It’s no secret that when we try to declutter sentimental items, it can weigh us down with an overwhelming guilt. We often have to deal with painful memories or leaving a piece of our childhood behind.
Like most people, you may have boxes stacked in your basement or attic that are filled with memories from the past. Maybe they’ve been there for years, untouched and unopened. And maybe you find yourself wondering why the heck they are still there in the first place?
They’re not exactly taking up space in your home, as they’re stored away out of sight, but they’re also not adding any value to it. When you look at them, what are the emotions that come up for you?
When I start a project like this, I always want to take an honest look and see if there are things that no longer bring me joy. It is easy to hang on to stuff because we think it has emotional value; however, it is possible for us to declutter these sentimental items with little or no guilt.
Table of Contents
What is sentimental clutter?
It’s easy to identify what is clutter because our eyes can actually see an item that doesn’t fit with our home or lifestyle anymore.
But it can be less obvious to identify what is considered sentimental clutter versus clutter. Some people don’t feel the need to declutter their sentimental items because they are too painful to let go of. After all, nostalgia makes us feel good and sometimes we want to hang on to those feelings and memories from the past as long as we can.
Decluttering these types of items can help keep your mind clear and focused on the present rather than being stuck in the past. It also helps you move forward with your current life instead of getting bogged down by past pain or anxiety associated with a certain item or memory.
“It is not memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure” – Marie Kondo
Why we need to declutter sentimental items
You may not be aware of how much sentimental clutter you have, but it’s never too late to start. First of all, decluttering will make your life easier in many ways.
It gives you a sense of calmness and clarity and your mind can focus on what is happening now instead of being distracted by the past.
Did you know that your belongings have energy attached to them? When they’re buried away in your basement or attic, the energy keeps building up rather than dispersing out into other areas (like a home should). This actually creates more feelings of stress and anxiety around these items that were once blindly stored away.
It makes it harder for you to get rid of certain things because there is so much build-up around them.
So, why are these things that we have tons of emotional feelings attached to even here in the first place? How many times have you said this before:
“I know I don’t need it, but I just can’t throw it away because I’m too sentimental about it”? We often feel that each item holds a special memory or represents us in some way; however, we tend to cling onto more than is necessary.
It’s time now to start decluttering these items so you can embrace your future and not be weighed down by the past. It can be hard to even begin, but following these steps will help you begin the journey.
Before you start
- Visualize what you want your home to look like – by visualizing the end of the process, our minds become clearer on what exactly we want and it will be easier to declutter the sentimental items.
- Set a timeframe – if no end is in sight, it can be harder to keep going. Set a certain amount of time aside to get the task done, even if this means some time today, some time tomorrow, and stick to it. Don’t wear yourself out at the beginning, otherwise you may not want to come back to the task.
- Determine how much space you have to keep the items you’re going to keep – if you have already decided that you will need to keep some of the items, determine how much space you’re willing to save for them. If it’s only one small box or one shelf, then you will be more likely to ensure the rest is gotten rid of.
- Have 3 bins at the ready – one for the things you want to donate, one for those that need to be thrown away and one for the items you want to keep
- Make sure you’re fully committed to this tasks – there’s no point in starting this job if you’re not fully committed. I know that might be hard to hear, but if you’re not ready, you won’t want to part with these sentimental items that have no place in your home.
“The memories we cherish exist in our minds, they exist in our hearts and our souls, not in physical objects.” – Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist
How to declutter sentimental items without feeling guilty:
Find a balance
When you start to declutter sentimental items it’s important to remember that you don’t have to let go of absolutely everything. Of course there are some things that you’ll never want to part with. That’s normal.
Some things will be easy to get rid of, and some will be more difficult. But you’ll know what should be parted with.
Others, you’ll find a place within your home to display them. This will make the sentimental aspect more powerful since it’s not tucked away in storage. And if you find after some time that you don’t in fact find joy in this item, you’ll be ready to let it go.
Start with the easy things
Obviously none of this is easy, that’s why we’re here! But some things will be easier to part with than others. For example, if you’re well past your school years but still have old school books in storage, these can be the first to go.
Once you’ve made a good dent in the things that were easy to let go of, you’ll have a clearer mind to tackle the more sentimental items.
Don’t feel pressured into keeping gifts
I know I don’t remember every gift I’ve ever given. I don’t go into my friends’ and family’s homes and look around for that Christmas gift I gave to them 13 years ago, especially when I don’t even remember what it was!
The truth is, they don’t remember every gift they’ve ever given you either.
