So, you’ve decluttered and cleaned your home, but there are still some things that seem in the way.
Chances are, those things are sentimental items or keepsakes that you can’t let go of.
Understandably, these are some of the hardest items to part with when going through the decluttering and cleaning process.
Sentimental items tend to get moved around from place to place in your home or even stay stuffed in a box in the garage where it’s been ever since you moved in.
Plus, each time you move, you probably have even more keepsakes that tag along. It’s like a never-ending cycle.
Where does it end? Will it ever end?
Just what are you supposed to do with sentimental items?
They mean too much to you to just let them go but as you accumulate more, these items seem to take over your home and life.
As much as you love your sentimental items, there comes a time when you need to distinguish between what is truly meaningful and what is simply gathering dust.
It can be tough to know where to start when it comes to your beloved keepsakes, so this post will delve into all the reasons we can’t let go, the important questions you need to ask yourself and provide a simple 5-step plan to finally get these items organized so that you can reclaim your home.
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How Many Sentimental Items Do You Really Need to be Happy?
There is no set answer to this question. It’s highly subjective and very personal – just like the mementos you’ve been holding onto for years. There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding on to sentimental items. You likely have strong emotional connections. They represent a special moment in time, remind you of a person from your past, or simply remind you of the beautiful life you’ve lived so far.
The problem is when you accumulate too many keepsakes and start to feel burdened by the weight of them. When you have too many sentimental items, you can’t truly enjoy or appreciate them. They lose their specialness and become lost among all your other possessions. Find the number that works for you and then maintain it.
Why Do We Hold Onto Our Keepsakes?
There are many different reasons why you hold onto your sentimental items for dear life. But the main reason is that we’re emotional beings. We have a tendency to cling to the past. Many times you’ll imbue meaning onto an object during an emotionally charged situation or time in your life. This stuff then becomes reminders or memories that we want to keep close.
Whether it’s a bottle full of sand from your honeymoon in Hawaii, your grandmother’s ottoman, a box full of various kinds of mementos, your daughter’s first pair of shoes, a dearly departed pet’s collar, or the shirt you wore on your first date – each item signifies a point in time. But the truth is, you can hold onto memories without the stuff.
Ask yourself if you’ll remember the occasion or person without the object. If the answer is yes, then you may not need that keepsake anymore. Ultimately, what you keep and what you let go of is up to you. But it’s important to detach the memory from the object before making your decision.
How Sentimental Items Keep You & Your Home Hostage
Keeping general clutter at bay takes work, as you know. But sentimental clutter can hold you hostage in your own home. These items may clutter up your home – the home you’ve worked very hard to make neat, tidy, and inviting. The mere thought of getting rid of this emotional baggage can leave you feeling guilty, sad, confused, and even vulnerable. This automatically turns sentimental items into a stressor. And none of us need more stress in our lives.
Not only do sentimental items keep you chained to the past, but they can also be a financial and spatial burden. The more items you collect, the more space you need. If your home is too small, you may need to pay for storage or else move into a bigger home. It’s likely that every member of your family has their own stuff that they’re holding onto; which makes it an even bigger problem causing friction between family members. It’s just not worth it.
5 Step Plan to Organize & Declutter Your Sentimental Items for Good
Now that you’re more aware of the effect keeping these sentimental items has on your life, you can start to declutter and organize them. Keep in mind that it’s not going to be easy. Letting go never is. Just be intentional about your choices. Take your time and be gentle with yourself. It might be difficult, but you can simplify the process. Plus, you’ll feel like a weight has been lifted once you’re done.
Here is my 5-step plan for decluttering and then organizing your sentimental keepsakes
1- Just Start
But start small and go slow. I know you’ve been putting this off for ages. It’s completely understandable. But it’s important to take that first step. Decluttering sentimental items can be emotionally draining, so give yourself a break by taking things slow and steady. Work for short periods of time broken up throughout a day, a weekend, or even a week. 10 minutes at a time may not feel like much but it’s still progress. Once you see that you’re making headway, it will become easier and you’ll feel more confident about letting go despite your emotional attachments.
