Decluttering Sentimental Items (How To Let Go)

Decluttering When You Are Emotionally Attached

 

Decluttering sentimental items is hard. These are items that hold memories.

 

Items that were given to us by loved ones. Items from our childhood.

 

Belongings that have been passed down for generations.

 

How many of these types of items are sitting in a storage box in your basement, in a chest in your attic, or in a shoebox in the top of your closet?

 

Does it bring you down, make you feel sad, or make you feel guilty?

 

Why is it in a box and not displayed in your house?

 

These are questions you should ask yourself about the sentimental objects in your home.

 

Is it clutter or is it an object that brings you joy?

 

I’m going to be sharing with you all of my best tips for decluttering sentimental items.

 

Then, I will share my personal experience.

 

Hopefully, this will help you get rid of those things you are holding onto that have no purpose in your life.

 

Why You Should Declutter

 

Real quick I want to make sure you know the benefits of decluttering.

 

There needs to be a reason why you are decluttering your sentimental items before you actually do it.

 

Less Clutter = Less Chaos

 

First of all, when you have less stuff, there is less stuff to take care of.

 

Your home becomes less chaotic and you have less to clean.

 

You also feel more peace in your home because you are not being bogged down by all of your belongings.

 

Related: Declutter Your Home – 101 Things To Get Rid Of

 

Decluttering Has Health Benefits

 

There are also health benefits to decluttering and the opposite is true as well. Clutter can be harmful to your health.

 

Deals with Emotional Clutter and Guilt

 

When you declutter sentimental items you will also be getting rid of some emotional clutter.

 

You’ll be letting go of pieces of your past and maybe even some guilt.

 

But the good stuff… those are locked in your memories forever. (Or are attached to things you will not be getting rid of.) 

 

Related: Find Time To Declutter When You Can’t Find The Time

 

More Room For What Is Important

 

When you declutter sentimental items you will make room in your home for the items that have a true purpose.

 

For example, we do not have an area to keep our office supplies and craft supplies.

 

These are things we use all of the time, but they are all in random places in our home, causing an overflowing closet and items to constantly be on the kitchen counter.

 

When  I decluttered sentimental items from the basement this left open space for me to keep our office supplies.

 

This is the goal for you as well. Clear up space in your home for what you are actually using today!

 

Not what you used 10 years ago or what you “think” you might use again one day.

 

Tips to help you declutter sentimental items. How to tell the difference between true memories and emotional clutter. Let go of sentimental clutter and enjoy the benefits of living with less. #minimalism #organization #cleaningtips #tips #lifehacks #declutter

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Tips For Decluttering Sentimental Items

 

Remember You Should Enjoy The Items in Your Home

 

If you have been keeping sentimental items in a box and have no intention of getting them out, then this is clutter.

 

If it’s down in the basement because you feel obligated to keep it but will never use it, then this is clutter as well.

 

Clutter you have grown some sort of attachment to.

 

If you have been keeping sentimental items in a box, then get them out. Find a way to display them in your home.

 

This is also a way to determine which sentimental items are really just clutter.

 

If you feel excited about the idea of putting these items in your home then it is not clutter.

 

If you want to keep them shut away in boxes then it is clutter and you should really consider getting rid of them.

 

all the best tips for decluttering sentimental items

 

Give Items Away to Someone Who Will Love It

 

Maybe you have a family heirloom that has been in your attic for years and you have no intention of using it.

 

Is there a family member who would love to have it? Give the items to someone who will find joy in the item.

 

This also goes for selling your items online. If someone is willing to pay for an item you don’t want then they obviously want it or need it more than you do.

 

Plus, you now get a little extra cash.

 

Related: How To Start Cleaning Your House When The Mess Is Overwhelming.

 

Honor the items by bringing them out of storage and using them in your home

 

If you have a collection of your grandmother’s old china, can you display it somehow?

 

You don’t even have to use the whole set. Get one plate, make a pretty display and then donate or sell the rest.

 

I did this with a collection of porcelain dolls. There were 20 dolls sitting in my basement for 5 years.

 

I took one doll, displayed it in my daughter’s room, then sold the rest.

 

Repurpose Items

 

Before hiding something in the basement for the rest of eternity, ask yourself if there is some other way that you could use this item?

 

Can sentimental t-shirts be made into a quilt? Can a scrapbook be made? Pinterest is great for ideas like this.

