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How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easier

How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easier

When I asked my email subscribers (sign up here if you’re not on the list!) what their biggest struggle is when it comes to decluttering, the most common answer by far was struggling with decluttering sentimental items.

And I totally get it. It’s hard to let go of things you hold dear and are meaningful to you.

Decluttering Sentimental Items: Finding a Balance

When you’re decluttering your sentimental items, the goal doesn’t need to be getting rid of everything. It’s ok to keep some important and sentimental items. But the key is finding the balance between keeping the things that mean the most to you and getting rid of the clutter.

When you have too many sentimental items they lose their specialness and can often get lost amongst each other. You might start feeling burdened, overwhelmed or stressed by your sentimental items when you have too many. And when you have too many sentimental keepsakes, you often can’t truly enjoy them because there are simply too many.

But when you have fewer sentimental items, and only keep the things that are truly important and meaningful to you, you can highlight, value, use and appreciate them more. Because you’re only keeping the best of the best. Only keeping the most important, significant and special items.

How to make decluttering sentimental items easier
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

Decluttering Sentimental Items: It’s Hard, But Worth It

Decluttering sentimental items can often be one of the hardest parts of decluttering your home. But taking the plunge and spending the time and effort decluttering sentimental items is definitely worth it.

When your storage room is not filled with boxes of sentimental items, it lifts a weight off your shoulders. And you can often find ways to use, display and generally appreciate the sentimental items you do keep, more.

Imagine digging through boxes of school papers, photos, baby clothes, keepsakes, etc. looking for an important item. It can be frustrating and exhausting, simply because there is too much stuff.

Now imagine you let go of some of your sentimental items, getting rid of the things that don’t have a lot of value or meaning to you. Instead of digging through boxes of “stuff”, you know exactly where the item is. Maybe you’re even displaying it in your house or using it so you can enjoy and appreciate it every day.

This is the perfect example of “less is more”. Decluttering sentimental items and only keeping the ones that you truly value and are meaningful, lets you enjoy, use, find and/or appreciate those important items even more.

11 Ways to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easier

But decluttering sentimental items can be hard. It’s easy to feel an emotional connection to your sentimental items. It can be hard to decide which items are truly special, and which are adding clutter and burdening you.

In today’s post, you’ll find 11 tips and tricks to help make decluttering sentimental items easier.

Helping you let go of the excess and the sentimental clutter, so you can focus on keeping the truly meaningful sentimental items.

These tips and tricks will not only make the process of decluttering sentimental items easier. But they also help you feel good about letting go of your sentimental clutter. Both during the decluttering process and afterwards as well!

1. Dive in!

When you know something is going to be hard, like decluttering sentimental items, it can be easy to let yourself avoid and procrastinate doing it. But doing this lets the project start to loom over you. And can even make it grow into a bigger or scarier job in your mind the longer you put it off and worry about it.

Sometimes the best way to tackle a big project is to dive in and get started! Stop putting it off and worrying about how hard it will be, and just get started.

Often once you get going, you realize it’s not as hard or as scary as you imagined it to be. Taking the first step and starting can often be the hardest step. Once you get going you build momentum, motivation and confidence to keep going.

2. Give yourself time and/or space if you’re struggling

Sometimes you dive in and get started, excited to work on decluttering sentimental items. But for whatever reason, it just isn’t working today.

That’s ok! Leave it for today and move on to something else. Then come back to decluttering your sentimental items again tomorrow.

Don’t let your struggles with decluttering sentimental items completely derail and end your decluttering efforts for the day. Leave the sentimental items if you’re struggling and move on to something easier instead.

You need to be in the right mindset for decluttering sentimental items. Decluttering sentimental items can involve a lot of emotional work. And sometimes you’re just not in a place where you have the capacity to do that work.

Don’t procrastinate decluttering sentimental items indefinitely, but also cut yourself some slack if it isn’t working right now. Set it aside and move onto something less emotionally taxing instead.

Revist your sentimental items again later

Most people aren’t able to completely declutter their entire home in one single swoop of decluttering. It often takes two or three or more rounds of decluttering. And each time you might find yourself willing and able to let go of more and more.

