Going on a sentimental journey

When uncluttering, it’s quite easy to make decisions on items for which we have no feelings or emotional attachment. But when we have feelings associated with physical items, it can be hard for our heart to let them go even though our lack of usable living space tells us we really need to say goodbye.

There are different types of sentimental clutter (clutter referring to items you don’t necessarily want or have need for; not sentimental objects you value and/or regularly use). Some of the most common items are:

  • Things handed down to us from previous generations
  • Gifts received from important people in our lives
  • Souvenirs and memorabilia

These are some of the most difficult items to deal with because the object reminds us of the person or event, so we keep the item to trigger memories.

A short-term emergency measure of dealing with sentimental items is to box them up and store them. This is ideal if there is a sudden death or downsizing in the family. You must, however, eventually deal with these items because they will eventually fill your storage area and will deteriorate if stored indefinitely.

Sorting and organizing sentimental clutter can be very emotional, so only do a little at a time. Finding a friend or family member to help you sort can be beneficial. Make sure you choose someone who is willing to listen to some stories behind the items. This person should also know whether you need a shoulder to cry on or a kick in the pants when it is time to say good-bye to the sentimental clutter.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • If you had to purchase the item yourself, at full price, would you?
  • If someone you didn’t like gave you the item as a gift, would you still keep it?
  • Does the item invoke happy memories?

If you answered no to any of these questions, consider getting rid of the item.

The following are a few tips to help you get rid of sentimental clutter but keep the memories:

  • Take photos and write stories to capture an item’s significance in your life. You can even tell the story on video and share it with your family. Your children can do this with some of their school projects. Essays, reports and drawings can be scanned and saved in digital format. This will prevent them from getting lost or broken over the years (especially during household moves).
  • Make and display photomontages of your vacations instead of keeping souvenirs. You also can set digital images of your vacations as the screen saver on your computer, if you’re short on wall space.
  • If you’ve inherited a collection of items (pocket watches, salt and pepper shakers, etc.) keep the ones you like best and let the rest go. Offer the other items from the collection to other family members or friends of the family. This holds true for sets of dishes too. You needn’t keep the entire set of china together. For example, if you inherit grandma’s china, one grandchild could have the dessert plates, another could have the platters and another the gravy boat.
  • Display your items so they bring you joy throughout your home. You should limit your items to one or two shelves and keep only items that fit on those shelves. If you can’t display your items, limit them to only one storage bin and keep only the things that fit inside that bin.

Because you have a significant emotional attachment to these sentimental items, it is important to get them out of the house once you’ve made the decision to let them go. If the items are destined for charity, then take them the same day or ask a friend to take them for you (then, return the favor). If the items are to be given to other family members, box them up and tape the box closed. Make arrangements for pick-up or drop-off as soon as you can.

If you’re really feeling bad about an object that is leaving your life, you can have a “funeral” for the item. It helped me out when I really needed it.

8 Comments for “Going on a sentimental journey”

  1. posted by Marie on

    My favorite tactic for tchotchkes I feel obligated to keep is to display them in an unsafe location, and hope one of the kids or dogs takes care of it.

  2. posted by Christy King on

    Taking photos works really well for me – and with very little guilt if the items is anything other than tiny (assuming of course it’s only value to me is sentimental – something I’m USING is different).

  3. posted by Sandra on

    Great post….spurred me on to start ‘purging’ again!!!!

  4. posted by DebF on

    Make SURE that with sentimental clutter that you’re planning on binning, you give OTHER family members an opportunity to put their hand up for it. There’s nothing worse than having your kid or niece say “I really loved Grandma’s clock, you’ve still got that, right?” and having to admit that you took it to the tip.
    If you’re going to get rid of family sentimental things, send an email around, giving people a time limit. If they don’t respond in that time indicating their interest in taking it off your hands, it’s no longer your issue, and you can truly call it ‘clutter’

  5. posted by behejo on

    I kept letters from long ago relationships, but realized at one point that it actually hurt when – often by accident – found them in my hands. Or that the love letters could hurt the feelings of my husband, he would eventually have to go through them if I’d died before him. Some weeks ago I threw everything away, and still the good and some bad memories are in my head, so there was really no use in keeping physical evidence.
    So ask yourself, would you be comfortable if your kids or other family members found those items when you’re not home or dead. That thought made it easy for me to let some things go.
    Also thinking about my only child having to deal and decide on all my stuff, if it’s worthwhile keeping. I feel attached to some things from my grandparents, people my son actually never met. So why would I like to put all those heavy decisions on my son. I plan to inform him verbally or in writing that a lot of items that mean a lot to me do not necessarily mean enough to him to keep them. So he will have permission to let them go without a bad conscience.

  6. posted by Ray LaFever on

    Years ago I stumbled upon a diary my mom kept when she was 17. I didn’t look at it too much and did mention to mom that I had found it. She said that she frankly found the diary embarrassing and might burn it. But when she died in 2006 I found her later diaries and with them was the teenage diary, along with a four page note explaining the diary and her life after – it was obviously left for us to find. So it’s a very treasured item. But we got rid of a lot of my mom’s stuff.
    I ended up keeping some of my mom’s kitchen items, mixing bowls, etc, and gave away my bowls instead. I did the same thing when I took some of her dishes.

  7. posted by Lisa Haralampus on

    I have another suggestion besides giving pieces of china sets to family members. Because in a way that is taking your sentimental journey and passing the issue on to others. If you do not want to keep and use your china for special occasions, I recommend selling the entire set to collectors such as replacements.com. There may be other people who want to buy additional pieces to compliment the china they already have. It’s a better way to reduce, reuse, recycle.

  8. posted by Kassie on

    I have struggled with clutter my entire life. In my 40’s, I actually began hoarding “treasures” I’d found in thrift stores. It wasn’t until we moved that I was actually forced to deal with those items. But I knew I didn’t want to pay to move all of that “stuff” and so, in a one week prep & yard sale, I got rid of 90 percent of it. It was both traumatic and relieving. Part of the trauma was dealing with the people who were taking/purchasing my “stuff”. One lady had four children run mining around the tables at the sale. She asked to purchase a “lot” of glass perfume bottles. She pushed to get me to keep lowering the prices, and when I finally agreed on a price, her kids came & knocked into the table sending several of the bottles crashing to the ground. My heart just crushed! She did not pay for those items & just collected the rest of the bottles & left. I knew I had to get rid of all of these things, so I had to try really hard to just let it go. There were people I was close to that would ask me about certain items & I would ask if it was something they really wanted. If they said yes, I just gave it to them, knowing that they’d appreciate it. It was the “yard-salers” & resellers that I had the toughest time with.

    Now that we are in a new home, I don’t thrift shop like I did, and that keeps me from falling back into old habits. But I still have a difficult time with the clutter. Paper items are the worst! I don’t know how to organize all the paper stuff that comes into the house. Would love to hear some suggestions for that. Thank you!

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