 

I had a friend who had some coasters that her kids had made her. These coasters sat on her kitchen counter for years.

 

She always felt they cluttered up the counter but since her kids had made them she didn’t want to let them go.

 

We searched on Pinterest and found a solution. It was to tie the coasters together with ribbon and hang them on the wall.

 

This was a great solution. She was able to keep them and they were no longer cluttering up the counter.

 

Gifts Should Not Equal Guilt

 

We often hang onto an item because someone gave it to us. If you love the item and use it then, sure, keep it.

 

However, if you are only hanging onto it because of guilt then it really is okay to get rid of it.

 

Guilt is one of the biggest reasons for hoarding sentimental items.

 

Often times the pressure that we put on ourselves about the gifts others give us, is not pressure that would really come from the person who gave it to us.

 

I’m sure they wanted us to use and love the item, but in reality that doesn’t always happen and most people know this.

 

Decluttering gifts is okay! You’ll feel better when you let it go.

 

Use Technology

 

With a lot of sentimental items, you can save a virtual memory. Take a picture of your kid’s artwork and put it on your computer.

 

Make sure you have a good back up system.

 

You can take pictures of anything and keep those instead of the actual item that you will never use.

 

This can even help you with decluttering old photos. Scan all of your old photos into the computer.

 

You can even make these things into other memories such as videos.

 

Just keep in mind that there is such a thing as virtual clutter.

 

Related: Digital Declutter – Embrace Digital Minimalism

 

Storage Boxes Are Sometimes Necessary

 

I understand that there are some things you will never want to part with.

 

First, keep in mind you will part with it one day, I know that’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Someone at some time will have to deal with all of your things.

 

However, there is nothing wrong with holding onto certain items.

 

Getting rid of childhood memorabilia can be hard.

 

There is nothing like sitting down with an old memory box and going through its contents.

 

It can stir up memories that don’t come to mind often and remind you of times in your life that you will always cherish.

 

Do your best to keep these types of items to a minimum. It’s a good idea to have a scrapbook or small box for each person in the family.

 

This way you can keep everything contained to a small space and not let it clutter up your living space.

 

I Will Not Push Extreme Minimalism In This Area

 

A true minimalist would say… You will always have the memories and you don’t need the objects.

 

To let go of things in your past and those items are holding you back.

 

I will never push this idea because like I said, there is nothing like looking back on an old box of photographs or reading an old love letter.

 

I believe in simplicity not true minimalism.

 

However, I know from experience that a clutter-free home means a clutter-free mind, and a home that’s easier to care for. (Plus, loads of other benefits.)

 

I know that I will never, ever be able to get rid of my doll, Emily, that my grandmother gave me as a very young girl.

 

She is dirty and balding and sits up in the top of my closet. She will probably always sit up at the top of my closet, but I won’t get rid of her.

 

I know she is just a material item and that she brings no real value to my life, but I just won’t get rid of her.

 

So if this is you, if you have an item like this, don’t force yourself to get rid of it.

 

I have shown this doll to my daughter and I will do so again someday.

 

We can talk about my grandma, and share my memories and talk about how much my grandma would have loved her. This is why I keep her.

 

My Experience

 

 

I have had many experiences decluttering sentimental items. I might not be getting rid of my childhood doll, but I have gotten rid of plenty of other things.

 

I’m telling you this to reassure you that you will not miss these items. The benefits outway any negative feelings you may have about decluttering sentimental items.

 

 

First, it was my CD collection.

 

I had a lot of CDs. I mean a lot.  But I used to spend hours of my day looking up new artist and listening to music that was off the beaten path.

 

I even met my husband a hole in the wall place where I went to listen to some small bands. (He was the lead singer and guitar player ;))

 

 

This box full of CDs started collecting dust in the basement for many years. I would occasionally pull these out to listen to in the car.

 

There is still something about listening to the whole album and not just the songs that made it to the radio.

 

 

But with technology came the ability to listen to music without CDs, hence the dust collecting.

 

So when our house was in a pretty desperate situation, I’m talking I couldn’t even walk to the laundry anymore, I ruthlessly decluttered and out went the CDs.

 

I hesitated hard on this one. My husband, who is actually the hoarder in the family, encouraged me to get rid of them and so they went.

 

 

I can still listen to any song I ever want with the help of technology. It’s a great thing.

 

The second challenge I mentioned earlier. It was my porcelain doll collection. 

