Decluttering sentimental items: How to get rid of sentimental things

by Anousheh

When it comes to decluttering your home, there is one category that is by far the hardest for most people. It’s decluttering sentimental items. The reason for this is very simple. We connect those items with emotional attachment.

However, letting them declutter your home also isn’t making you happy. It takes away the positive feeling they are supposed to bring you and makes your sentimental items lose their meaning. So how can we get rid of sentimental clutter? There are 5 easy steps to decluttering sentimental items that we are going to get into:

Decluttering sentimental items: How to get rid of sentimental things
  1. Collect every single item in your home that you only keep because of an emotional attachment.
  2. Divide them into categories, for example cards, pictures, scrapbooks, etc.
  3. Find out your emotional attachment for every single item.
  4. Determine what you want to keep physically, what you can get rid of, and where you can find a clutter-free solution to keep the emotion you attach to that sentimental item.
  5. Find a way to properly display the sentimental items you want to keep so they bring you the most joy.

Alright, let’s get to it!

How do you declutter sentimental things?

The first step to decluttering sentimental items is to take a good look at all the items you keep in your home because you have an emotional attachment to them. Organize them in piles by a rough category so you can tackle each category on their own.

Why can’t I throw stuff away?

Next, we need to find out why we are keeping these things. There are a few reasons why people hold on to items simply because of an emotional attachment:

  • Out of guilt: Especially when it comes to cards or gifts, a huge reason why we hold on to them even though we don’t want to is because of guilt. After all, the person took the time and money to write this card and pick out a gift to bring you joy, right? The intent of those gifts is mostly to make someone happy. That purpose has already been served, so why destroy it by letting your home get cluttered?
  • They trigger a memory: Holiday souvenirs, old postcards, a note your friend left you,… We keep those things for one reason: we want to hold on to a memory. But let me tell you something: That memory is not attached to the items, it’s attached to you. You’re not going to lose the memory if you get rid of the item. There are way better ways to trigger those memories than keeping them in a box underneath your bed. I will show you a few ways in a second.
  • We want to display them: A lot of the time we keep certain memories because we want to find a nice way to display them and bring us joy every day. And then life gets in a way and those photos we wanted to put in an album collect dust in a box. That is not what your intention was with those items, so let’s give them the place they deserve. However, this could also be a good point to ask yourself if those items actually bring you that much joy. Because after all, there might be a reason why you never got around to finding them a nice place. Keep reading for some ideas on how to display your sentimental items.

How to get rid of sentimental items

Onto the hardest part: actually decluttering your sentimental items. Here are a few easy tips and steps on how you can tackle this step.

Collection of old pictures

Take a picture

This has to be my favorite tip. I have told this so many people and they loved the idea, even though it is extremely simple.

Most of the emotional attachment lives within you and not the item itself. We are scared to let go of the item because we are scared to lose the memory it brings us.

Keep this in mind, and it will make letting go of sentimental items so much easier.

An easy solution to preserve the memory is to simply take a picture of the items that trigger them. This is a great, clutter-free way to keep the memory without the object itself. It will also make you go through those memories more often because it is so much easier. Create an album on your phone or laptop with all the pictures and relive those memories whenever you feel like it!

Keep one of each (max!)

I’m not trying to say you should get rid of all your sentimental objects because they take up space. However, it can become a problem once your sentimental items turn into clutter.

In the beginning, I was talking about categorizing those items and creating piles for each category (photos, cards,…). Some categories may not bring you that much joy (for example birthday cards), so you can take pictures of your favorite ones and then toss all of them.

For other categories, you might want to keep one of each category and find a way to display them, so they can bring you joy and happiness every single day. Keeping only one will make your sentimental items so much more meaningful.

Having a huge pile of sentimental clutter makes those items lose their meaning because they’re nothing special anymore.

I’m usually pretty drastic when it comes to decluttering sentimental items. I don’t keep birthday cards, old notes, or anything similar. However, the few sentimental items I did keep are in my sight every day. I have a piece of painted wood my dad once randomly gave me on the shelf next to my TV. It makes me smile every day and gives that item so much more meaning.

Box filled with sentimental items

Use or repurpose them

I know a lot of people who keep certain items away because they have meaning and are really special to them. This could be that special set of china you got from your grandma or the bracelet you had since you were a baby.

We put these items away because we are scared something could happen to them. But isn’t the purpose of those items to bring us happy memories? The best way to do that is to use them daily. So instead of leaving those items in boxes, bring them out and find ways to incorporate them into your life.

However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to simply “shift” your clutter. Only do this with a few items that will actually bring you value day to day.

And especially with family memories or heirlooms, you could also ask other family members if those emotional items might have more meaning to them. If so, pass them on so they can bring value to someone else.

Let go of gift guilt

Receiving gifts can often make us feel obliged to keep those gifts and display them prominently, so the gift giver will see them every time. Some people will even keep gifts in a closet and crack them out every time the person who gifted them comes around.

