a desk drawer. Artwork he’s made for me, birthday cards he drew by hand, movie ticket stubs, photographs of us. Stuff like that. My new year’s resolution was to cut down on clutter, so when it comes to these mementos, I’m conflicted. It feels harsh to toss them in the garbage, as we did have some happy times in the beginning. But at the same time, it feels weird to have these things in my apartment, like a piece of him is still here. My friend suggested I burn them but it seems overly dramatic. Should I keep this stuff because it might be nice to look back on it in the future, or take a deep breath and throw it all out? I’m genuinely torn.

You don’t have to keep this stuff to bequeath to your future grandchildren. Nor do you have to chuck it into a Hefty bag full of banana peels and coffee grinds and set it on the curb. It does sound fun to light it up in a burn barrel while chanting fun spells like a modern-day version of The Craft, but I agree it’s dramatic. The good news is you have more options here.

For instance, you can bundle it up and give it to a sympathetic friend or relative for safekeeping. Then in a year or two, see how you feel and proceed accordingly. You’re reducing clutter and postponing the decision, which might be a win/win for now.

Of course, you can always decide to not decide, too. Table the issue and come back to it when you’re feeling less sentimental. There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone having a few cards and pictures chilling in the back of a drawer.

If you’re curious if you’ll have feelings of regret if you toss it, my gut feeling is you probably won’t. It’s hard to reminisce over love letters when you’re not in love with the person who sent them. In fact, it can feel unsettling reading how he was in love with a version of yourself you’ve outgrown. And, you’ll either forget these movie stubs and cards ever existed, or you’ll create better, happier memories with people you’ll cherish more than Louie.

For what it’s worth, I understand your predicament. I have a shoebox where I’d keep the ephemera of past loves too. When I look at the stash now, it looks like, well, old stuff. It’s about as interesting as seeing my high school ID card or my old MySpace page. Yes, it was part of my life, but not only has the meaning shifted, but it’s been rendered irrelevant. There’s no emotional connection to it anymore. I can feel the weight of the box, the weight of memories. It’s about as heavy as a pair of hiking boots and about as useful as owning Old School on DVD. I don’t even know the last time I watched a DVD, people! Remember how annoying DVD menus are? How they have music that loops on repeat? Who needs it, right?

Maybe the right move is to ditch 95% of your relationship stockpile and keep no more than three of the most meaningful items. It’s okay to want to hold on to a few memories. It’s harmless. Squirrel them away somewhere inaccessible, like the bottom of a closet or under the bed. Take a look at it every few years, maybe every time you move or do a deep clean. One day, you’ll look at these trinkets through different eyes. They’ll feel pointless, inert, and of no use to anyone. You’ll feel it’s gravity, weighing you down ever so slightly. You’ll know it’s the right time to let go. And it will feel easy, like releasing a balloon.