Sentimental clutter has been on my mind lately. As I move from decluttering my own life to coaching others on their decluttering projects, I have been struggling on how to advise others on sentimental clutter.
Sentimental clutter is the hardest of all items to declutter. My wife and I struggled with this during our decluttering in what we called the Big Purge and later in smaller purges. I had things from my childhood. Things like artwork from the many art classes I took in high school, stuffed animals from my childhood, yearbooks from high school, and a bunch of school papers my parents had saved.
We made a commitment early on to purposely live with less stuff, and with that commitment came the necessity to get rid of a portion of the sentimental clutter. But when coaching others, I have to account for varying levels of living-with-less. Some people want to go very minimal, like we did, while others simply want a little more room in closets, garages, or attics.
I decided to do what most people do when they need answers – I turned to Google. I searched for sentimental clutter and found some answers from some of my favorite minimalist bloggers.
I’m going to share links to the best of the Sentimental Clutter posts, but before I do I want to share my big picture overview.
The Sad Truth of Decluttering Sentimental Items
There is no definitive technique for decluttering sentimental items. I was looking for a magic bullet, but what I found instead were some random tips without a clear-cut answer.
You’re probably as disappointed to hear that as I am. The thing is, if you are decluttering kitchen items, I can give you a definitive technique – get rid of anything you haven’t used in the last six months. That doesn’t work with sentimental clutter. There is no definitive technique for decluttering sentimental items.
Given the lack of a single, well-defined technique, I’m going to throw a few tips your way followed by a bunch of links. If you struggle with sentimental clutter, follow all the links and read as much as you can. Figure out what ideas and tips will work for you. Beyond the tips, get comfortable with the idea that everyone struggles with sentimental items and gather support and encouragement from the articles you read.
My Tips for Decluttering Sentimental Items
My first tip is one my daughter taught me, and it makes me tear up a little every time I think about it. We were decluttering her stuffed animal collection. She loves to collect stuffed animals and as we were downsizing, we needed to downsize this huge collections of stuffies. She was five years old at the time.
She went through her animals and pulled out the keepers. For the items she decided to get rid of she would hug them tight, close her eyes, and say a silent goodbye.
It’s one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen, and she came up with it on her own.
1) Hold your sentimental items and spend a moment in memory and reflection. After you have done that, keep the memories, but let the items go.
The next tip is one that I have done many times, and it’s often a good place to start. As I went through my collection of sentimental items, I found things that didn’t have strong memory attachments. Things like movie tickets, birthday cards, and old school papers.
2) Consider the memories attached to the item. Immediately discard items without a strong memory attachment.
My final tip has to do with your children. We have a small collection of items that involve memories of our daughter. My wife keeps a small box of baby clothes. We have another small box of special art work and writing made by our daughter. We decluttered each of these areas and paired it down to the most special items and limited each to a single small box. What we’ve found is that these items pale in comparison to photos of our daughter. Each photo triggers a very specific memory. Some photos are printed, and some are digital, but no matter the format, they are more important than all the other physical sentimental items combined.
It was through photos that my wife was able to let go of many of the physical objects. She discovered that the memories were important and the stuff was not. While physical items like baby clothes and toys hold general memories of a period in time, photos triggered very specific memories, which ultimately she placed more value in.
3) Make sure the sentimental items trigger very specific fond memories. When possible take and keep photos of random events in your child’s life and choose to keep these photos over items that take up more space.
Those are my tips. Now I’d like to share tips from a number of minimalist and decluttering bloggers. Use the articles found here to inspire you and to create an action plan for your own decluttering of sentimental items.
Sentimental Clutter Tips from the Top Minimalist Bloggers
On All the Sentimental Stuff and Clutter by Courtney Carver
Letting Go of Sentimental Items by Joshua Fields Millburn
Parting with Sentimental Clutter by Erin Doland
How To Deal With Sentimental Clutter Without Feeling Guilty by Chris Tecmire (guest post)
How to Get Rid of Sentimental Clutter by Christa
7 Steps to Dealing with Sentimental Clutter by Marjorie Ingall
Disassociation Part 5 – Sentimental Clutter by Collen Madsen
Overcoming the Sentimental Sabotage of Clutter by Faith Janes
Pieces of My Heart by Annie Brewer (guest post)
Honoring your Past without Cluttering your Present by Rachel Jonat
Tips for Decluttering – Dealing with Sentimental Items by Debra Dane
To top off this list and bring it to a close, here is a 5 part series on Sentimental Clutter by Tanja Hoagland of Minimalist Packrat
1) Decluttering Sentimental Treasures (one of my favorites on this topic)
2) Raiders of the Lost Trunk: Sentimental Clutter
3) Saying Goodbye to Yesterday: Heirloom Clutter Q&A
4) Honoring Memories: Sentimental Clutter Series
5) A Minimalist Take on Treasures: Cherish Your Memories
Decluttering sentimental items will likely be a slow process, and that’s ok. It takes time to break the emotional bonds to sentimental objects, and it should be done at a pace that you are comfortable with. In most cases, if you have other decluttering to do, then by all means tackle those items first. Save the tough stuff for last as it is very important to gain some traction before getting bogged down in sentimental clutter.
One final tip is to make sure you are living for today and living for the future. Holding on to too much sentimental stuff keeps you rooted in the past and limits your future growth.
I’d like to hear from you. Do you have any tips that might be helpful when tackling the decluttering of sentimental items? This is an area that many people struggle with, so I welcome any tips you can provide. Please share your tips in the comments section below.