We can all have hangups when it comes to decluttering our homes and lives. For some of us, books are easy to declutter, while others really struggle to let go of books. It all has to do with the meaning we attach to our things. When you want to declutter sentimental items, it’s important to understand your hangups so that you can make decisions more easily.
We Finally Tackled Our Sentimental Items
I recently looked through all of the boxes we had stored in the basement under the stairs. This is something I have been avoiding for years, because it was largely sentimental items from my childhood or from when my kids were younger.
In all honesty, I wasn’t even sure what I would find. I had let it slowly accumulate over time without much thought, and I dreaded having to deal with all of it. I didn’t even know if I would struggle to let of these sentimental things or if I would wonder why I had kept any of it.
My husband went through his things at the same time, so together we decluttered our sentimental items. He was able to go through his things fairly quickly and make some quick decisions about what he wanted to let go of and what he wanted to keep.
I, however, spun my wheels, changed my mind a bunch of times, and took frequent breaks to make another cup of tea or get a snack. 😜
Really, I wanted to avoid this daunting project because it felt like I was letting go of important things or that I felt like should be important to me. I wanted it to be over before I had even really begun.
But, I stuck with it, albeit rather slowly. I committed to going through everything that day, and I did. Can I just say, I am so happy that I finished this last bit of decluttering? It’s done, and now my home is fully decluttered. Totally worth the work!
I consider myself a minimalist, and I usually have a pretty easy time letting go and decluttering the things that aren’t adding value to my life. So let’s just say I was a little surprised by how difficult and uncomfortable it was for me to make decisions and declutter sentimental items. Why was I struggling so much?
Why We Struggle to Declutter Sentimental Items
If you’ve ever tried to declutter sentimental items, or avoided it like I had, you probably understand what I’m talking about. If you haven’t yet, but this is in your decluttering plans, I have some tips for you to stick in your back pocket. But first, let’s talk about why it can be so difficult to declutter sentimental items.
First, sentimental items can carry a lot of meaning. Certain things are sentimental, because they prompt feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia. We can be so emotionally attached to an item that letting go of it seems like letting go of a part of ourselves.
Second, sentimental items can help us remember. They might represent a person we once were that we are trying hard not to forget. They might be tied to another person as well, so we keep them to help us remember that person.
Third, decluttering sentimental items can come with a lot of guilt. Things like gifts or inherited items can be hard to let go of because we don’t want to offend the person it came from.
My Own Struggles
Even though I’m not a very nostalgic or sentimental person, I still struggled to let go for all three of these reasons. I think that was why I was so surprised. Going through my own sentimental items allowed me to learn a lot about why I keep what I keep, as well as ways to let go of items with more ease and respect.
Why I Held Onto Items
Personally, I held onto some items, like my dance uniforms, because it felt like dance in some ways defined me so I wanted to show these items to my kids. But the truth is, I’m not that person anymore. I don’t need to have those things that represent who I was in the past; I can tell my kids stories about that time of my life instead.
There were other things that I originally kept because I didn’t want to forget a certain moment. I had so many old journals and pictures, but I never went back to look at them. And now, when I finally did so that I could decide what to keep, most of them didn’t make me happy. It was easy to see which ones I could let go of and wouldn’t really miss.
I also kept things out of guilt…things like my yearbooks because it just feels like I should want them. But they don’t bring me much joy to look at them again.
And then of course there are the items that I inherited from loved ones who had passed away. I decided to keep the most meaningful items from each of my grandparents and let go of the rest. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad that what I have now is what’s most significant to me.
What I Learned
Decluttering my sentimental items taught me why decluttering can be so hard and that there are many reasons why we hold onto things.
More than anything, I realized that my memories were enough. I didn’t need physical things to represent these memories, people, and periods of my life. Anything worth remembering could simply be stored in my heart or even shared with others who care about me through stories. (Corny, I know, but so true.)
Tips to Help You Declutter Sentimental Items
Going through this process myself has taught me a lot about why we hold onto things (sometimes when we shouldn’t). But it’s also taught me some ways to make decluttering sentimental items a little bit easier. Below are my top tips to help you declutter sentimental items. I just know that these tips will help you with this sometimes difficult but necessary process.
1. Declutter Sentimental Items Last
Don’t declutter sentimental items until you’ve dealt with everything else you want to declutter. Because it’s the hardest category of things to declutter, it’s important that we leave it for when we are well-rehearsed in the art of decluttering your home. After a lot of practice decluttering, it will be easier for you to make decisions about which items are adding value to your life.
Leave it for last, but get it done!
2. Discover Why You Keep the Things You Do
As I did, discover the real reason you’re keeping items. When you know why you really hold onto items, it can be easier for you to see if there’s any faulty thinking that needs to be corrected. For me, it was the fact that I was holding onto things because I felt like I needed them to show people how important or cool I used to be. Ha!
Instead, let’s focus on who we are now and who we want to be going forward.
3. Only Keep Items That Deserve a Place in Your Future
Think about your vision for the future and what things actually deserve a place in your future life. Which items will help you achieve that vision of who you want to be? Which of your things are holding you back, maybe because they take up more of your home, time, or mental capacity than they deserve?
Honestly answering these decluttering questions will really help you make decisions about what is worth keeping.
4. Find Other Ways to Keep Your Memories Alive
If you are keeping items to help you remember past events or people, determine if there are other ways to keep your positive, joyful memories alive that don’t involve keeping physical things. Maybe you record yourself telling stories, or you simply start telling more stories to those around you. Life is about sharing life with people, after all.
Your memories are enough in and of themselves. You don’t need things that represent these memories as well.
5. Show Gratitude For the Items You Declutter
Show gratitude for the items you let go of like Marie Kondo would suggest. Don’t just throw out these sentimental items, especially if you feel some guilt with letting go. Handle these items with respect. You can even literally thank these items for what they meant to you or what they taught you, then pass them on.
You could also think of a way to honor a person that gave or left you items. Maybe your loved one cared about helping the poor…giving these items to someone in need may be the perfect way to honor them.
I hope that hearing about my own struggles with letting go of sentimental items, even as a minimalist, is an encouragement to you. I am so glad that I took the time to go through these items. Now I know that what I have in my own are items that I want with me in my future. Even if just for now…
And, I’m thankful that I learned what I did about myself and why we tend to hold onto the things that we do. I hope you found my lessons and tips to be helpful for your own decluttering process!
Theresa Bedford is a syndicated freelance home and travel writer with regular contributions to the Associated Press wire and MSN. She helps everyday people love the life they have through simplicity, organization, and prioritization.