It’s hard enough to declutter your junk…but getting rid of boxes of memories? That’s a whole other game! Here are 6 steps to helping understand what, why and HOW to let go, and finally declutter sentimental items.
When my husband’s dad passed away, several years ago, he left behind so much more than amusing stories to tell at dinner, love shared in tender moments and an amazing family legacy. He left behind hundreds of trinkets, piles and piles of papers and a lot more “memories” that were hard to give up. My husband has natural pack rat tendencies (I’m pretty sure he got it from his dad from the amount of things we have been lugging around of his) and those items spoke to him in a way that was hard for me to understand. His dad’s trinkets and boxes (and boxes) of business cards were a reminder of his childhood and a connection to his father.
I know he’s not alone in his desires to hang on to every single object that he has given emotional value. As a mom, it is hard to decide what school papers to keep, what items of baby clothing we will want to smell and reminisce about later on, and how can we ever part with our collection of handmade mothers day gifts, no matter how big, bulky (and if we’re being honest with ourselves…hideous) they are!
The urge to hold on to these items is completely normal, it’s like your security blanket. You worry that you will be all alone in the world if you don’t have your “stuff”…but there is another part of you that just wants to be free of it. You either don’t have the space to store it, or you don’t actually love the thing itself, but the memory attached to it.
There is a Buddhist saying “Holding things with an open hand, not a closed fist.” I love this quote when working on decluttering things that hold memories. It takes some practice to understand and get good at this practice, but it is something that when done regularly will help you to feel more free, happier and to focus on the memory itself, rather than the item attached to it.
Here are 6 steps to successfully declutter sentimental items.
6 Steps to Declutter Sentimental Items
1-Time is a Healer
Do not try to declutter your sentimental items while your heart is still tender. Right after a loved one dies is not the time to start letting go of memories. If you are cleaning out a house full of someone’s things, throw the obvious junk away and then box the rest up and let some time pass before going through the emotional items. Wait around six months, or until you feel emotionally well enough to open those boxes that will be difficult.
This is also good advice for those art projects and school papers that come home. When your child is handing you their masterpiece with those big eyes looking at you for approval, that is not the time to choose if the item is a keeper or not. Enthusiastically take every art work and writing sample and display or put it in a “special place”. At the end of the school year, or beginning of the following school year, take a half hour and pick your favorites. Once you put some time between you and the projects, you can see what you will really want to keep, and what can be recycled.
2-Don’t Declutter Sentimental Items Alone
This is always solid advice for just about anything that is difficult. Get a friend to help you declutter sentimental items…just make sure you choose the right friend for the job. You don’t want the friend that is going to pick up every item, cry and tell you to keep everything. You want the friend who will be sympathetic, but also let you know that it really is okay to throw away a broken can opener. Sometimes all it takes is someone who will hold your hand and tell you it’s okay, and know when it’s time to take a break and go get a milkshake. 🙂
3-Send it to the Cloud
One of the best ways to declutter sentimental items and make sure you don’t forget the memories associated with them, is to take a photo and make sure it’s saved online at least a couple places. Share the story on your social media pages so that it will continue to live on. Display the pictures in a fun way. If you are taking care of the effects of a passed on loved one, take photos of everything before you start and make a photo book. Let others who would be interested order a copy so that the memories can be shared…without taking up a whole house full of space.
This is another way to preserve all those precious art pieces as well. Take photos and put them in an app like ArtKive, or make a special Chatbook just for their art work. It will be even more special if you include some photos of them creating the art, or holding their masterpiece after. Bonus…these are AWESOME grandparent gifts for the holidays! Make it once and order multiple copies!
4-Keep one, Toss the Rest
Meaning, if you have a collection to decide what to do with…choose your favorite piece to represent the many. If your grandma had a collection of teacups (I have a friend with this problem) and you don’t collect teacups…keep the one that you would like to see on a shelf in your home and donate the rest. When you are going through your babies clothes, choose 1-3 items instead of their whole newborn wardrobe. Then you can store them safely in a pretty box where you can easily access them when your teenager makes you forget why you love them. wink
And when you come across your dads boxes of business cards…(ahem), keep one and throw out the other 499!
5-Share the Love
It’s much easier to declutter sentimental items, if you can see someone else using and loving them. This is especially true for things like clothing. BUT, and this is a big BUT -haha big butt! 😉 – Don’t burden someone else with the emotional story with the item if they won’t truly and really use it and love it. Let’s face it, sometimes one man’s junk…is just junk! If your friend loves baking and your grandma had a set of antique or cute measuring cups that would go beautifully in her kitchen, YES. If your friend is a minimalist and you try and gift her your collection of worthless beanie babies for her children, NO! (True story, had a friend who tried to give me hers, I’m sure my face showed absolute horror instead of appreciation like I’m sure she was expecting).
Everything else give to donation centers that can really use it. Women’s shelters, hospitals, schools, homeless shelters…there is always somebody that would appreciate clothing, toys, books, etc…
6-Make Decluttering Sentimental Items an Ongoing Process
If you make a habit of constantly clearing clutter, even it’s just a few things a day, it will be a lot easier to decide when the sentimental items come up. Decluttering is a muscle that needs to be worked out all the time! Here’s some things you can do if you are deciding on something. Hold the item in your open hand, (not a closed fist, remember?) and really look at it. Ask yourself…Is it being used on a regular basis? Is it something you want to have displayed (and do you enjoy it being displayed) in your home? Does it feel better to let it go?
If you feel like you want to keep it, but the only place for it is in storage, then feel free to email me so that I can tell you it’s okay to get rid of it! 😉
The items you do decide to keep, make sure you are using them. If you decide to save your mom’s dishes, donate your own and use hers. If you keep your friend’s coat, wear it when the weather chills. When you use those sentimental items, you will feel closer to the memories associated with them and enjoy them more fully. If using the item doesn’t bring you joy…you can then let it go without the guilt.