Letting go of sentimental items is by far the most difficult thing to declutter and is probably the number one thing that I get asked about when it comes to decluttering. It is something we tackle head-on in Clear The Clutter as it is a struggle to let go of the things that have emotions attached to them.
What do you class as sentimental items?
Sentimental items can be anything, from your grandmother’s knitting patterns to your child’s first drawing, we often don’t have a solid reason why the items feel sentimental, it’s just that they evoke certain feelings.
And because of that, we find it really hard to let go of the items, even granny’s knitting patterns when you don’t even knit yourself.
To add to this, it is often much easier for someone else to get rid of your sentimental clutter than it is to do it yourself. This is why many people sit on it for years and then after they pass, it is left to somebody else to deal with.
Disclaimer – this post might include affiliate links which means I will make a commission if you choose to buy at no cost to you.
It’s OK To Keep SOME Sentimental items
Let’s be clear, it’s not bad to have some sentimental items, to have a few keep-sakes. That is perfectly fine but when the sentimental clutter adds to your home feeling cluttered and out of control, and rather than your home filled with things you love, it feels like a junk shop, then it’s a problem.
The thing with sentimental items is that we often don’t love the item itself, it is the memory that goes with the item. And there is the answer, we don’t need to keep the thing, to remind us of a person or event.
When my Great Aunt Henrietta passed away, I was the only relative along with my mom that she had any contact with. I could have pretty much everything in her apartment if I had wanted it but…
- Although the items would have reminded me of her, there was little I loved or would have bought for myself if there hadn’t been the Aunt Etta connection
- I live on the other side of the world, there certainly wasn’t anything I was willing to pay a ridiculous amount for in shipping fees to get it to my home
- I didn’t need her stuff to remind me of her.
What I did keep were a few pieces of jewellery, her Girl Guide awards (she dedicated her life to the Guiding movement), a few pieces of embroidery that she had done (she was a skilled seamstress), and some travel nick-nacks (we both shared a passion for travel, culture and adventure).
Everything else went.
I have enough to remember her by, it doesn’t feel like clutter and the rest was donated or auctioned off.
Where Do You Start With Decluttering Sentimental Items?
I’m going to go against the usual advice here which is to grab a bag and just start collecting things up and getting rid of them. That is all very good and well but it’s like a quick fix, like a 3-day green smoothie detox… before you go on holiday! But we want a lasting solution, not a quick fix that you will have to repeat again in a few month’s time.
The gung-ho method works well for general clutter but often people grind to a standstill when the sentimental items need tackling.
Leave photos, letters, books and jewellery to last as they are the hardest to part with.
Then just pick something, one thing and ask yourself:
- Do I love having this in my home (or go Marie Kondo way and ask yourself, does this spark joy)?
- Do I use this item on a regular basis?
- Will I remember the person/event connected to this item if I didn’t have this item in my home?
- Is this something that my family will want when I die?
That last one ties in well with the Swedish method of Death Cleaning, as described in her Margareta Magnusson and it’s not as morbid as it sounds! The idea is that when you die you leave your home with all the clutter gone and only the things your relatives would want are left. So much easier for them to deal with.
If you said yes to one or all of the above, then your item can say, if you got 3 no’s then it is time to say goodbye.
If you got mixed results then think about it, and weigh up the pros and cons of keeping it or getting rid of it.
What To Do With Sentimental Clutter You want to let go of
GIVE – For anything with a family/friends connection, offer it up to family members first, is there anyone else who would like it?
SELL – If it is a collection of something, maybe your Grandad collected fishing flies but no one you know is remotely interested in them. You could keep one as a keep-sake but then sell the rest.
DONATE – And of course, donations are a great way for items to get a second life. This is great for furniture, household items, clothes, toys… there is always someone in need out there.
I love the idea that an item is going on a new adventure, living with a new family, to take on a new purpose. If we are not using and loving the item then someone else out there might.
THROW – It’s sad but there are going to be things that are no longer of use or things that only have value to the person who first owned them or they are broken beyond repair. That is OK, they served their purpose, thank the item for that as you put it out in the rubbish.
Making the declutter of sentimental items a bit easier
Taking photos of the things you are getting rid of is a great compromise, you can still have a reminder but it is stored away digitally and no longer taking up space.
Selling your items and then use the money for something special. If you are clearing a relative’s house you could use the money raised to buy a bench or plant a tree in their memory. One of my clients Susan, made $1234 with her declutter which she put towards a dream holiday.
If you have a huge pile of band or sports t-shirts that are not getting worn, get the fronts cut out and make it into a quilt or blanket.
There are services where people will take favourite clothes and make them into a soft toy keepsake – this might feel like you are trading in one load of stuff for another but the difference is a pile of clothes not being used, taking up space vs a soft toy that will be played with and loved by your kids.
But What About The Photos and Letters
These are the hardest to let go of. In my decluttering program Clear The Clutter we leave these to last. By the time you have worked on the mindset aspect of decluttering and worked through the rest of the house, you will know what to do with them.