How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy

How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy

I recently asked my email subscribers (sign up here if you’re not on the list!) what their biggest struggle with decluttering and minimalism is. By far the most common answer was decluttering sentimental items. I totally get it. It’s hard to let go of things we hold dear and are meaningful to us.

Decluttering Sentimental Items: Finding a Balance

It’s ok to keep some important and sentimental items. The problem is when we have so many sentimental items that we feel burdened by them. When we have too many sentimental keepsakes, we often can’t truly enjoy them because there are simply too many. They lose their specialness and become lost amongst each other.

But when we have fewer sentimental items, we can highlight, value, use and appreciate them more. Because we keep only the most important and special items.

How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

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

Decluttering sentimental items can be one of the hardest parts of decluttering our homes. But taking the plunge and spending the time and effort decluttering sentimental items can have a huge positive impact on our homes and lives.

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 have 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 and/or appreciate those important items even more.

11 Ways to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy

But decluttering sentimental items can be hard. We have emotional connections to our sentimental items. It can be hard to decide which items are truly special, and which are adding clutter and burdening you.

Here are 11 tips and tricks to help make decluttering sentimental items easier. So you can let go of the excess and keep only the truly meaningful sentimental items. These tips and tricks will not only make decluttering sentimental items easier. But they also let you feel good about it during the decluttering process and afterwards as well!

1. Dive in!

When we know something is going to be hard, like decluttering sentimental items, sometimes we avoid and procrastinate doing it. The project starts to loom over us. And can even grow into a bigger or scarier job in our minds the longer we 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 we get going, we realize it’s not as hard or scary as we imagined it to be. Taking the first step and starting can 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 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. Don’t procrastinate decluttering sentimental items indefinitely, but cut yourself some slack if it isn’t working today. Move on to something else and dive back in again tomorrow.

Most of us aren’t able to completely declutter our homes in one single swoop of decluttering anyways. It often takes two or three or more rounds of decluttering. Each time you are willing and able to let go of more and more. And that’s ok too. Declutter as ruthlessly as you feel able to today. In six months you might feel able to be even more ruthless.

Another great way to give yourself time and space when decluttering sentimental items is to do a trial decluttering. If you’re wavering on something, box it up and put it out of sight. Mark a date on the box to come back to it. Put a reminder in your phone for that date. If you haven’t even thought about the items in that time, it will be easier to let them go.

How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy
Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

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. They are in your mind and your heart. You’ll always have the memories, no matter if 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, is enough to help you let go of some sentimental items.

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

Embracing minimalism 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 amount of sentimental items you keep within reason. Remember, if you have too many special items, it diminishes their specialness because they get lost in 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 keep only 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.

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 to find ways to use them 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. 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. 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, 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 keeping the items.

7. Your home should be 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 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!

How to Make Decluttering Sentimental Items Easy
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

8. Why are you saving it?

Ask yourself why you are saving each sentimental 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 why you are saving it.

If you don’t have a clear reason to keep it, you probably don’t need it 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? Sometimes we save things for our kids, but they don’t or won’t want them. Be honest with yourself.

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

Do you feel guilty 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. 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. Give yourself the time, space and freedom of living with only things you use regularly or love.

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. 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 be gentle with yourself throughout the process as well. Every bit of work you put into decluttering your home, including 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 making progress.

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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  1. I really like #7! A lot of people get stuck living in the past, and it’s not a good way to live.

    I have a couple small bins of sentimental items stored in my basement, and a few items around the house that I actually use. Recently, we went to visit my grandpa who was downsizing, and they gave us a bunch of stuff we really didn’t need (or want) and couldn’t say no. But I managed to disperse these “sentimental” items to other family members who actually want them.

    1. Thanks, I agree, it’s better to live in the present! It sounds like you are great at decluttering sentimental items. I love that you actually use some things! It’s so great to use them and appreciate them everyday. And good thinking to pass your grandpa’s items on to people who wanted them. That’s awesome! Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. This is a great article – I definitely needed to read it today. We are moving from a 4000 square-foot home to be 1400 square-foot home. The question that stuck with me the most out of your article was, will my kids appreciate it if I save it for them? The answer is probably no.

