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.
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.
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!
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!