How to de-clutter sentimental items

sentimental items evoke beautiful memories

Sentimental items are difficult to de-clutter

If an item stirs up feelings, the item is sentimental. We have the item(s) because we want to keep the “thing” that triggers that memory in our lives. For some people, a sentimental item could be a book, a photo, or a nostalgic object. It’s difficult to de-clutter sentimental items. Should we keep them or de-clutter?

Is it sentimental?

First you have to decide if the clutter really is sentimental or if you’re keeping it for another reason such as guilt, obligation or “it cost too much to let it go.” This is the time to be bluntly honest with yourself.

Rules of thumb for sentimental clutter

If we want to de-clutter, one rule of thumb to follow is to gather up all of the items that stir up a memory. Select the memory of just one thing, such as one of a dear deceased loved one. Sort through all of those items that trigger his/her/their memory. Display everything related to that entity. Know that you have choices to keep or eliminate specific pieces. As this is an emotional experience, you may want to carve out “alone time” or enlist the support of another.

Continue the process for each entity. Making the decisions to leave it be, store it or eliminate it may stir sadness, anger, joy and many other feelings. It’s important to give yourself the freedom to experience.

Choices for sentimental items

If the item is a treasured possession, and you have the space, display it. As one would decorate for a holiday, display your treasured item seasonally or permanently. Have fun with your décor. Hire a stylist to help you find the best place to exhibit your treasure.

If there are too many treasured possessions to display, you can store them or re-purpose them. A labeled, beautiful memory box can keep your sentimental items safe and clean. Label the box for the memory it elicits. Some items can be re-purposed such as clothing items that are made into handmade quilts, or wedding dresses transformed into Angel Gowns by the Emma and Evan Foundation.

Every sentimental item has a story. Maybe it’s not the item that is sentimental but the story itself. These stories can be recorded and the item can be digitized with apps like iMemories or Artifcts. Create a forever gift by working with a professional to compose a memoir such as Memoirs Plus, and convert all the memorabilia into a story book.

Some items may be more meaningful to someone else. Connect with a relative or friend who may appreciate those past treasures. The keyword is past. If the item no longer fits in your life today, let it go. If you want to raise some cash, partner with an e-bay seller or post on another selling site like Craigslist. Buy Nothing or Freecycle sites give you options to give away to someone in your community. You can also donate to a charity such as Pick Up Please that sells your items and donates the money to the Vietnam Veterans (VVA), or Go Green Drop to raise funds for The Red Cross.

Do you need help with sentimental clutter?

If you’re a DIY’er you may refer to books written specifically about de-cluttering sentimental items e.g. The Sentimental Persons Guide to Decluttering and/or Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash.

An empathetic yet practical partner can help you decide whether to keep or eliminate specific sentimental items from your space. That partner could be a friend or a Professional Organizer, Therapist or Coach.

For additional guidance on de-cluttering sentimental items, review the tips written in this article in Homes and Gardens which features Under Control Organizing:

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