 

 

I got a doll every year for Christmas until I was about 20, so did my sister.

 

It was at that age that we decided to tell mom that we probably didn’t need anymore. I started thinking about what I was going to do with all of these dolls and I had no idea.

 

When I got married they went into a storage container and went into my basement. They sat there for 5 years.

 

 

Again, our house got into that desperate place where I just couldn’t take the clutter anymore. I wish this is the part where I said… so I got rid of the dolls. It’s not.

 

I held onto the dolls for another year and a half. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. Mostly because of the guilt.

 

 

My mom had given these to me. I know she spent many hours choosing the perfect doll for me each year.  I loved getting them, I thought they were beautiful.

 

It felt just so wrong to get rid of them.

 

BUT… I knew without any doubt that I would never put them out in my house. I would never decorate with them. There was no way to repurpose them.

 

 

So when the basement started getting cluttered again. Because that’s who we are. I don’t know why it happens. It just does.

 

I had to make more room and that meant getting rid of things… again. It was time.

 

I went through the dolls and kept one to keep for my daughter. It’s sitting up on a shelf in her room.

 

 

Then, I put the dolls up for sale and it was hard. I was actually relieved when no one seemed interested in them.

 

But one day someone was.

 

I loaded them up and sold them. Handing over the box was weird. I even hesitated before handing over the box of dolls.

 

 

The lady who bought them had her daughter with her. When they opened the box they spoke about how beautiful they were and they were truly excited.

 

They loved them and couldn’t wait to put them in their home. This relieved so much stress.

 

They loved them. They were going to someone who actually wanted them and was not going to hide them in a box.

 

 

It has been such a relief to have the dolls gone. It was a piece of guilt that has been hanging over me for so long.

 

I do think it made my mom a little sad, but I know she understood. I will always have the memory of those dolls and it was a fun part of my childhood.

 

 

You Won’t Lose The Memories

 

When you get rid of sentimental items you are not getting rid of the memories. They are still there.

 

I’ve gotten rid of old greeting cards, letters friends wrote to me in high school, artwork from my childhood, the list goes on.

 

 

I’ve never regretted one single piece.

 

My house is less cluttered, its easier to clean, and it gets easier to let go the more I do it. I’m happier with my home. I have learned a lot about material possessions and don’t put much worth in them.

 

They do not define you. You cannot take them with you when you die. Some of them just bring you down and keep you tied to things in your past.

 

 

Sometimes you keep things out of guilt but the guilt disappears when you get rid of the items.

 

And you don’t have to declutter every sentimental item. Just keep the most cherished.

 

I promise you are keeping most things out of some weird obligation that you have made up in your own head. You can let it go and you can live clutter free.

 

 

Need More Help Decluttering Sentimental Items?

 

If you are really struggling with a cluttered house. If you need to get rid of sentimental items and have an overflow of material things in your house then I am here to help.

 

 

Clutter can actually be very harmful to your mental and physical health.

 

If you want less anxiety, a home that you love and that’s easier to take care, decluttering is your answer.

 

Thank You! Need More Support?

 

Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you’ll stick around and read some more.

 

Here are some more ideas I have on organizing and declutteirng.  

 

My main passion is helping women build systems and routines that make homemaking simple. I find this possible through simplifying life, decluttering, and building routines that work for your household.

 

If you love all of that or want to learn more you should jump on my email list. I’ll send you a bunch of info on how I take care of my house, free access to my printables library, and a weekly newsletter with challenges and tips. Hope to see you there. 

 

Either way, thanks again, and come back any time. 🙂 

Decluttering Sentimental Items

decluttering sentimental items
decluttering emotional clutter

19 Comments

  1. Kathy

    October 30, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    I am 85yrs old, have lived in the same home for over 40 years. Under my bed, three boxes of greeting cards from my children (6) and grandchildren (14). Can not throw them away. What can I do?? Thank you. 🌝

    1. KatiesKottage

      November 11, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Hi Kathy, if you absolutely cannot get rid of them try getting a photo album or scrap book to keep them in. Then you can have this on a shelf and will be more likely to look at them. As you are making the scrap book, you may find some that aren’t really worth keeping. I hope that helps. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  2. Barb Barrow

    September 3, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Over the years I have accumulated much clutter. I have lived in my house for 30 years, and i am now almos 80..
    I have books,,,and curios…and pictures,,,and old newspapers…and games,,,and hobbies… I’m going to get to one day.
    I have shelves of old toys,,,boxes of old memories…several boxes of old post cards : a closet full of clothes that I need to go through…plus several boxes of paper files I need to attack one day,, etc. etc. When I look at each room, I am overwhelmed. I can’t even get started. I don’t want all of this to fall on my disabled daughter one day..
    (This is what happens when you “put off” too long.}
    Can you help me, or who would you suggest I hire to help me?