While you should never feel guilty for letting go of gifts you don’t love or never use, if this is still something that’s weighing on your mind, here’s an idea: keep one thing so that they can see it on show when they visit. For example, if your mother-in-law gives you a little cat ornament every Christmas (and you now have 17 ornaments!), keep one that she can see when she visits. This will put a smile on her face and reduce any stress you have over getting rid of the others.
Also, remember that if these gifts are all boxed up in your basement or attic, they might as well be gone and with someone who needs or wants them.
“If you want to get rid of an item, but the only reason you are holding on to it is for sentimental reasons—and if it is weighing on you—then perhaps it’s time to get rid of it, perhaps it’s time to free yourself of the weight.” – Joshua Fields Milburn, theminimalists.com
Turn physical items into digital memories
The number of photos and mementos we have can pile up over time. We become attached to all of them, believing that they are memories.
Instead of hanging onto physical items like boxes full of photo albums or scrapbooks full to the brim with photos, why not scan these to your computer? You’ll keep just as many pictures as you would have otherwise and you’ll be able to store them on your computer or to the cloud instead of cluttering up your home with storage boxes that may never get opened again.
Don’t throw away pictures your kids drew when they were 5, keep them! Scan them to your computer so you can show this to them in future. This will give you an easy way to share some of their accomplishments with them and they’ll appreciate that this item is stored on a device rather than in boxes.
While we don’t want to store everything on our computers (or phones), there’s no room for those old VHS tapes or CDs! If you’re not ready to donate these items, store them digitally for now where it’s easily accessible and most importantly, doesn’t take up physical space in our home.
If there is an item that you love and don’t want to part with, but you can’t see a purpose for it in your home, put some new life into it and repurpose!
For example, have you got old shirts from university, or sports teams, or hobby classes, collected over the years? You may not wear them anymore but aren’t ready to give them up just yet. Rather than have the clutter of 30 items not being used or loved, why not have someone make a blanket with them?!!
Years after my dad passed away, my mum found his old work briefcase and asked each of us kids if we wanted it. While nobody wanted to say ‘get rid of it’ we didn’t have any use for an old style briefcase. It would just sit there gathering dust, or end up in the basement or attic, never to be seen again. So, I suggested we repurpose it into a hall table or a coffee table and spent hours on Pinterest finding inspiration from others who had done the same!
Another way to remember certain sentimental items without hanging on to them is to take pictures of them so you can remember the story behind the item whenever you look at the picture.
If these are clothes, have a fashion show to try on all the clothes and a photoshoot!
Even larger items, such as a piece of art, take it outside under the sunlight and get that perfect shot before you pack it up ready to send to its new home.
“Clutter is not just the stuff on the floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living” – Peter Walsh
How to not fall into the same habits again
- Remember exactly why you’re decluttering these sentimental items. Remember the way you want your home to look and feel. Remember how clear your mind is once you decluttered.
- Take a before and after picture and save it somewhere you’ll often see. The before picture will likely cause you to feel a bit stressed and anxious as opposed to the after picture. This will remind you not to revert back to that state again.
- When you get a gift, decide there and then if it’s something you love and want to keep. If not, pop it in your donation box. After the person has given the gift and you have accepted it, it’s up to you what you do with it. You wouldn’t want someone keeping something they didn’t love that was cluttering up their home, would you?
- Tell your family that you’re trying to reduce clutter and ask for experience gifts going forward. You know the saying “Collect memories, not things”? Imagine years to come saying to your aunt “Remember that time we did the zipline through the forest?”, instead of thinking “Ugh, that ugly itchy sweater is still sitting in the attic gathering dust).
It can feel overwhelming to declutter sentimental items because of the guilt that often comes with it. It can be filled with good and bad emotions, but it’s something that you have to do in order to live a clutter-free life.
It’s important to note that it’s perfectly okay for you to keep sentimental items. It is not an easy process, but they should have a special place in your heart if you choose to keep them.
However, if there are many things weighing you down or taking up space in your home with no value, these are the items that need decluttering.
This will help protect your mind and body from feeling burdened by the past while also freeing up space in your mind so new memories can come into your life!
By using the above steps, I hope you will be able to declutter sentimental items with less of a feeling of guilt and more of a feeling of calmness.
Remember: memories aren’t in the things we own, they’re in the experiences we share. They’re stored in our hearts and our minds, not in our homes.
Have you gone through this process before? Were you able to declutter sentimental items without the overwhelming feeling of guilt?
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