2- Work in Stages
If you’re buried under years of emotional clutter it can feel nearly impossible to decide what to keep and what to let go of. Logically, you want a beautiful, clean, functional home free of clutter. But emotionally you can’t say goodbye to the memories those items signify. Remember, you’re not tossing or donating your memories – those reside in your heart and mind. If you feel this way, it may be wise to work in layers or stages so that you don’t have to get rid of everything right away. When it comes to decluttering sentimental items, take your time. Determine which areas need attention and then work on one at a time.
For example, start with your kitchen or the storage boxes in the basement.
3- Ask Yourself Some Questions
It’s time to get really honest with yourself. As you declutter, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I really need this collection of items?
Whether it’s a collection of figurines you inherited from your great aunt, your own collection of memorabilia from your favorite childhood show, or simply a collection of all your kids’ projects that you’ve accumulated over the years. Collections can get out of control quickly; unless it is a serious hobby and you’ve taken care to store and display the items. Chances are, most of your collections are accidental and you don’t need everything. One way to solve this is to keep one specific item that represents the collection as a whole.
- Am I really expected to keep this forever?
This is a great question to ask if the sentimental item was given to you by someone else. You don’t have to keep everything you’ve inherited or been given. You just don’t. The person who gave it to you loves you and would never want the item to become a burden to you. If it’s a family heirloom, you could offer it to another family member before opting to donate it.
- Who will the burden fall on after I’m gone?
This question should really help to motivate you. It’s likely the burden will fall on your spouse, children, or other family members. These people you love will be left with the giant responsibility of sorting through heaps of items that have no real meaning to them. Be mindful of this. You don’t want to pass on your own emotional baggage, which is a good reason to work through it now.
- Will a picture suffice?
A photo of your sentimental items could work just as well as the actual objects. The visual will serve to bring back the memories associated with the item. Holding these items in real life won’t make you remember things more. That’s why I suggest taking a photo of each sentimental keepsake before you toss, recycle, gift, or donate it. You could paste the photo in a journal and write out the memory or collect them all in a photo album. Either way, you’ll still have access to it even when the physical object is gone.
4- Make Firm Decisions
As you honestly answer all the questions above, you’ll know what to do with each item. But be firm about your decisions. Once you’ve decided to let something go you should actually let it go. Your sentimental items should be things that you can enjoy and appreciate every day. Keep the items that bring you joy, make you smile, or that you really want to display proudly in your home. The rest is unimportant. Capture its essence in a photograph and then let someone else love it.
5- Display and Store What You Keep
Some sentimental items you may need to store away in sealed plastic containers. But ideally, you want to be able to display these special things in your home. The whole point of decluttering your collection is so that you’d be left with things you truly love. And if you love it then you’ll want to see it daily. There are so many options to display your keepsakes:
- Use a glass jar to display a collection of small items.
- Create a shadow box that displays something meaningful and hang it on the wall.
- Make a memory quilt out of beloved items of clothing.
- Have a decorative memory box that contains your sentimental items and looks good somewhere in your home.
- Use the items for their original purpose; even if they’re antique.
Examples of Sentimental Items
I’ve helped many of my clients declutter their homes over the years and have found a myriad of different sentimental items. Most had been holding onto these things for years. Some had financial value but the majority of items simply have sentimental or emotional value.
Here are some real-life examples of keepsakes I’ve come across while working with clients:
- An old childhood cast
- A nightgown that was worn on the first night home with a newborn
- Collection of 300 cookbooks
- A 20-year-old bathing suit that no longer fits
- Photos from previous relationships or marriages
- Decades old handkerchiefs
- A list of wedding gifts from 50 years ago
- Band t-shirts
- Concert tickets
- Movie ticket stubs
- A stack of old playbills
- Lab notes from high school
- Birthday cards
- Childhood artwork
- Stuffed animals
- Faded letters
- An old pocket watch
- Costume jewelry
- Dishes, glassware, or cutlery
You’ve made it through the emotional journey of decluttering and organizing your sentimental items – well done!
