The Question

What's The First Step For De-Cluttering Your House?

There's a room in your house — or a closet, or a crawlspace, or maybe just a box under your bed — that's full of all the things you need to get rid of but can't bear to part with. But maybe it's your memories of the object that are holding you back, and not the object itself. A new study shows that if you take steps to immortalize a memory, you'll have an easier time getting rid of the stuff you kept for sentimental value. We aren't getting rid of our binky, though, so don't even ask.

Take A Picture...It Lasts Longer

The eureka moment that inspired this study came in a humble package: a pair of basketball shorts. See, marketing professor Karen Winterich had these shorts in her closet for years, long after her high school basketball days were over. But every time she went to toss them out, she remembered one glorious victory against her school's biggest rivals. It got her thinking about how it wasn't the shorts themselves that she valued, but her memories of them. So she teamed up with Rebecca Reczek and the two came up with a test to determine if cherishing the memory could make letting go of the memento easier. If taking a photo of an object makes us more willing to part with it, that might be all the proof they'd need.

The test went down like this. They started a donation drive in six residence halls at Penn State. Half of the 797 students were presented with an ad campaign that read "Don't Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter...Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate." The other half received this message: "Don't Pack Up Your Sentimental Clutter, Just Collect the Items, Then Donate." Just as the researchers predicted, the students who were encouraged to take a photo donated much more stuff — 613 total items to the non-photographers' 533. So if there's something in your house you just can't leave behind, the thing to do may be to take a photograph and treasure the memory.

Making Memories Last Forever

So taking a picture of your keepsakes can come in handy when it's time to clear space at home. But as it turns out, there's some pretty good evidence that it can free up space in your brain as well. One study published in Psychological Science suggests that taking a photo can improve your visual memory, making it easier to remember exactly what you saw (without even looking at the photo). 

But there's a catch—while your visual memory will improve, your non-visual memory is likely to suffer. That means that if you snap a photo of Niagara Falls, you might remember what that moment looks like forever while forgetting how the birds sounded or how the spray felt. Our suggestion? If your sentimental memory revolves around a particular sound or a snippet of music, you may be better served by recording it than by simply snapping a photo.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Memory And Tech

Photography Changes What We Remember

Is the Internet Changing Our Memory?

How Smartphones Improve Your Memory

Written by Reuben Westmaas June 28, 2017

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