If you ever watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix series or read one of her books, you know she has her clients save sentimental items for last in the decluttering process. Why? Because letting go of sentimental items is one of the hardest things for people to do.
For good reason. When you start sorting through items that belonged to your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, memories surface and you think, “I can’t get rid of this. It means too much.” Next thing you know, your home is overflowing with sentimental items that soon become more burdensome than memorable.
Learning to let go of sentimental items isn’t easy. Any professional organizer will tell you that. But it’s a vital step. That’s why I wanted to share some tips with you on how you can start letting go of sentimental items.
Let me start by saying it’s fine to hold onto some sentimental stuff. You don’t need to declutter every single thing. There are a few items that will be really hard for you to let go of and that’s fine. But instead of letting it take up space somewhere, store it in a memory box.
I want to preface that memory boxes should be limited. Too many memory boxes and you run the risk of keeping too much. Opt for one memory box per person in the household. The size of it is your choice. A shoebox, a mid-size container, a large container. Just make sure it’s only one.
Whichever storage option you choose, make sure you have a dedicated home for it. Someplace easy to access so you can add things to it. Or if you want to take a trip down memory lane, you can get to it without much hassle.
I do suggest decluttering memory boxes every couple of months. Remember that what’s sentimental to you now may not be sentimental a few months from now. So make it a habit to pull out the memory box every six months or so and sort through it. Not only will you relive some happy memories, you’ll be able to declutter some stuff to make room for new memories.
Just because something belonged to your grandparent doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated now. When letting go of sentimental items, consider reaching out to local museums or antique shops.
Donation centers won’t take every item you’re decluttering. And so to limit the number of items ending up in our landfills, consider other options. Museums are always looking for new items to display. Especially era-based items they can include as part of a special event. The same goes for antique shops. They could use more decorative pieces or consignment pieces to sell.
Don’t think donation centers are your only option. Do a little research to find the best second home for your sentimental items. And know that wherever they go, they will bring joy to someone new, which is a major bonus.
One of the most popular ways people deal with sentimental items is to take pictures before decluttering them. We live in a digital world. 90% of our photos are stored electronically. If you have boxes of printed photographs, chances are they were from before 2010.
When letting go of sentimental items, you can take a photo of each item and save them in a folder on your phone called “Memories.” Or you can even get them printed and set them up in a scrapbook with the same label.
This way you can look through it whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. Scrapbooks take up far less space and are extremely individualized. You can decorate them or leave them simple and clean. It’s your choice.
I do think having a tangible scrapbook for photos of sentimental items is better than storing them in your phone. There’s something more personal about flipping through pages of photos than swiping through photos. But the choice is yours.
It’s inevitable that we all get gifts we don’t want. That’s not to say the person who gave it to us doesn’t know our taste. But sometimes they might miss the mark. The truth is, you’ve both done your job. The gifter did their job by showing their appreciation of you by buying the gift. And you did your job by accepting the gift with a smile.
But if the gift is something you have no use for or don’t love, declutter it. If you’re about to say, “But, Patricia, how could I do that? What if they come over and ask me about the gift? What do I say?” Let me tell you something: in all my years, I’ve never had a friend or family member ask me about a gift they gave me. Unless that gift was an experience we did together. It’ll be fine.
When approaching gifts you no longer want, deal with them as soon as possible. Regift, sell, pass on to another friend or family member. The faster you deal with the unwanted gift, the less guilt you’ll feel.
It’s common when dealing with sentimental items that you’ll come across multiples of a single thing. For example, let’s say your grandmother loved salt and pepper shakers. Her collection easily ran over 50 variations.
Please don’t think you need to keep all of them. What you can do is take a picture of the entire collection. Then keep your favorite one of the bunch and declutter the rest.
Why keep only one? Because burdening yourself with more than that can cause clutter to pile up quickly. Especially if it’s something you won’t use. If your grandfather had a massive coin collection, keep your favorite(s) and declutter the rest.
Trust me, you’ll feel better knowing the stuff is going somewhere or to someone who will appreciate it.
One of the last, but certainly not least, options you can do when letting go of sentimental items is repurposing them. Perhaps you have a couple of boxes of your grandmother’s clothing. Some of them can be donated. Most can be recycled. And some you actually like.
But if it doesn’t fit or needs some alterations, repurpose it. Take it to a tailor and tell them your plans. Turn one of her old dresses into a blouse. Repurpose some of her lace doilies into a table runner.
When you repurpose sentimental items you’re giving them a second chance at life. Not only that, but you’re giving it a chance to make even more memories. Ignite that DIY spirit and see what you can repurpose out of sentimental items. My guess is you’ll find a lot of ideas.
If you’re about to embark on letting go of sentimental items remember that you’re going to feel a lot of emotions. Guilt for sure. Vulnerability. Happiness. Sadness. It’s normal. But don’t let any one emotion overrule your decision.
If the item is something you have absolutely no use for and the memories are clear, simply take a picture and declutter it.
Joshua Fields Millburn, one half of The Minimalists, puts it like this, “I am not my stuff; we are more than our possessions. Our memories are within us, not within our things. You can take pictures of items you want to remember. Old photographs can be scanned. An item that is sentimental for us can be useful for someone else.” 
Have you ever tried letting go of sentimental items? Were you successful? Did you feel guilty? If you want to give it a go again, contact me today, and let’s schedule a chat. I’m happy to help you overcome any obstacles and get your home to where you want it to be.
Photo by Caleb Lucas
March 1, 2022