    1. I’m so glad to hear you found this post helpful Nicole! That will be a big change as you move to a smaller home. I’m sure having a smaller home will simplify your life a lot. That was a big turning point for me too when I started thinking about if my kids would actually want things I was saving for them. I’m glad you found that tip helpful. Thanks for reading and good luck with your move!

      1. Awesome! Just found this article today and so thankful I did. I know it’s a few years old but all of it still resonates today.

        This is probably the best article I have found in all of the websites and blogs that I’ve read in last couple of years on decluttering the sentimental items. Thank you, thank you!

  3. This is perfect timing, we’re just about to clear out the garage next weekend and I’ve been dreading it so much! Thanks for all the tips 🙂

    1. That’s awesome Caroline! I’m so glad the timing was right and you found it helpful. Usually once you get started and get in a decluttering groove, it’s not as hard as you imagine it to be. Good luck with your garage, and thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I read the article. I find it very hard to let go of sentimental items. I literally have to the leave the area .. downstairs .. when it comes to having to make a decision. I find it so overwhelming! I have been working at this for quite some time. You are right it takes more than one round. Now getting down to the nitty gritty so to say. Will keep reading the posts !
    Thanks for your articles and posts. Thanks to al who share on here too.

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re finding the post helpful Ethel. Sentimental items are hard for many of us to declutter. Keep working away at it, and also walk away when you need to. Even if you work for only a few minutes a day to declutter sentimental items, it will get done eventually. Do what you can do and know you are making progress. Thanks for reading and good luck as you continue to declutter.

  5. Best article about de-cluttering I have read. I have a bin in the bedroom and I add to it in my attempt to downsize. Some are donation and some are re-sale items. Getting past guilt and obligation I think will help me to let go of some items but keeping a few also for sentimental value. Thanks for the great tips on living in a more open and free space I have been working on this goal for some time now.

    1. Thank you so much, I’m so glad you found the article helpful! Good for you for working towards your goal of creating more open space in your home. That’s awesome! Guilt and obligation can be big hurdles when decluttering, so I’m glad to hear this post gave you some tips to deal with these. Thank you for reading and sharing your experience. And good luck as you continue decluttering!

  6. Half of my loft (at least!) is filled with boxes all marked sentimental stuff. I did a lot of hard work sorting and labelling boxes and moving them into groups but, having read this, I realise I need to take some control and make some smart decisions. It may take a while, especially with the amount up there and certainly won’t started in the next few weeks following my recent toe surgery but I now have the realisation it has to be tackled and mustn’t lose sight of that. Thank you for the tips, it’s already made me feel differently about it.

    1. I’m so happy to hear this post gave you some inspiration and encouragement to further declutter your sentimental items. That’s wonderful! I hope you have a speedy recovery from your surgery and good luck when you begin decluttering! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. I’m not by nature terribly sentimental, but I struggle with the photos. Part of the struggle is overwhelm, and part of it is having no clear plan. I’m caught in an inner fight of what to do with them vs. eliminating them entirely. Shudder.

    1. Photos can be hard for sure Karla. I think the first thing to do is decide what you want to do with the photos. Do you want to scan them and store them digitally or make photo books? Do you want to put the photos in albums? Store them in photo boxes? Once you know what you want to do with them, then start sorting through them. Get rid of any that aren’t worth saving (blurry, poor quality, can’t remember who the people are in the picture lol, not important to keep, etc.). Then begin scanning or filing the remaining photos. It can be helpful to sort them chronologically, but ultimately do whatever makes sense and works for you. That’s my approach to photos. Try to be honest and ruthless while sorting – asking yourself if each photo is really important enough to keep or not. I hope this helps. Thanks for reading and good luck with your photos!

