Figuring out how many T shirts you need is one thing, decluttering sentimental items is more difficult. Emotions get in the way. But I have come up with some tips.
Decluttering sentimental items – leave them until last
Acknowledging that they can be difficult, Marie Kondo suggests leaving sentimental items until the end of your decluttering journey. Get your other affairs in order before you start on this category. By that stage your decluttering muscle will be stronger and you will have gained momentum.
Starting off decluttering sentimental items before anything else is like doing a sprint before a warm up, or tackling the hardest question first on a test. Build up to it.
Decluttering sentimental items – gifts
Marie Kondo says that once the gift has been given, it has done its job of granting joy. You are free to remove it when that time passes. The gift-giver wants you to be happy. More ideas about what to do with unwanted gifts here.
Decluttering sentimental items – incorporate or donate
If your aunty’s tea cups give you joy and are nice to drink out of, use them! If you love an old baby photo of yourself, frame and display it. If you adore the patchwork quilt your mum made before she died, throw it on the couch. Use the good stuff. If the rug is tattered, cut some pieces out and make them into a cushion that can be used. Try to repurpose sentimental items to maintain a smaller, more useful version of the memory.
Some sentimental items can be passed on to other family members. Collector cards can be sold on eBay to a more serious enthusiast. Your local op shop might take some of your other stuff. Honour your sentimental items by passing them onto a second life more worthy than being in a dusty shoebox.
Decluttering sentimental items – take a photo of it
This is an oldie but a goodie. If you aren’t planning to use or display your mum’s patchwork quilt, take a photo and get rid of the item. It takes up far less space that way. You can even have a digital photo album called ‘sentimental’, to stay organised and take a measured trip down memory lane when you feel like it. If your iCloud storage or hard drive is bursting at the seams, that’s another story.
Decluttering sentimental items – prioritise rather than annihilate
Be brave but realistic. If you have decluttered other parts of the house and have a spare shelf, you are allowed to keep some sentimental items. Just be intentional about it. Think about how much space you want to assign to sentimental stuff and declutter to reach that goal.
Focus not on what to discard, but on what to keep.
Also keep one of a bunch. If you have a whole album of Mount Fuji pics, just keep one snapshot rather than the whole lot. Prioritising is the key.
The birthday cards that say nothing except “from Sally” can go, but more personal meaningful items might make the cut.
Important: If you have sentimental items in other parts of your house but you don’t want them on display, they belong in this assigned area. A sentimental plate doesn’t belong with all your other plates if you aren’t going to use it. Old sentimental clothes you won’t wear don’t need to be hanging amidst your daily wear. That just slows down the process of getting dressed. And keeping all your sentimental items all in one spot reveals how many you have so that you can prioritise accordingly.
Decluttering sentimental items – it’s ok to put photos in the bin
You have my permission. The world won’t stop spinning if you throw entire photo albums away. Even if it’s your nana’s wedding album. Being intentional about it helps. If you are keeping them for your children, ask your children if they are actually interested rather than just assume. If you are keeping them because it just feels wrong to discard a dead person’s photos, challenge that feeling.
The item is not alive and has no value other than what you assign to it.
Let’s face it, a lot of photos taken before the digital age are dreadful. Blurry and nonsensical. When I went through my mum’s old albums there were photos of people I had never met, multiples of lacklustre shots and scenery pics from someone’s trip to the snowfields. They were kept because someone had gone to the trouble and expense of having them processed and committed to an album. That didn’t mean I had to care for them forever.
If it’s not good enough to display, it’s possibly not worth keeping. That goes for things like deflated decorative balloons, old dried flowers and all that other crap we hold onto.
Decluttering sentimental items – just do it
Notions of being kind to yourself and listening to your heart are sweet, but sometimes we have to do the hard stuff because we know it’s for the greater good. Get up early and go for a run, take your medicine, start your homework sooner and examine your feelings.
Doctrines of Stoicism and Buddhism embrace the idea that freedom and joy are found by releasing your grip on things you can’t control. That includes time. You can’t bring back the past by keeping a lock of hair or a wedding dress. The stoics urge you to acknowledge your feelings but challenge them. Buddhism says that all we have is now, so don’t dwell in the past.
Go with the flow like driftwood down a stream, rather than clinging to the future or past. Streams of psychology and other wisdom both ancient and current agree that being present and living in the moment is the ultimate state of being. Flex your courage. See what you can do without. If you do put your first-born’s lock of hair in the bin, what do you think will happen? Nothing, right? Play the scene right through. Exposure therapy by doing the hard thing, only makes you better at it.
Guilt without reason is wasted energy.
If you still need help examining your feelings about letting go, read this post.
If you need hands-on assistance decluttering your sentimental items or anything else, reach out and get in touch.