When in doubt, throw it out!

I’m a missionary and former missionary kid. My parents, siblings, and all our kids live in three different countries. We were all Stateside this summer for the first time in six years.

While we were together, we took the opportunity to sort through family keepsakes. The kids went to bed one night, and all ten adults crammed into a friend’s living room with piles of cardboard boxes and plastic totes we haven’t touched since 1995, when we first moved to Ukraine.

It was a Norman Rockwell kind of moment. Everyone in their pajamas. People, toys, journals, and baby clothes strewn over every inch of floor or seating space. Laughter filled the air as each person pulled out some forgotten item or a photograph from days of old. Mom’s eyes teared up. One person shouted in excitement, “I remember this from…” while another cocked an eyebrow and admitted, “I have no idea why I saved that!”


Image by Roman Kraft via Unsplash

It was an evening of memories. Recalling memories of our past and making new memories for the future.

It was also a time of purging and has led me to some deep reflection about the concept of “saving” versus “tossing.” That night and the following weeks, I tossed out or gave away boxes of things. I noticed that among my parents and siblings, some are savers and some tossers. My husband leans toward saving, while my motto tends to be, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Now let me be clear. When I say “tossing,” I mean both throwing away and giving away, depending on the situation.

As I weeded out my childhood belongings, I pondered what it means to be a “saver” or a “tosser.” What makes a person one or the other? Personality? Upbringing? Culture? Value system?

I began talking with others and quickly learned that this topic touches a deep place in hearts. People often feel strongly about one way or the other. I don’t think it’s so much about the “stuff,” but about the sentimental value attached.

I began to ask myself, “What in my heart or background makes me a tosser? Does it indicate I don’t care about my past? That I don’t honor the people who have been part of my life? Or that I have an uncaring heart?”

Whether you’re a saver or a tosser, these questions are relevant to you, too. What makes you one or the other? And is your heart in the right place?

I’m going to share with you my thought process and conclusion. Hopefully, it helps you through some reflection of your own!

Why being a missionary kid made me a tosser.

I was a sentimental kid. We moved onto the mission field when I was twelve, and that first purge was brutal. I remember the heartache of choosing which stuffed animal to keep or which book or toy to give away, sell, or throw out. I had a cherished memory for every item. Consequently, my childhood keepsake boxes were the biggest, compared to my siblings’.

Over the next twenty-plus years, I slowly morphed from a “saver” into a “tosser.”

I became a tosser out of practical necessity. When we first moved overseas, we packed everything we needed into suitcases and flew them over with us. We were allowed two bags per person, and they couldn’t exceed 70 pounds each. What do you keep when you’re allowed 140 pounds total? What do you really need?

It made me think, “What do I value enough to count it in my 140 pounds?”

We left all our family keepsakes in boxes in U.S. storage. Missionaries and other expats have to consider this cost – whatever we keep, we either have to pay to store or leave in someone else’s attic or basement. We may leave items in storage for years or even the rest of our lives. We worry about things like how much it will cost or if it will inconvenience friends or family.

Once again, I ask myself, “What do I value? The items? The money to store them? The convenience of my friends or family who are keeping them?”

I’ve moved around a lot, both as a child and an adult. In 23 years, I’ve lived in three different countries, six cities, eleven houses. I’ve packed up all our belongings so many times it’s almost a robotic process. When I look at an item and consider, “save or toss,” one of my first thoughts is putting it in a box or suitcase for moving. Again. And I HATE to move.

And so again, I ask, “What do I value? The item? The time and energy to pack it up and move it again? The cost to move it?…Do I really need it?”


Image by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash

I’ve also discovered that culture, as much as necessity, has played a part in changing me from a saver to a tosser.

I live in Ukraine, in a culture where people haven’t always had a lot of “stuff.” I’ve learned by watching that we can live on less. I’ve also learned the importance of using everything we have and wasting nothing. It has bred in me a desire to not own things if they will sit on shelves or in closets unused.

Ukrainian friends have also taught me a different sort of value system. They are some of the most generous people I know. I’ve learned to be careful about complimenting on physical belongings, because Ukrainians will simply give them to me. There is great cultural value in passing something on, memory included, rather than saving it for the future.

