How to Declutter Sentimental Items – Keeping the Memory

How to declutter sentimental items

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This is one of the hardest topics to address when discussing a life of simplicity and minimalism: how to declutter sentimental items. It’s hard because sentimental items tend to be cherished and many do not wish to “abandon” the memories tied to the item.

How to declutter sentimental items

I bring this topic up now because my grandmother is terminally ill. I recently went to visit her. During my visit she kept commenting on how horribly she felt for her children because of the amount of “stuff” she had accumulated over the years. My grandmother made it a point to tell us that she only wants us to take what we need, to not feel obligated to hold onto these items. She said whatever we did not need we could call Salvation Army to come pick up.

We are fortunate here. My grandmother is a very kind soul, one who will be greatly missed. Many are not so lucky in situations like these (a deceased loved one can be a tough situation to get through, our hearts go out to all). They wind up with hundreds of items accumulated over the years and feel forced into keeping them. They may even be told to keep the items, thus feeling even more forced and trapped.

Many will tell you that with a life a minimalism you cannot hold onto these sentimental items, they’re just holding you back. There are three things you can do with sentimental items:

  1. The extreme measure: Embrace the memory and let go of the item. Acknowledge that the item does not hold the memory, you do.
  2. The lack of change: Hold onto the item and refuse to move forward, anchoring yourself to the past and the memory. Perhaps you’re just not ready to let the item go. Perhaps it was a gift from a deceased relative. Or perhaps the item is a family heirloom passed down for the last 100 years. Whatever the reason – you’re NOT letting go!
  3. Meet in the middle: Compromise. Realize the item is not the memory, but yet you still would like to hold onto the item as it brings you happiness or joy.

We approach sentimental items differently than most. If you feel comfortable letting the item go and moving on, great! If you don’t, this could be a better option for you: Compromise. Perhaps you are not ready to let these items go, but you realize that the amount of space these items take up is valuable and could be used to serve a better purpose. There’s a few ways you can turn sentimental items into items of value or items that fill a need.

For example: The worldly traveler may accumulate a lot of t-shirts during their journeys. They may wind up having 100+ t-shirts that each holds their own memory, thus tying them to the item. But these 100+ shirts come with a hefty price. Every time the worldly traveler moves they must pack these shirts up and haul them around. They lose valuable closet and dresser space to the shirts. And with age, these shirts become ragged and no longer wearable. There’s a solution here though. These t-shirts can be combined together to create a quilt!  For more info how to turn your t-shirts into a quilt, visit here: T-Shirt Quilt.

The quilt is both useful and holds a memory. Plus, it’ll take up a fraction of the space that your t-shirts did. You can combine childhood clothing, old stuffed animals, and even other blankets together to create a quilt that not only holds the memories but can also keep you warm at night.

For items that are not easily combined into a quilt there are other options you can do:

  1. Turn old and worn down wood or furniture into fresh and useful furniture pieces.
  2. Old family jewelry can be combined into a charm bracelet.
  3. Pass the items along to someone else in need that you trust, perhaps a family friend.
  4. Take a picture of the sentimental item if you must hold onto something.

One final note: It is important to recognize why we hold onto some of these items. Sometimes these items come to us from deceased relatives and we feel obligated to hold onto them. Or perhaps the item was given in a kind gesture as a gift but was just never used to its full potential. For items such as these, the only reason we hold onto them is because we feel we must. This causes unnecessary stress and unhappiness. We don’t really want the item but feel forced into it. It’s time to let these items go. Your happiness comes first, and in situations like these you can find someone else who will find pleasure, use, and happiness in these items.


For tips on how to begin your decluttering journey, you can Start Here, or snag a copy of the 30 Day Challenge (our Minimalism and Decluttering eBook).

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