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Decluttering would be easy if it was just a case of getting out a large garbage bag and recycling box and filling them up.  But it isn’t; especially when it comes to sentimental items.

It’s psychological too.  I have a wooden CD holder in my upstairs spare room closet that my late father made when he bought his first computer.  Will I ever part with it even though nobody uses CD’s anymore, it’s obsolete, my kids are never going to want it, it’s large and it takes up a lot of space?  Not likely, and I think the reason is obvious.

I was very proud of my Dad for learning about technology, at the tender age of 80, and his desire to merge that with his skill in woodwork.   But are there things that I have disposed of after he passed that belonged to him?  Yes, absolutely (I have three kids, one husband and no farm!).  And, here’s the really neat thing.  Of the things that I disposed of that belonged to my father?  I don’t even remember what they were!

We all have material possessions in our life that we will never part with because of their sentimental value.  But that doesn’t mean we have to keep each and every item.  Here’s some help in figuring out which sentiments mean “keep it!” and which thoughts about belongings can easily be changed.

woman ripping photograph and grimacing

Dispose of Anything That Evokes a Negative Memory

I have a rule that I have used organically for most of my life.  If I own something and it causes me fear, embarrassment, disappointment, regret – you get the picture – it’s gonzo!  There are exceptions to this rule (very few), but for the most part, I don’t want it!

Life is difficult for everyone, and we all have memories we can do without.  If something evokes a bad memory enough to cause you to feel a negative emotion, it isn’t worth keeping.

Inherited Items – Don’t Keep Everything, Less is More

In the early weeks and months after someone’s passing, it is difficult to part with anything that belonged to your loved one.  But eventually life goes on, and things like a move, a lack of space or storage or a growing family can make it necessary to make some difficult choices.

The underlying feeling in this process is always, “I just can’t part with any of this stuff because it belonged to mom (or Dad, or brother, etc.).”  It’s almost like losing the person, and that part of your life, all over again.  But, the reality is that, for the most part, it is the same connection that is attached to each and every item.

So, lay everything out in front of you, and take 1 item away.  Is the feeling you had for your lost loved one gone?  No, it’s still there, and there are still wonderful memories amongst the items that are left.

Do it again.  And, again.  And try to pick items each time that evoke the least memory or feeling.  And, eventually, you will down to a number of items that you can live with, store, and enjoy.

Release Yourself of Guilt

Sometimes, when we have sentimental items that have been left to us, we feel an underlying sense of uneasiness or guilt that if something meant so much to our loved one, that they would be doing them a disservice or otherwise betraying them if we dispose of it.

The truth is, if the item doesn’t mean anything to you, you are causing yourself more stress by keeping it than the guilt of disposing of it could ever cause.  Find someone who would cherish it, and feel good about the fact that your loved one would have preferred that anyway.

Take Photographs of Larger Items 

If you have items that are larger that you cannot keep, but that still hold a special place in your heart, take photographs of them.  You might want to even display them.  After all, photographs don’t have to be only of people, and if seeing the item puts a welcome feeling in your heart, by all means they should be close by.  I’m all about surrounding myself with items that put a smile on my face.

This will also work if you are left large collections of things that you cannot keep.  Did Grandma leave you her china set?  Take a photograph of the entire set, and keep two tea cups, one for you and one to remind you of her, and donate the rest of the set to someone who would really appreciate or need it.

Sentimental Antique Tea Set

Store Items in Full View (Sort of)

Sentimental items are not typically items that you will access often, but you still want to be able to see them when the mood strikes, and of course, keep them safe and free of mold, dirt or condensation.  Try storing them in places where no one would guess they are, but that can still serve a purpose in your home.  Things like, in decorative storage baskets or a decorative storage trunk or storage bench.

And, for smaller items, maybe something like this.

That way, your sentimental items are still accessible for you, but they don’t add clutter or look unorganized in your home.

Try to remember that not everything you have a sentimental attachment to is clutter, and if you have something that you use or that you just plain like, keep it!

Belongings that evoke strong memories are very difficult to part with, however although this seems like a lengthy process, once the sentimental stuff is dealt with, the rest of your home will be a piece of cake!