And I ask myself, “What do they value? The item or the ability to share that item and its sentimental value with someone else? How has that value system affected my beliefs?”


I’ve discovered through this reflection process that I am still sentimental. I am deeply affected by people who have spoken into my life, given me gifts, and written me letters. I respect and honor family members and loved ones.

But my experiences have led me to place my sentiment in the “abstract” more than the objects. My sentimental value lies in the people, places, and memories themselves. I’ve learned to be purposeful to treasure people and memories even though I can’t keep the physical things.

This world is full of savers and tossers. I don’t believe one is right and the other wrong. Being a saver doesn’t automatically mean you are materialistic. It does not mean you are not generous. A saver values the physical items because of the memories they hold. Savers honor their loved ones by saving the tangible gifts and memorabilia.

But being a tosser doesn’t automatically mean you feel no love or respect for the people associated with physical items. You can deeply value memories and loved ones, but not put sentimental value in the items themselves. You may still honor individuals, but your memories are held separate from the physical.

My hope for you, reader…

Take some time to think about your own tendencies. Are you a saver or a tosser, and why? Examine your own heart, as I did.

And think about people you know who are opposite your tendencies. Try to consider what factors and experiences may have brought them to be a saver or a tosser.

At the end of the day, I believe most of us are motivated by the same values: people we love and their memories. We just show it in different ways.


4 thoughts on “When in doubt, throw it out!

  1. Hi there, Nicole,

    Another well written article that has inspired me to think more on this subject! I’m a very sentimental person and have saved things in boxes, etc. for many years….but in most recent years I have started to purge…love what you said in your Conclusion paragraphs!

    A few things I started doing…taking pictures of some of the kids projects instead of saving each item (you can even group the year together), going thru all letters from my mother and my in-laws –organizing and tying a ribbon around them and saving for my kids because they tell a story, going thru Christmas/Birthday/thank you etc. cards and using a punch, making tags to reuse – only saving particularly precious notes (oh yes, I saved cards for years so I had ALOT), having garage sales, asking my kids if there’s anything particular they want, giving away, and overall considering more deliberately whether I need a particular item or not…and even then, I am still looking around my own home and thinking…what can I purge? We’ve been married for over 41 years so we have a lot of sentimental things around and yes, I have a hard time getting rid of some things but the older I get the more I realize, as you put it “My sentimental value lies in the people, places, and memories themselves…” – great to ponder! And as you know from being at our home, I still have a long way to go in deciding what to downsize – although you can’t see on the surface, I’ve been thru our attic, garage and sheds and have had several garage sales! When we lived in DC for 13 months back in 2013, we drove out there with only what would fit in our car and furnished our apartment with the minimum…it was very freeing living there that year without a lot to take care of…something that has helped me be a “tosser” at times! But that old “sentimental fool” rears it’s head often also….oh, the struggle…lol! I have to call upon the Lord for help!

    Some of the hardest things to purge was all my kids homeschool stuff….I saved just about everything….yes, everything….every subject, every paper, every project. A few years back I finally did go thru every box and only kept some examples of their work and some projects to put in a memory box for each child.

    Although, I must admit, it is a struggle for me at times and I tear up much like your Mom did recently but I know their happy tears full of memories….so after reflection, I still think I’m a little bit of both…saver and tosser! Thank you for giving important things to ponder AND pray about!

    Hope all is going well in Indiana as you prepare to return to the Ukraine!

    Blessings, Aunt Marta


    1. It’s always so nice to get your feedback, Marta! Well, your home is super neat and comfortable, even if you feel like you’ve saved too much over the years. It feels homey 🙂 Yes, I’ve started taking pictures of things that I want to keep, at least in digital format. I love that we have options like those these days! Makes it much easier to be sentimental in our transient life!

      I enjoyed thinking about this subject and considering it from different perspectives. There’s so much we can all learn from one another and about one another!


  2. I am not positive where you’re getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend a while finding out more or understanding more. Thank you for wonderful info I was in search of this info for my mission.


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