This applies to decluttering sentimental items too! Declutter as ruthlessly as you feel able to do today. In a few months, revisit your sentimental items and you might feel able to be even more ruthless.

Do a trial decluttering

Another great way to give yourself time and space when decluttering sentimental items is to do a trial decluttering. My favourite way to do this is using a “maybe box”.

If you’re wavering on something, box it up and put it out of sight. Mark a date in your calendar to come back to the box. If you haven’t needed, wanted, or even thought about the items in that time, it will be easier to let them go.

A maybe box is like a decluttering safety net. It gives you the opportunity to experiment with being more ruthless as you declutter, without worrying about regretting getting rid of something.

3. Your memories are in your mind and your heart, not the sentimental item

Remember, your memories and special moments aren’t in the sentimental object itself. The item may remind you of a memory or special moment. But your memories are in your mind and your heart. You’ll always have the memories, whether you keep the sentimental item or not.

Sometimes reminding yourself that the object is just a reminder of the memory or special moment, not the memory itself, can help you let go of some sentimental items.

4. It’s ok to keep some sentimental items, within reason

Simplifying and decluttering your home doesn’t mean you have to get rid of every single sentimental item you have. It’s ok to keep the sentimental items that you value and are meaningful to you. The trick is to keep the number of sentimental items you keep within reason.

Remember, if you have too many special items, it diminishes their specialness because they get lost amongst each other. Choosing the ones that are really special and important allows you to highlight, value and enjoy them more.

Set some kind of limit for yourself to help you be more ruthless while decluttering sentimental items. Limits can help you be more intentional and make sure you’re only keeping the most important items.

For example, maybe give yourself two plastic tote bins to hold sentimental items. Then only keep what fits in the totes. Or maybe you’re willing to dedicate a certain amount of space in a storage area for sentimental items. Having limited space might help you be more selective about what deserves a space.

Figure out what an appropriate limit is for your home and life. Then stick to it to keep your sentimental items in check.

5. Find a way to use or repurpose sentimental items

Even better than storing sentimental items is finding ways to use or repurpose them. Then you can enjoy and appreciate them every day.

For example, rather than storing sentimental items in a box, display them or use them as home décor. They will add unique character to your home. And you will also be able to see and appreciate them every day.

Instead of buying generic décor items, display things that are meaningful to you. Things that share a story about your life and family. Be creative and think outside the box. You can even frame special items in a shadow box and hang them on your walls!

Another great way to appreciate your sentimental items is to use them! Instead of storing them away, why not use them and appreciate them every time you do?

For example, I have an old silver serving spoon that belonged to my grandma. My mom remembers my great-grandma using it before it belonged to my grandma. And it might have even been used by my great-great-grandma before that.

Now I have it and use it multiple times a week. I love knowing it has already served many generations of my family and is still continuing to serve our family. It doesn’t matter if it’s serving Christmas dinner or mac and cheese on a regular Tuesday. I love that we are using and appreciating it on a regular basis.

Pinterest has many great ideas of ways to repurpose sentimental items. From t-shirt quilts to broaches framed in a shadow box. Find ways to display, use or repurpose meaningful items so you can enjoy them in your daily life.

But be selective – don’t just shift the clutter

The caveat is to make sure you aren’t adding clutter to your home by displaying, using or repurposing sentimental items.

Be selective as you choose items to display or repurpose. Only choose the most special items and things you will actually use or enjoy seeing in your home. You don’t want to just shift the sentimental clutter from your storage room to other areas of your house!

6. Take a picture

If you have sentimental items you want to remember, but don’t necessarily want to keep the items, take pictures of them. Then let the items go.

Often pictures of sentimental items are enough to preserve the memories associated with the items, without needing to keep the items themselves.

7. Keep your home a living space for your present life, not a storage space for your past

Reminding yourself to make your home a living space for your present life, not a storage space for your past is a good mantra to remember when decluttering sentimental items.