Although it may be tough, the process is simple and similar to decluttering and organizing anything else in your home. Now, you have cleared out emotional baggage and created more space within your home and life. You’ll feel free to truly value those sentimental items that you decided to keep.
Do you tend to hold onto sentimental items?
PIN IT FOR LATER:
I have some boxes of stuff in my attic that I am now itching to go through. Most of it is from high school and college. I rarely look at it, but there are some items I know I want to keep. There are also some that are probably no longer providing an emotional benefit. I’d like to get them culled down and into a nicer box that I actually pull out and look at now and then.
Motivation is everything and it seems that you’re ready to make some decisions.
I too have been able to let go of items that don’t have the same emotional attachment. It’s easier to disconnect when that happens. Let me know how you do!
Ronni, I love your question about the memorabilia haunting you. It can be doing just that or even calling you every time you come across it – asking you: what are you going to do with me? Your advice to start slow, in one place, and for 10 minutes at a time is perfect. I also really like your suggestions of making a quilt or a shadow box to display some of what is important to keep. Memorabilia is always difficult but as you so rightly point out, the memory lives forever in your heart and mind.
We go through so many stages in life. Some of my clients are at a stage where they have family heirlooms that they’d love to pass on to their children. The problem is, the children don’t want them. So they have to make some hard decisions. I know what a sensitive and difficult topic this is.
What a sensitive article, Ronni, this will help many readers reconsider automatically keeping all their memorabilia. The word “hostage” really jumped out at me, it’s exactly how some of my clients feel about sentimental stuff. The words “should” “ought to” and “have to” pepper their conversations about stuff they objectively don’t care for. Your words will help them.
Thank you for your sensitivity. This is such a sensitive topic for so many. It needs to be handled and it needs to be handled gently. We all have keepsakes and we’re not always sure what to do with every single one of them.
I really do hope this resonates with everyone who takes a moment to read it.
Great tipsRonni! I have sentimental items throughout the home, and when I started to review them, I brought them to one centralized location. This made it easier for me to decide what I can get rid of and what I still want to keep. Thanks for sharing your advice. I am definitely going to share this one. I have a lot of people I know that have several sentimental items.
This has been such a huge topic of concern for my clients. I really like your idea of bringing everything to one location. That way, you see everything in front of you, you see so many items that it may be less onerous to declutter.It’s a great strategy!
“Chances are, most of your collections are accidental.” Never were truer words spoken! I ended up with a collection of cows (yes, cows!) because I had one teeny, cute cow painting on a mini-easel in my office almost 30 years ago, and people just started giving me cows. Just last week, I gathered them all up, dusted them off, reviewed them one by one, and put everything in a donation box except that one original painting, which now has a place of honor.
You came to this topic with such gentle sensitivity, and the advice is absolutely right. I find that the older I get, the less I hold onto keepsakes unless they relate to big events. I don’t buy concert T-shirts anymore, choosing instead to trust my memory of the concert-going experience. (But, uh, if I ever get to a Billy Joel or Jimmy Buffett concert again, all bets are off!)
The most unbelievable thought here is that you were actually in an office, did you say 30 years ago? I can believe the cow story and collection but I can’t believe the time frame.
Long, long time ago I went to a Jackie Mason 🙁
show. He was so funny and I recall some of his lines and even what I was wearing. I guess it was because I remembered during my better remembering days and he left an impression. I don’t have a ticket or flyer to vouch for it either.
Holding onto sentimental items or not, is too sensitive of a subject to be handled any other way. You’ve only had to experience it to know. I am glad you liked this piece.