Sentimental items. They bring back so many good memories, right?
Ah yes, joy. But also guilt, anxiety, and stress.
I am a sentimental person who didn’t like to throw anything away.
My grandma likes to tell a story of when I was younger, she was helping me clean my room. I made her show me any item she was going to throw away. I caught her sneakily trying to throw a gum wrapper away, and I got really mad.
Yep – a gum wrapper.
I had written something on it that was clearly of value (italics = sarcasm) and I just couldn’t part with it. And no, Leonardo Dicaprio hadn’t signed it.
I’m happy to say that I’ve grown a lot since then, and no longer have a messy room full of literal garbage. In fact, I’ve grown so much that not only have my family and I decluttered over 140 boxes of stuff and sold countless more, but I have been able to part with many items I considered sentimental and haven’t regretted a single parting.
So how did I go from gum wrapper saver to declutter-er?
Here are five tips on how to get rid of sentimental clutter guilt-free:
When I come across something super sentimental (lately it has been some of my son’s old clothes from when he was a baby), I immediately want to hang on to them. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you can relate. But then I stop for a moment, and realize a couple of things (using an old shirt of my son’s as an example):
- I kind of forgot about the shirt until I ran across it
- The shirt had been sitting in a box at the top of his closet – so, not exactly like we were using it.
To help move past the immediate ‘oh my gosh I need to keep this’, I ask myself one question:
‘Will/would it make me happy knowing someone else can use it?’
9 times out of 10 I answer, ‘yes’, and am able to finally part with the item.
Does it mean it’s always easiest to give away an item like my
You know what else I know? I try to imagine another boy or girl running around in the shirt, full of laughter and joy, and I know that makes me very happy. That makes it OK for me to part with it. Because I would rather have someone else using it and enjoying it than it sitting at the top of the closet collecting dust.
Final note: If the shirt or other item is really meaningful yet I don’t feel like I want to keep it, then I’ll do the next tip.
Take a photo – it’ll last longer
Sometimes, if I love an item but not enough to keep it, I’ll take a photo before giving it away. That way, I can still ‘run across’ the item (in photo form) every once in a while (intentionally or unintentionally), and get that same rush of joy, love, etc.
Often, even just taking a photo gives me that extra courage to part with the item, and I never end up going back to look at the picture.
Repurposing can be a great way to give new life to an item you’re not using anymore yet want to keep.
Since we’ve been talking about my son’s shirt, we’ll continue with that example. A quick EcoAsia search (the environmental equivalent of Google – where each search goes towards planting a tree) on ‘how to repurpose kids clothes’ resulted in over 1 million results. Pinterest also came up with tons of results. Simply enter whatever item you’re wondering about and I’m sure you’ll find lots of options.
Not feeling crafty? Ask your friends/family, community, or even Etsy for anyone who could make something like a t-shirt quilt, produce bag, pillowcase, etc for you.
While this may seem like a lot of work, use that to your advantage to really determine whether you want to keep an item or not by asking:
How much MORE time and energy (on top of the time and energy you’re already putting into it) do you want to give this particular item?
At this point in the process, if I’m still going back and forth on a particular item, I’ll pull out another question for myself, which is:
‘If I give this item away, will the memory attached to it go away?’
I’ve never had a situation where the answer was ‘yes’.
This question has really come into use for situations where the item has memories and emotions attached to someone who has passed away, but it can work in any situation.
My cousin passed away when she and I were both 22. That death changed my world. She lived in another state, so we didn’t see each other ALL that often, but for a while, we were really close. The few items I did have of the time we spent together became increasingly important to me. But, I wasn’t doing anything with them. There were a few pictures and cards she gave me that were just sitting in a box and had been for years.
I kept them for a long time, and they ‘made the cut’ through a number of decluttering projects. But finally, I sat with myself and the item, and I asked:
“if I passed these items along to someone else, would the memory of my cousin and the times we had together go away?”
The answer was no, of course not.
Because the memory doesn’t come with the item or from the item. The memory and emotions come from me.
So, I took a photo of some of the more meaningful items, and then I let them go.
Was it easy? Of course not. But I knew that keeping them wasn’t doing me any good. And no, I don’t regret doing so. The benefits of decluttering have far outweighed any type of regret. And I know that my cousin wouldn’t want me to hang on to anything that causes me anxiety and stress.
Put it away
If after going through the four tips above, you just simply aren’t sure, here is my final tip.
Pack away the item in a box, somewhere out of sight and out of mind. Pick a duration of time (somewhere between 3-6 months), and set a reminder on your phone or in your calendar. After that time has passed, if you haven’t missed, thought about, wanted, or pulled out the item, it’s time to move on from it.
I’ve had to do this with a couple of sentimental items, and both times I ended up donating the item after three months of time.
Sometimes some space and mental clarity can be all that you need.
Want even more decluttering tips? I’ve got a couple of resources for you!
- Join my Facebook group where I am hosting a free, 8-week decluttering challenge! The challenge started on January 1st, but don’t fear, all of the challenge tasks and tips are saved in the archives found on the right-hand side of the group page.
- My FREE 7-Day Decluttering E-course
- Check out my decluttering workbook, which includes worksheets on decluttering sentimental items and:
- A printable with the benefits of decluttering to print out and hang up somewhere (or you can save it as your desktop background)
- A checklist for making sure you have everything set up in order to start the decluttering process
- Printable with the questions you can ask for each item you want to declutter (including the questions for sentimental items)
- A comprehensive checklist of all the areas of your home to declutter (includes areas like your car, social media, etc)
- 28-day decluttering challenge
- Guide for handling gifts (perfect for printing out to give to others as a reference)
- My decluttering e-book where I talk about all the roadblocks my family and I hit and then overcame to declutter 140 boxes of stuff (including sharing
allllllthe tips), PLUS the workbook mentioned above.
One final note: when decluttering, please make every effort to dispose of the product in an environmentally responsible manner versus sending the item straight to the landfill. There are so many options for passing an item along, and you never know when someone is looking for EXACTLY what you are getting rid of!
What helps you declutter sentimental items?