If your home is overwhelmed with sentimental items from your past, it’s hard to have room for living and creating new memories in the present. Your home should not be a storage space. Make time and space to live in the present!

8. Why are you saving it?

As you’re decluttering sentimental items, it’s important to ask yourself why you are saving each item.

What is your purpose for keeping it? Is it because it is something you love and holds a lot of meaning for you? Does it remind you of a special moment? Is it for your kids when they’re adults?

We all have different reasons for holding on to sentimental items. Clearly ask yourself and assess why you are saving it.

If you don’t have a clear reason for keeping a sentimental item, you probably don’t need or value it as much as you thought.

If it’s something you’re saving for your kids, do you think they will actually want it? Would you want it if your parents brought it to you? If your kids are older, ask them if they want or will want it. Sometimes we save things for our kids, but they don’t or won’t want them. Listen to what your kids are telling you and be honest with yourself too!

Try to only keep sentimental items you truly love or hold a lot of meaning for you. Sometimes getting clear with yourself why you’re keeping an item can make it easier to let go of things that aren’t as sentimental or as special as you thought.

Be honest and realistic about what is motivating you to keep a sentimental item.

9. How does the item make you feel?

Think about how each sentimental item makes you feel. If it holds negative feelings for you, do you really want to keep it?

10. Is it really sentimental to you, or are there other reasons you’re keeping it?

Sometimes you keep items and think they are sentimental to you, but it’s actually a sense of guilt or obligation that makes you feel like you should keep them.

Do you feel guilty about getting rid of it?

Maybe it was a gift and you feel guilty getting rid of it, even though you don’t use or love it.

Remember, a gift is given to show love. You accept the gift and express your appreciation to the giver for the gift and the love behind it. After that, it’s up to you what you decide to do with it. If it’s not something you use or love, don’t let feelings of guilt make you keep it.

Imagine if you gave someone a gift, then found out they weren’t using it or didn’t love it. Would you want them to feel guilty about getting rid of it? Probably not!

Other times we feel obligated to keep sentimental items. Maybe it’s a family heirloom or something we feel expected to keep.

Remember, if it’s not something you value and holds meaning for you, don’t let it take up your time and space by keeping it.

If someone makes you feel obligated to keep an item, tell them you’re decluttering and don’t want to keep it. Let them know they are free to take it if they would like, otherwise you’re getting rid of it.

Feelings of guilt and obligation are no reason to allow your home to remain cluttered. Free yourself from both the guilt and the clutter!

If you’re only keeping an item because you feel like you should, not because it holds any real value to you, feel free to get rid of it.

11. Be gentle with yourself – there are always exceptions

Be ruthless while decluttering sentimental items, but also give yourself some grace and be gentle with yourself.

Decluttering sentimental items is hard work, both emotionally and mentally. You’ll probably be riding an emotional roller coaster at times. Some items will be hard to let go of, even when you know you need to let them go.

Be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace. It’s ok if decluttering sentimental items is hard. It’s ok if you’re not making quick progress decluttering your sentimental items. Keep at it, but take a break when you need to.

Also, remind yourself there might be sentimental items that are exceptions to the above tips and tricks. Maybe it’s something so special you could never bear to get rid of it. Or it’s something associated with a loss that is still too fresh or raw to declutter or be objective about.

Do your best to be as ruthless as possible when decluttering sentimental items. But also be gentle with yourself throughout the process as well.

Every bit of work you put into decluttering your home, including decluttering sentimental items, is adding up to give you more time, space and freedom.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Show yourself kindness. And know that every step in this journey, even the small steps, are helping you make progress to reach your decluttering goals.

How do you handle decluttering sentimental items? What are the hardest things for you to declutter? Leave a comment below and join the conversation!

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Jean C Bos

Friday 13th of August 2021

I held on to "the Hulk", a piece of furniture from our family's civil war plantation because it was part of our history. It is a huge sideboard that holds a lot of stuff, which is what I used it for. My roommate's sister came for a visit, stopped dead in her tracks when she saw it, made a huge fuss over it, so I gave it to her. To me, it was a hunk of furniture, to her, it was a thing of beauty. It made me feel good to put "the Hulk" into the hands of someone who loved it. She's sent me pictures of how it looks in her home. The Hulk is now loved and cherished, and that is so much better than holding onto something that I never really appreciated.

