Should You Keep Mementos From Your Last Relationship?

Should You Keep Mementos From Your Last Relationship?
Photo: wernimages, Shutterstock

Whether they’re birthday cards, jewellery, or photos on your phone, a lot of people keep mementos of past relationships — but when is it OK to keep hanging onto these things, and when is it time to let go? Here’s what you should consider about holding onto keepsakes from past relationships — especially when you have a new partner in your life.

What types of mementos do we most often keep?

Results out from a recent Cinch Home Services survey of over 1,000 people, while designed to give insight into people’s opinion on clutter, actually revealed some interesting tidbits about relationships — one of them being that 57% of people said they still have an item from a past relationship.

Interestingly, of the 57% of respondents who copped to keeping old relationship stuff, men were much more likely to keep physical reminders of former flames. Overall, 61.6% of men said they kept the items while 51.1% of women said they did. The majority of the romantic hoarders are also either in a relationship or married, but 21.2% said their current partner doesn’t know they still have those items. The most commonly kept things are photos (42.6%), gifts (40.6%), and jewellery (34.4%).

Consider why you want these items

Simply still having the items — particularly of the sentimental variety — tucked away and forgotten in the back of a closet isn’t as important as the underlying reason why — especially as you start a new relationship.

“I think it is more important to place the attention on the current feelings and interactions with the ex,” said Jennifer Aull, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Brooklyn. “Does this person seem to still be unresolved or long for this person as a romantic partner? That’s really the question.”

She said it can be fine to hold onto items because “it is possible get to a place where you can look back on a yearlong relationship with fondness even though you have no desire to be in that relationship currently.” However, it’s also true that your new partner could feel threatened by what keeping the items indicates about your feelings, so you’ll need to balance the fondness you feel for those memories with the comfort and security you want your new partner to feel.

What is OK (and not OK) to keep?

There are some things you should never keep (you know it’s shitty to keep nudes from an ex); and overly sentiment items, such as personal letters, cards, or photo books from your travels together are the things most likely to be hurtful to a new partner. But things of a more practical variety can probably stay. Of those who told the Cinch surveyors they kept old relationship items, 18.4% held onto dishes or kitchen utensils, 23.5% pointed to furniture, and 25.4% still had electronics.

I’m a practical gift-giver myself, and I doubt my exes consider their coffee makers or air fryers “keepsakes” or “mementos” that cause them to still pine for me. I still have a television, a box fan, and a table that came from a former relationship, and those are staples of daily life that don’t remind me of him at all (and I am sure as hell not going to toss a perfectly good fan just to go drop money on another). The stuffed animals, concert tickets, and once-sentimental gifts can probably go, though.

In the end, as long as you’re not pining for your ex, hold onto mementos as you see fit — provided you can be open and honest with your new partner and they don’t have any objection.

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