  8. Came across this article by chance, and have found plenty of food for thought. We’ve just completed some fairly extensive house remodelling, and now I can see exactly how much space we have for display, storage etc… I feel more empowered these days to tackle the very necessary decluttering – it’s our Ruby (40th) Wedding Anniversary this year, and you accumulate a lot of ‘stuff’ in that time ! It’s my attitude that has changed – I’m now mentally much better prepared to let go of things. One idea I came across really helps: if you have collections of objects, or quite a lot of ‘sentimental’ things which are perhaps not valuable enough to sell, you can photograph them individually or collectively, put those photos onto a memory stick, and have a rolling display on one of those electronic photo frames. A clutter-free virtual museum !

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Marian! You’re absolutely right – having the right mindset and attitude makes all the difference! That’s a great tip about the digital picture frame. A great way to enjoy the memories and your sentimental items without having to keep and/or display the items themselves. Thanks for reading and for sharing your suggestion!

  9. These are great things to filter decluttering decisions through. Decluttering can feel overwhelming because it means sorting through feelings too!

  10. Thank you for this great advice! I’ve lived in 3 different states in the past 5 years, and my husband and I are currently in a condo, approximately 1200 square feet. So, we have room, just not tons of room. I decided to start decluttering recently, and it’s very hard for me. I grew up in a large home with parents who kept lots of family antiques and heirlooms, so I think holding onto stuff became engrained in me. However, they recently downsized themselves, and I said “no” to taking those antiques. They ended up giving those items away to other family members or donating the items to museums.

    That being said, I certainly feel a bit weighed down my stuff, and I’m noticing that I’m really having a problem with the sentimental stuff that I do have. I have quite a few bins in my garage, and to put those bins into perspective, many of those items have moved to all three states with us, yet, the items haven’t come out of those bins.

    My goal is to spend 10 – 30 minutes a day on decluttering. If this takes me a year, so be it. I’m finding decluttering to be both liberating yet emotionally draining at the same time.

    Sidenote: When I recently asked my father if he missed his “stuff” after he and my mother downsized, he said, “No, all of those things just became a burden to us.” Wise advise — I just have to take it! Lol

    1. Wow! You have shared so much good advice and info here! Thank you!! First of all, I love what your father said – that in itself is so reassuring that letting go of “stuff” is a difficult process, but once it’s done it feels so great! And good for you for saying no when your parents were downsizing and asking if you want the stuff. It’s hard to say no sometimes, so good for you!

      It sounds like you have a great plan to tackle your bins and sentimental items. If you consistently work at it, it will get done, just like you said! Decluttering is definitely hard work (physically, emotionally and mentally!), even though it is very freeing, so going slowly and steadily is a great way to avoid ending up feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. Thanks for reading and for sharing your awesome perspective and experiences with us! And good for you for continuing to declutter – I’m cheering you on!

  11. I am finding it easier to declutter the sentimental items. I half filled a bag for charity. I have misplaced the bag so it can’t go back even if I had regrets. I kept loads of items for my children to inherit. THEY DON’T WANT ANYTHING. They have their own likes and dislikes so it will be easier to part with clutter now. Most of it is in the garage now for re-locating to a charity.
    I managed to Free up one large display cabinet which now houses all my dishes in the kitchen. Dishes I couldn’t reach in a corner cabinet now get used and I can de-clutter from this cabinet if I don’t use some items. Everything looks tidier now.

    1. That’s so great, Doreen! You are doing an amazing job decluttering your home. I love how you think about why you’re keeping things and if that reason makes sense for you and your family or not. That’s such an important part of decluttering. Thanks for reading and sharing, I enjoy hearing about your progress so much!

  12. I came across this article and it really helped reset my thinking. My mom and step-dad have moved 3 times in the last 5 years, and being my mom’s eldest child and the most sentimental, I took more things than necessary. My mom didn’t want to let go of many items from my grandparents but didn’t have room to keep them so they made their way to my house.
    After reading this article I feel much more free to ask if other family members want them and if not, to part with them.
    Having 3 sons with wives who are better at being minimalist than I, I am going to begin texting them pictures of sentimental items that will be leaving my house. I did that with kitchen items and my kids didn’t want anything, but some nieces and nephews who are moving into their own places wanted a few items which made me happy.
    Keep up the great work of reminding us that we can do it, it just takes time.