Simple Lionheart Life

Saturday 14th of August 2021

I love this! What a great example of passing things on so they will be loved, used and appreciated. Thanks for sharing this, it's such a great story!

Kathy

Monday 9th of August 2021

Thank you for this great article! All of the points resonated with me, #8 in particular. A friend with a minimalist mindset, very graciously helped me “organize” many years ago. I got rid of 2 truckloads. Among other things, I kept 2 bins of sentimental items. I was asked before placing each item in the bin, “why are you keeping this?” My answer, “It’s really special to me; I can’t bear to part with it, I’ll give it to my kids some day”. Her response: “if it’s so special to you, why is it packed away where no one sees or enjoys it? If your kids don’t see that it’s special enough to use or have on display, it won’t mean anything to them”. Truth!

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I love that! What wise advice! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience and insights!

Jessalynn Jones

Sunday 8th of August 2021

Great article Melissa. I used to be very sentimental about things but then I realized that I had my best memories come to mind while all that stuff sat in a deep dark closet somewhere. Those memories aren’t inside of the stuff and the stuff is just hiding away. Sometimes I think of stuff like toy story. It’s just sitting there sad and lonely. So I let it go to someone who will love it. I gave my favorite childhood books to a little girl I knew and she loved them! I gave some of the pretty dresses I have seen to some young girls I know who look so cute in them! I sold my grandmothers China to avid China collectors and a cookie jar to a man who wanted to gift it to his mother. These sad lonely things have a new life and I have my beautiful memories still. One proviso is that if it’s sentimental to you it might be sentimental to someone else in your family later. Check first or be sorry later.

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I love this! I totally agree that it often feels so good to pass some of our unused items on so they can be used, values and appreciated again! Such a great way to look at it. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

Denise McAndrews

Sunday 8th of August 2021

Thank you so much for this, Melissa. As you know from your fb group, I struggle mightily with sentimental items. My pile of tubs to go through after I get some easier wins under my belt is growing and I’m chomping at the bit to get started, lol. I loved reading both your article and the comments. It is very comforting to me to read of others’ struggles as it has helped me change my narrative from one where I castigate myself for saving things for decades to one where I acknowledge that I’m just human, I’m definitely not alone in this struggle, and I’m addressing the issue now which is pretty darn admirable… of all of us! Thank you so much for everything you do.

Simple Lionheart Life

Thursday 12th of August 2021

You're very welcome, Denise! I'm so glad it was helpful for you. And yes, you are definitely not alone!! I love that you are focusing on being kind to yourself and celebrating the actions you're taking now. It's very admirable indeed! Thanks for sharing your experiences here too. Your words will most likely encourage someone else as well!

Diana

Monday 7th of June 2021

How can I help my husband get rid of the sentimental items from his late wife??? We have been married for almost 1 year. She has been deceased for almost 3 years. I think he is “blind” to the clutter her things have created. I know that change is hard for him, and he seems perfectly happy to continue to live in this situation. I am trying really hard to be patient, and understanding, but I am struggling with it!!! Thank you for your hint #7 and #10. Do you have any suggestions for me? I truly desire to create a home that we both feel comfortable in.

Simple Lionheart Life

Wednesday 9th of June 2021

That's a tough situation for sure. The first thing I would suggest is having an open and honest conversation about it with your husband. He may not even realize how it's making you feel or what you'd like to change.

Beyond that, maybe the two of you could come up with a plan to tackle it together. If he is almost blind to the clutter, he might need your help to point it out to him, and then he could work on tackling some of it (with or without your help, depending on what the two of you decide would be best). Dealing with the stuff that belonged to a loved one who passed one can be difficult. It might take time for him to be ready to make changes. But a great place to start is being open and honest about how it's making you feel.

I hope that helps. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

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