    1. KatiesKottage

      September 3, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Hi Barb, I would love to help. There are people that you can hire to come into your house as well. I can help via the internet. You would need to decide which would work better for you. I have a few things that can help. You can read all my blog posts for free. You can purchase my ebook How to Declutter Your Whole House in Your Own Time https://katieskottage.com/shop/ You can join my free Facebook group facebook.com/groups/katieskottage and try to get support there. Or you can sign up for a declutter bootcamp. https://katieskottage.com/declutter-organize-bootcamp/ Please feel free to email me with any questions you have. katie@katieskottage.com

  3. Colleen

    April 23, 2019 at 5:39 pm

    Dear Katie-I’ve been struggling for years with this problem. While reading your hints I realized I have unintentionally passed on My mindset to my daughter. When I talk to her this evening I am going to apologize to her and give her permission to toss out things that I now know she only keeps because me. Thanks you.

    1. KatiesKottage

      April 24, 2019 at 1:51 pm

      Hi Colleen, thank yo so much for reading my blog and for your kind words. I hope your conversation with your daughter went well. Please don’t feel guilty about this. It’s a normal part of life that many of us deal with. I’m so proud of your for recognizing a need for you to grow in this area. Thank you again. I really hope this has helped and I wish you well.

  4. Pat Tawney

    January 28, 2019 at 11:39 pm

    Hmm, nope, not gonna do it. First the concept that one has their memories is faulty. Memories are fleeting. My mother passed away thirty four years ago when my daughter was eighteen months old. Absent the wonderful old things in my home my daughter would not really know her. The Muir quote over the door, a retirement present from her co-workers helped me explain where my love of animals comes from. Our ancestors’ wisdom is accessible if we understand how to listen. These old things help me hear them especially as my own mind dims their voice. History isn’t only in schools and books, but in the life lessons of our ancestors. They tell us where were, so we can appreciate where we need to go. This clutter is not without purpose. It brings me closer to my past, to my families past, better than DNA. I can hear their voices. Ok, toss the shirt that doesn’t fit, the old peeling plastic containers, broken projects you really won’t get too. But careful of tossing out your memories. Your mind really isn’t as reliable as you think. At 65 I use these old objects to tell my grandson stories. He loves that he can hold them, it makes these people real to him in a digital age where the idea that light came from candles or oil lamps in this house, not some distant museum, but in the house he runs around in.

    1. KatiesKottage

      January 29, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you Pat, I appreciate your perspective and actually agree with most of it. That is why I was sure to mention that I would never push minimalism in this area. Old cross country t shirts and CD’s that I felt a sentimental attachment too were taking up a lot of space in my home. Space I’m happy to have back now. But I still have a few of my favorite cross country t shirts and I will never get rid of my grandmothers doll… for the very reasons that you speak of. The difference is really knowing which sentimental items you truly love and value and which ones you really can get rid of… like my old report cards. Thanks again for your comment. I did love what you said about learning life lessons from our ancestors. I was lucky enough to know two great grandmothers and I will always cherish the stories they told me.

    2. Joanie

      April 7, 2019 at 10:56 pm

      Love some of your suggestions! Thank you!!

  5. Angela Burdine

    January 24, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Not to pick, but did anyone else catch the oops in this sentence: ” Can sentimental t-shits be made into a quilt?” ha ha! Gave me a chuckle …

    1. KatiesKottage

      January 27, 2019 at 9:08 pm

      Ha! I never noticed that and the friend who helped me edit didn’t catch it either. I edited to be the correct word now. I can’t believe I had that in there for so long. lol!

