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Letting go of sentimental items can be really hard! While decluttering replaceable items may come easily, decluttering sentimental things can be emotional agony!
These items hold special memories and quite often, there’s guilt associated with the prospect of parting with these items as well, even when our mental wellbeing will benefit from downsizing.
This guide will help you learn how to declutter sentimental items and give you ideas on what to do with sentimental clutter.
How To Declutter Sentimental Items When You Aren’t Ready To Let Go
There is no easy way to let go of sentimental items. They remind us of people and moments in time that has long passed. Yet many of these items are not serving an actual purpose in your life.
Imagine going through your closet and finding a shirt that was given to you by your grandmother.
You’ve never worn the shirt but she has since passed on and you find yourself riddled with guilt at the thought of letting this shirt go… even though you know you will never wear it.
And you also know you already have too much stuff!
So you skip past that shirt, deciding you can’t part with it simply because of the sentimental meaning behind it.
Other sentimental clutter may include:
- Baby clothes
- Ornaments and decorative items you were gifted
- Items given to you after a loved one passes
- Souvenirs from past trips
- Old photographs and photo albums
- Old letters and love notes
- Kids artwork and schoolwork
- Toys from your or your child’s youth
- Items from special occasions such as weddings, christening or birthday
- Unwanted gifts you received but felt bad getting rid of
- College textbooks
It may not seem like a big deal to keep all the items we hold sentimental value and emotional attachment to, but in reality, decluttering sentimental items can actually leave us feeling more EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY.
Why is this?
Because when we hold onto things that no longer serve us or provide value to our lives, they weigh down our emotional well-being and create chaos in our homes.
It’s time to let them go!
Sentimental photos and memorabilia are one of the challenges in my 30 day decluttering challenge:
Why Is It So Hard To Declutter Sentimental Items?
Letting go of sentimental clutter was one of the hardest things for me on my decluttering and tidying journey.
I had storage containers full of old photos that weren’t great quality, high school papers, photo albums from times I no longer wanted to remember and ornaments from childhood.
Most of it sat in storage boxes for years, untouched! That alone should have been enough to let these sentimental things go.
The majority of people find it difficult to part with sentimental objects because they associate happy memories and emotional ties with these items.
It can be easier to simply avoid decluttering such items instead of letting go – but this can lead to you having more belongings that you may have space to comfortably store them!
There is also the guilt that comes when you consider parting with a sentimental item.
You tell yourself all sorts of unhelpful things just for contemplating lightening your load.
If I part with this it means I no longer care about the person
If I sell this item, I am being greedy and selfish
If I give this away, I will hurt the feelings of *insert name*
If I don’t keep this item, I will forget the memory it reminded me of
The problem with each of these unhelpful thoughts is that they are simply not true!
Deciding to have fewer belongings in your home does not mean you no longer care. And there are many other ways you can hold on to your precious memories even after you part with these items.
Why Do We Need To Declutter Sentimental Items?
There is only so much space and storage space available in our homes.
If you are reaching your storage capacity, or worse, your belongings are cluttering up your home to the point where your space is no longer comfortable, then changes are needed!
Decluttering sentimental items is necessary when these items are no longer serving an actual purpose in your life.
They are weighing you down emotionally and physically, adding stress to your everyday life just by being present.
It is simple really, less stuff will reduce your overall stress, save you time and help you to enjoy your home more.
But simple does not mean it is easy to get rid of these things! These steps will help you with decluttering sentimental items:
Steps For Decluttering Sentimental Items
So the time has come to say goodbye. You can do this!
In order to declutter sentimental items, you will need a strong sense of why you want to let them go, focusing on the benefits to your life.
Step One – Nominate A Space For Items You Want To Keep
There is no reason why you need to get rid of all the sentimental objects you own. In fact, holding on to your most treasured items is a wonderful thing.
So long as you hold onto only those that truly matter and only as many that will fit into your chosen space.
Before you start decluttering sentimental belongings, decide on a limit on what you can keep. For you, this may be a single storage tub that your home has room for. Or it may be a single shelf in a display unit or a folder or drawer.
Knowing you have nominated a space to keep your most important sentimental items will ease some of the emotion that comes with letting go of the rest.
This space may be a memory box or a shelf in your closet, or a display cabinet with sentimental ornaments.
Step Two – Get To Work
Start by decluttering as you would any other space in your home. Often the sentimental items are the most difficult and they may be the last items you are ready to deal with. That’s okay.
Use my guide on where to start the decluttering process when it feels overwhelming to help you get into action.
Baby steps are okay! Starting with the easy things is the best way to build momentum until you are ready to deal with the items you hold a sentimental attachment to.
Step Three – Questions To Ask As You Go
As you go through sentimental items, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I use this item?
- Will I use this item in future?
- Is it an important family heirloom?
- Do I have room to store this item?
