One of the hardest parts of the process of uncluttering is dealing with all of the sentimental belongings that we all inevitably accumulate. They are usually the things that we let take up the most space but also the things we use the least frequently. Reclaiming that space in your home can be an emotional journey in itself, so here are some tips to make it easier.

Unclutter Sentimental Belongings

  1. Sentimental vs. Stuff
    When approaching this task, you have to prioritize distinguishing between what is really sentimental and what’s just stuff. When you come across a sentimental box or collection of items, consider how strong your memories really are. Is this a really special and unique item that has a strong emotional connection to the past? Or is it a generic gift that reminds you of someone but isn’t in itself a special belonging?
  2. Save One
    A very valuable and sentimental collection is important. Things can and do have meaning, and we shouldn’t be forced to live without things, even unessential things. However, this doesn’t mean you have to keep everything. When you come upon something very important to you, allow yourself to keep one part of it while letting go of the rest. Keep a cup from that porcelain set. Save one or two pictures from that envelope of polaroids.
  3. Digital Revolution
    Another way to keep things is virtually. Scan old documents, take pictures of sentimental items, and digitize old photos. Digital space is so much smaller than physical space. So if you’re really struggling with not wanting to forget about something (maybe you’ll want to read or look at something again), this is one way to “keep” it while still achieving your goal of decluttering your space.
  4. Journal About It
    An alternative to digitizing your belongings as a way to keep them in memory but not in material is to write a journal entry about it. Describe the item, get out what it means to you, reminisce on memories that are associated with it. Close the journal. Let the item go.
  5. Display it or use it
    The only things you should keep around are things that you can use or display. If you never use it and never display it, get rid of it. If this is too much for you, at least give yourself a limit. Find one box (smaller is better) that you allow yourself to store useless things in, and once you fill it up, you can’t add any more—replace something or leave it out.
  6. Reuse and Repurpose
    Can you find a way to repurpose this item to be more useful to you now? Quilting old shirts is a popular practice. Make an artistic display of your best stamps from your stamp collection and frame it.
  7. A Last Hurrah
    Put on that prom dress one last time. Take pictures and share them with others who were there with you. Relive those memories with laughter and smiles. Hold onto that feeling. Let go of the dress.
    Give your items a last hurrah. Honor it for a few minutes, a few hours, a day. Say goodbye and let it go.
  8. Regift or donate
    If you have a sentimental belonging that was specially made as a piece of art or craftsmanship, throwing it away will feel like a waste. Regifting it doesn’t devalue the artwork. Alternatively, donating it can pass the belonging to someone who needs it more than you do—and someone who will use it more than you do. This is a good solution for those quilts or ceramics someone in your family unloaded onto all of the relatives at some point.
  9. Quickly Away
    The sooner it gets out the door, the better. Don’t leave your “decluttering” in a box somewhere else in the house, waiting to be thrown out. Being decisive in getting it out of the house as soon as possible really cleans and clears out your home. Reclaim the space, don’t just reshuffle the clutter.

Getting the Right Mindset

There are so many thoughts and perspectives that often get in the way of decluttering. If you’re really struggling with letting these possessions go, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to reframe your thoughts and help your heart understand what needs to be done.

  1. “It was a gift!”
    I know this is something your relative gave you, but would that relative want it to be holding you down and cluttering your life today?
  2. “It helps me remember how sad I was during her passing…”
    Your belongings should make you feel good. You have a choice on what is and isn’t in your own home, your own spaces. Removing toxic or depressing belongings can help you focus on the positive memories and feelings that you have of this person or that time in your life. It can also help you let go of pain and hurt associated with those items or that person.
  3. “This is like throwing memories away.”
    Remember that this act is you taking back control of your life and space. You aren’t throwing memories away or challenging their important. You are simply creating breathing space for your present life. You are allowed to honor memories of things and people without hoarding every tangible thing that is relevant to them.
  4. “But I’ve had this forever!”
    Well, don’t you think that’s long enough? 🙂
  5. “I know I should get rid of this junk, but I just can’t get myself to do it…. Once I pick something up or start thinking about the past, it’s just too hard.”
    It’s okay to ask for help! Invite that supportive friend or family member over so that you can bounce your thoughts off of them. If touching something, holding it, and then letting it go is too hard, let them do some of the sorting. They can help give you the push you need as well as an outsider’s perspective on how irrational it really is to keep that box of socks. But, because they love you, they’ll be gentle.

Keeping your home clean and spacious helps you keep your peace of mind. A chaotic home creates a feeling of messiness and clutter, no matter how you organize it. We hope you the best in undertaking this task of decluttering sentimental items. Share this with your friends and family who could use the advice as well! Good luck.