  6. Krista

    January 20, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Katie! I really, REALLY needed and appreciate this post. I’m in the middle of going through ALL of the emotional/sentimental clutter I’ve been accumulating (hoarding..ignoring..) for basically my entire life. I’m 32, so – stuff from High school, college, childhood.. things that feel like they are from a life I lead in an alternate universe, basically. Ive come a very long way, and feel much more ready to and even excited about getting rid of a lot of things I know for a fact deep down I want to be free of. I’m just still struggling with a few things that specifically have to do with what I want to show/share with my daughter and (any other kids I may still have in the future). It’s hard to describe, because I haven’t even understood my own self why I don’t want to part with certain things that do not actually bring me joy. For example- some sweet notes from a retreat I went to in college and similar notes from a summer camp that was a huge part of my teenage years- obviously I am not really friends with 99% of those people now. My kids will never know these people, and I will probably never see any of them again. There is just some part of me that wants my kids to know who I was back then, or at least get some kind of glimpse into the life of younger me. It’s like there is some need in me somewhere for them to see how much other people valued me as a person and read the nice things they had to say, etc. Why in the world do I cling to this highly unlikely possibility that my kids might one day have some desire to read random notes that random people they don’t even know wrote to me 30 years ago??? I feel like I’m losing my mind. I’m just in need of some blunt advice to get me through this little roadblock so I can finally finish paring down and only move forward with a small, curated, inspiring collection of memories and treasures that won’t be the burden which is what I’m dealing with now. Thank you so much for writing this, it has helped so much. Any advice you have for me would be GREATLY appreciated! Thank you!!

    1. KatiesKottage

      January 20, 2019 at 7:45 pm

      Wow Krista, thank you so much for the kind words. It makes so happy that this post has impacted you in you this way. First, I want to say that it seems like you are taking great steps towards a life free of material possessions that may have once held you down and that is great. Second, I don’t ever want to make anyone feel like they have to get rid of things if they truly bring make you happy and bring you happy memories. I don’t consider myself a minimalist because that feels to extreme for me but have learned that the stuff in our lives don’t mean as much as the people do. I myself have gotten rid of past letters from students and have not missed them. It was nice to come across them and read the nice words, I cherished the memories of those students but then let the paper clutter go. You do not have to let it go if it will make you sad in any way. Only let it go if it will bring relief. One thing I will say is your children will notice what a wonderful person you are by the way you love them. They will know about your past life because you talk with them about it. They don’t need a letter written by someone else to know how amazing their mom is and was. Those are the reasons why it will be okay if you decide to part with them. Also, you are hoping for something to happen with these letters and our children and you don’t know if this will ever happen or if they will have the response you are hoping for. This could be causing some unnecessary anxiety. If you get rid of these letters you will be letting go of the expectation you have for these letters and your family. However, if you are really struggling I have found that it becomes easier to let go of things the more you declutter. The first time I decluttered our home I still held onto things for various reason. That was a couple of years ago. Once you go through the process you start to realize that there are things you kept that you now know you can get rid of. I also suggest decluttering everything else first and then dealing with the sentimental things last. Again, towards the end of the journey it’s become easier to let go of things because you start to really see the benefits. I hope this helps! Feel free to reach out any time. And again thank you so much for such a kind comment.

  7. Barb

    January 8, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    I have an idea for you about your favorite doll from your grandmother. You could have it placed in your casket when you are buried. That way it stays with you forever. I’m having my cats ashes put with me. One problem I have is my husband keeps telling me to declutter but he refuses to give up anything of his. He has books from his tech college he went to and he’s now 73. The books are 50 years old. He says “ I might have to use them some day “. Haha. Please help.

    1. KatiesKottage

      January 9, 2019 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks for the tip Barb. I’ll get to see my grandmother in Heaven so I probably won’t even care about the doll at the point. 🙂 I understand what you mean about your husband. Mine is a borderline hoarder. I just started with my things and he would comment on nice the house looked. Then I started by getting rid of the things of his that he would let me get rid of. He see’s the benefits now. He still has a harder time letting go than I do but has gotten better in the last few years. Good luck!

  8. Robin

    December 1, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    Thank you for a great article! You make me feel better about dealing with my “clutter”.

    1. KatiesKottage

      December 5, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      You are so welcome. Thank you for such a kind comment. I hope this really helps you. 🙂

  9. Pam

    October 24, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    This article is incredibly inspiring and a great help to rid your home and life of material items that you no longer use. It puts the brakes on any guilt you may have for keeping clutter in your life. Well done . Thanks for sharing

    1. KatiesKottage

      October 25, 2018 at 8:10 am

      Wow thank you Pam for such a kind comment. I’m so glad that you found it inspiring. I really hope it helps you and others let go of items that you truly don’t need. Thank you. 🙂

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