- Can I repurpose this item into something useful?
- Does it bring me great joy?
If you answer no to these questions, then it is time to let it go.
If you cannot think of a great reason WHY you are keeping an item, then it is probably safe for you to get rid of it.
If an item brings you negative emotions or feeling guilty, it is not a good idea to keep this item. You should surround yourself with the things you love in your home.
Your space is precious and so are you!
Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is all about only keeping what sparks joy!
If you are undecided on an item, it is okay to put it aside to come back to it at a later time, once you’ve had more time to think about it.
RELATED READING: The best books about decluttering
Step Four – Come Back To Your Sentimental Clutter
Decluttering your home or single space can often take more than one attempt. We start with the easy stuff and then realise we need to make a bigger impact, so we go through again, each time eliminating a few more items.
The same can be done with sentimental clutter too.
Once you’ve had time to see the impact of your initial efforts, it may prompt you to get a little stricter with your cleanout. This can be a great motivation for dealing with sentimental clutter too.
For those items you are still unsure about parting with, consider if there is another way you can remember them without keeping the physical item.
Here are some examples:
- Take a photograph of your item – You could create a photo album of the items you part with, adding a note next to each photo with the story behind the item to help you remember why it was important.
- Create a photo book – A photobook is a compact alternative to a photo album. You can also do this with your child’s artwork and school work by taking pictures of items and artwork and creating a photo book to keep or gift to your child.
- Keep just your favourite piece – If you have large collections or related items and you can’t store them all, consider keeping just your favourite item instead. This is a great option for ornaments or collectables so you can still hold onto the sentimental memory behind the set while keeping just a single thing.
- Digitalise documents/photos – If you have a lot of piles of paperwork, artwork, old photos and other documents taking up space, consider digitalising them instead. The images can be saved to an external hard drive or online cloud storage (I recommend both for extra reassurance) and you will free up loads of space in your home!
- Repurpose sentimental items – Turn old baby clothes or your old t-shirts with favourite bands on them into a throw rug or teddy bear or add your kid’s artwork in picture frames for new wall art.
Step Five – Remove The Unwanted Stuff
Once you’ve narrowed down the sentimental keepsakes (and the rest of your household clutter) that you no longer wish to keep, it is important to get them out of your house quickly so you don’t find yourself second-guessing and changing your mind.
Donate, gift, give and trash all the items you decided to part with as quickly as possible and rejoice over your new clutter-free spaces!
What To Do With The Things We Cannot Part With
Once you have decluttered as much as you can from your sentimental items, it is time to think about what you will do with those that remain.
Remind yourself of WHY you are letting the sentimental items go.
Sentimental stuff is still just stuff! The memories remain even after the item is gone.
It can be really helpful for those items you are struggling to part with to come up with a reason for letting these items go that is meaningful to YOU.
Sometimes that mindset shift is enough to reassess what we are holding onto.
Try A Trial Declutter First
If there are still too many items for your nominated space after you have finished decluttering sentimental items, consider doing a trial declutter instead.
Add the excess items you are thinking of getting rid of to a storage box and put them in your garage or store at the home of trusted friends or family members who are willing to assist.
Give yourself a set time limit to trial how you feel without those items in your home.
If you don’t use, think about or want for those items during that time, you are probably ready to part with them for real!
It is natural to think about them a lot in the first couple of days, so give yourself a much longer period to assess your feelings. I recommend at least a month before you make the final decision.
What To Do With Sentimental Clutter
A lot of our sentimental clutter is still useful and valuable to others, even if we no longer have the space in our homes or lives to keep it.
So what should you do with this type of clutter?
There are a few great ways to get rid of sentimental clutter:
- Broken/damaged items – These items are of no use to anyone so they should be disposed of.
- Give to someone who will appreciate the items – If there is a family member or close friend that you know will want this item, consider giving it to them. Check first though, as often we assume someone else will want the items that we no longer want when this is not really the case. A great example of this is your wedding dress – keeping it for your daughter is a great idea only if she wants it, otherwise, let it live on in your beautiful wedding photos!
- Items of high value – If there are high-value items, consider selling them if you have the time and energy to do so.
- Donate – For everything else in a good condition, donate them to a good cause. Your once sentimental items may bring great joy to another person as you pay it forward!
Decluttering your home can be a daunting task, especially with the number of sentimental items we have collected.
Decluttering sentimental items is an important step in any decluttering! Especially so when you’re dealing with the memories and guilt from your past.
By letting go of the guilt and getting rid of the stuff you no longer need, use or have room for, will make room for more meaningful things!
Remember that the decluttering efforts you put in now will give your future self more space, time and freedom. As a person embarking on this journey of purging their home, keep only those items that are MOST IMPORTANT to YOU and those that bring joy into your life.
What sentimental items do you most struggle to part with? Do you have a great way of remembering items you do part with?