    1. I’m so happy to hear this post was helpful for you, Sue! That’s great! You’re absolutely right – somethings, especially sentimental items, take more time than others. But it sounds like you’re doing great. You’ve got a plan and the right mindset to decide what you want to keep and what you are ready to let go of. That’s fantastic! Good for you. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. And good luck as you continue with your decluttering efforts!

  13. I have 7 tubs of stuff animals that my kids play with and slept with when they were young. They are married with kids of their own. This past summer we went through the tubs and the kids took the stuff animals they wanted. I was told to get rid of the rest but am having a difficult time letting go. Your article made me think about why I am hanging on to items no one wants but me. I have decided to give the stuff animals to a women shelter with kids. Hopefully, the kids will enjoy the stuff animals as much as my kids. It may take me awhile to go through all the tubs but now I have a plan I am comfortable with. Thank you for your article.

    1. You’re very welcome, Janice! I’m so glad to hear that you are feeling good about what to do with the stuffed animals and have a plan in place. Usually, once you find a way to pass things on that you feel good about, it makes letting go easier. Good for you, it sounds like you’re doing great. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience with us 🙂

  14. I am 81 and all my life I have been struggling to be tidy, much to my mother’s despair when I was a little girl!!! Still trying and your posts are a godsend to me. Thank you and let’s keep trying together!

  15. Thank you for this wonderful article! I started declutter 4 years ago and have a long way to go. At times it seems so emotionally draining. I not only have my sentimental things but I have things that belonged to my parents, grandparents, great grandparents. I have all the family bibles, recipes, photos, poems, journals, some of their furniture, and family history info among other things. It is a very time consuming and emotion draining project. It is overwhelming. I think I like the idea of 5-10 minutes at a time. Maybe I’ll get through everything someday in the future.

    1. That does sound like a lot, Shirley. I think your plan to tackle it for a few minutes at a time is a great idea. It can feel overwhelming when you think about everything all at once. But it usually feels a lot more manageable when you break it down into littler steps. Thanks for reading and good luck with your decluttering 🙂

  16. Thank you for creating this post, it’s really helped me out of a difficult moment. I’ve been gradually decluttering my house, carport (which became storage space for my stuff) and garden for about a year. I left a lot of sentimental boxes until the end.
    I’ve made good progress however a certain box really stumped me this afternoon. I googled & found this article, it couldn’t be more perfect. Letting go of things with bad or mixed memories doesn’t seem so hard now and you’ve reminded me to not feel guilty about unused and/or unwanted gifts.
    Thank you so very much ♥️

    1. This makes me so very happy to hear! I’m so glad you found my post and that it was helpful for you as you’re decluttering. Sentimental items can be really tricky at times. I’m glad you’ve been able to make progress. Good for you! Thanks for reading and sharing your success!

  17. Great article! Lots of great questions to ask ourselves. What are your thoughts on letting go of items, including wearables, that represent who we used to be/ a part of us that we enjoyed expressing ( a lifestyle or activity that we adored ) Help!

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you found it helpful! I think holding onto things you used or loved from a previous time in your life is a super common struggle when it comes to decluttering. My best advice is to take some time to acknowledge and process through the fact that your life/style/interests/etc. have changed and that those shifts and changes are completely normal. Remind yourself your goal is to fill your home with things that are currently useful or things you love. If you no longer use, need or love the things from your past, let them go so someone who will use and love them can find them. Taking pictures before letting them go is also a great option. Or finding pictures of you wearing or using the items to remind you that the memories will always be with you even if you let go of the items themselves. I hope that helps! Thanks for reading 🙂

  18. 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.

    1. 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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