Reader Question: I accidentally tossed my partner’s sentimental item. Help!

Unclutterer reader Rebecca wrote in with this dilemma:

I just read your post on Uncluttering and other people’s things as I was frantically googling how to ask for forgiveness when I’ve done just that. I just cleaned and uncluttered the house I share with my boyfriend. He was aware that I was doing a big overhaul, but I just realized that I tossed a red sheet that apparently belonged to his grandfather. I thought it was just an old sheet without the rest of the set. I am now dreading when he comes home and I have to tell him that I can’t find it. I will check the trash and stop at the charity shop tomorrow.

I am now very worried that this may create a rift in our relationship when it was truly an accident — one that I now know not to repeat! I was careless in my mission to clean house and clearly not thinking that I shouldn’t toss out any items without seeking permission. I am anxiety ridden! How do I ask for forgiveness in this instance?

Thanks for writing Rebecca. I can imagine how you feel right now. Believe me, I have been in your place before. A few years after my husband and I were married (almost 30 years ago now) I tossed out a few sentimental items of his. Like you, I had no idea the items were important. To me, they looked like clutter. Also, like you, my goal was to create a happy, relaxed, minimalist home.

Other people have made similar mistakes. See our posts about Accidents in Uncluttering and Regrets and Legacy Items. This recent news article about $50,000 in jewels being accidentally donated is eye-opening as well.

In my situation, I was very honest about what I had done and expressed my deepest regrets. If I had known, I never would have tossed the beloved items. I also explained what I had learned from the whole episode — never to toss anything unless given express permission. And in future, I would ensure that my partner had a chance to view items I accumulated before they went to trash/charity. Additionally, we created Legacy Boxes. Any items that we really wanted to keep, we put into our Legacy Boxes.

All the best of luck to you in this sticky situation. Remember, honesty is the best policy.

Editor’s note: Just before publication we heard back from Rebecca.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful and helpful reply! Luckily, I recovered the sheet, still a hard lesson was learned.

Have any of our readers encountered this problem? How did you handle it?

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5 Comments for “Reader Question: I accidentally tossed my partner’s sentimental item. Help!”

  1. posted by Ann on

    I did this while unpacking in the first place hubby and I lived in together. I opened a box and in it was a flattened cowboy hat with a ping pong paddle melted to it. Like many sane people, I assumed this was now trash as the hat was unwearable and paddle no longer padded. So I threw both, still attached to each other, away. Almost 20 years later I still get grief about the hat.

  2. posted by infmom on

    My husband had a box full of Boy Scout neckerchiefs that he had collected over the years. He wasn’t doing anything with them, and it occurred to me that they might make a nice one of a kind quilt for our small son (son is now 41, to give the time frame).

    I carefully asked permission to use all the neckerchiefs I wanted to incorporate into the quilt and got his approval for all of them. One of the neckerchiefs was particularly spectacular and I made it the centerpiece.

    You guessed it, AFTER the quilt was finished he changed his mind about letting me cut up that one spectacular neckerchief. But at that point there was no way I could change what I’d done. He mourned that neckerchief for years afterwards.

    Much later on, I got active on eBay and started looking for that neckerchief. They’re not common, having come from a specialty camp and only for sale during a very short period of time in the 1960s. But I saved the search and hung in there, and about two years later my patience was rewarded. I bought the neckerchief!

    He was really happy to get it. But although he’s still active in the Scouts and still wears his uniform on a regular basis, he just wears the same Wood Badge neckerchief all the time, not the super special one or any of the others he’s collected over the years. I”m annoyed, of course, but it was still well worth the search.

  3. posted by Maryann Aguilar on

    @Ann – Would you care to share the significance of the cowboy hat and paddle? Inquiring minds want to know!

  4. posted by Al on

    Maybe another reason not to live together with your boyfriend.

  5. posted by Chris on

    @Al what is your comment supposed to mean? Number one, what are the other reasons for them not to live together? I don’t see any mention of any of these reasons by Rebecca in her post. Number two, why is her accidentally getting rid of her boyfriend’s a reason not to live together? There was no mention of any malice experienced from her boyfriend, and she found the sheet anyway, so it was a happy ending.


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