Do you really want to live with a burden like this? Gift giving has one purpose: showing the person you thought of them and love them. And that purpose is served once the gift-giving is done, not by letting it clutter up your home. According to Psychology Today, guilt is often out of proportion to the harm that has been caused. Your home is your space full of things you love. If the gift isn’t valuable to you, don’t feel obligated to keep it.

Also, when the next holiday comes around, tell your friends and family you don’t want them to gift you anything. That way, you can avoid this altogether. If your family can’t get on board the “no gifts” idea, there are great clutter-free alternatives. For inspiration, you can check out this post on the best minimalist gift ideas.

Person giving a gift box to another person

Live in the present, not in the past

When decluttering sentimental items, you should always ask yourself why you want to keep these things.

Your home is the place you are living in right now. It’s not a storage place where you stack boxes on top of boxes.

You should also consider what it’s costing you to store all of these boxes. Living space is getting more expensive each day, so having an extra room with all of your clutter is actually costing you money.

Depending on the extent of clutter, it could also be costing you your peace of mind. If walking into that spare room full of boxes and clutter is giving you a bad feeling every time, it’s not worth it.

Learn to say no

I know that often we accumulate a lot of clutter because it’s very hard to say no. Especially when it comes to gifts someone wants to make you. Gift-giving comes from a place of love, so how could we say no to that?

One thing I have learned is that the people who want to gift you almost always have your intentions and interests in mind.

They want to bring you joy and value, not themselves.

So by telling them you are trying to live with less stuff, most of them are not going to be mad. A lot of people have actually told me how freeing it is for them not to have to think of any gifts for me, so it’s really a win-win.

I also know that some people like to ignore this request, which only goes to show that their intention can’t really be bringing you joy, right? So don’t feel bad saying no to them when they arrive at your place with the fifth home decor item in a row. Your peace of mind and your living space is way too valuable for that.

Start with the easy things and take your time

Decluttering sentimental items is definitely hard. It is probably the most difficult part when decluttering, which is why it’s usually the last step in your decluttering journey.

So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t speed through this step. Let yourself take the time you need to evaluate each item and finally let go. You don’t have to do this in one round, or even in three.

It’s a process, so start with baby steps.

If you have a lot of emotional items, start with the easiest ones. Do you have a huge pile of birthday cards that don’t mean that much to you? Start with those. It will show you that it’s not that hard to declutter sentimental items. It will also give you momentum and motivation to keep going, once you notice how free getting rid of this clutter can make you feel.

If you’re not ready to tackle decluttering sentimental items yet because you just started out decluttering, maybe consider starting with something else to get into the decluttering spirit. One of the easiest things is paperwork, so you could get started with this post on how to organize paper clutter.

How do you display sentimental items?

We got rid of all the sentimental clutter and only kept the things that are really meaningful to us. Now we want to give these items the attention they deserve. Here are a few ideas to display your memories.

Find a spot you look at often

This is a simple one. Determine the places where you spend a lot of time, like your desk, the living room, etc. These are great places to display emotional items. You see them every day, so you can maximize the joy they bring you.

Create an album

Album with photos

This is a very obvious choice for photos, but you can make albums for a huge number of sentimental items. A lot of people have a hard time decluttering scrapbooks, notebooks, or calendars. To make this easier, you could take a picture of all the memories within them you want to keep and cut out your absolute favorite ones. Create an album with all your beloved notes, cards, doodles, plane tickets, and so on.

Now they are all in one place, and you can go through your album of all your favorite memories really easily. You can also decorate them, keep similar memories next to each other or write a little journal entry for that specific day. This is your chance to get creative and make those emotional items extra special.

Getting rid of childhood memorabilia

Another reason I have heard many times for keeping sentimental items is this one: But I want to keep it and give to my children!

I get it, we have many things that made us so incredibly happy when we were children, and we want to pass on that happiness. I was an absolute book worm when I was a child (well, I still am), and I had hundreds of books. Of course, thinking about passing them on to my children one day so they can enjoy them as much as I did seems great.

But try to be honest with yourself here. Do I really think my children will want all of the books I have ever read? Probably not. They’d probably rather just use their Kindle (who can blame them, I wouldn’t trade my Kindle anymore either). Also, passing on a huge pile of books won’t have any meaning either. I could pick my top 5 books that I absolutely loved as a child and keep those.

Keeping some really meaningful things for your kids is great, and I know I loved getting to know my parents through a few of their childhood memorabilia. But once again, limiting them to the most special ones will give them so much more importance.

Get started now!

Yes, decluttering sentimental items might be the hardest part of your decluttering journey. But it can also be the most freeing one.

Going through the steps in this post will get you one step closer to a clutter-free home and make you cherish your emotional items so much more.

However, the most important thing is to start now.

Take your first step right now, even it’s a really small one.

Just getting started decluttering? Start with this post on 37 things to declutter within 30 minutes to kick-start your decluttering journey easily.

What has been your biggest struggle while decluttering sentimental items? Share it with everyone in the comments below!

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how to declutter sentimental items

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