When it comes to decluttering, some items are a no-brainer — we can easily clear worn-out clothing, mismatched tupperware and that pile of junk magazines we’ll never get around to reading.
But what about things that have sentimental value?
This challenge comes up A LOT for us in professional organizing: items that don’t have a specific place in the home but feel too complicated to part with.
And we get it! We’re emotional beings — and we, too, to associate certain items with memories and feelings. And while sentimental keepsakes aren’t a problem, growing collections of sentimental clutter can be.
If you’re struggling with organizing or managing your sentimental belongings, we have a few tips to help you with the process.
REMEMBER: MEMORIES ARE NOT THINGS
Our first tip is simply that: our memories are WITHIN US, not within our things.
This does not mean that you have to clear away all your sentimental items! It simply means that you can still preserve the memories, whether or not you decide to keep the items.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP
When it comes to decluttering of any kind, we find that initially focusing on the “must-haves” is often more successful than trying to decide what to discard.
Set aside a specific amount of time dedicated to simply sorting through your keepsakes. You may even want to tackle it in sections, over a period of days. The goal is to identify the things that you truly love.
A few questions to consider as you sort:
- What do I love about this?
- Why is it significant to me?
- Can I use this? Remember, sentimental items can be put to practical use!
- Can I display this or repurpose this? If it’s not a practical item that can be used in your home, is there a way to re-use or display this? Make sure you think about WHERE and HOW you’ll do this.
GET RID OF THE GUILT
We’ve all received a gift that doesn’t suit us, that we’d like to give away, but we can’t bear the thought of someone asking “Where’s the ____ I gave to you?” and having to fess up.
Unfortunately, we’re going to have “tough love” you on this one. Gifts should NOT be a burden.
It’s a beautiful gesture to give a gift or pass something down. But in the end, it’s truly up to the recipient to decide what to do with it. Keeping something out of guilt doesn’t really benefit anyone.
If you’ve sorted through your collection and found things that are neither practical nor beloved that you can’t quite get rid of, consider following our next tip.
GIFT + DONATE
Sometimes it’s easier to let go of something when you know that it will be loved and appreciated by the recipient. Note to those gifters above!
Instead of doing a general donation, research local organizations that specialize in the item you’re giving away.
This might be a charity that repurposes evening gowns, an after-school organization that would be thrilled to utilize your parent’s camera collection or a local knittery would welcome the yards of yarn your grandmother collected with open arms.
And consider your friends and family members, as well! Passing items on to someone you love might make those gifts all the more memorable AND help alleviate any guilt if you have to explain where they went.
You can also document your things before you gift or donate them.
This might look like taking a quick photo (an easy go-to in our digital world!) or perhaps writing a note about the item, which will help solidify its memory. Scrapbookers — this is really your chance to shine!
We’ve shared in the past about a company we love that helps you document and display your mementos. We’ve used this service for our own kiddos’ artwork and projects, and it’s a beautiful option for ANY collection!
CREATE A KEEPSAKE BOX
There are so many categories of sentimental items, and we know that not everything is going to be able to be used or displayed.
As such, we think it’s perfectly acceptable to have archival or keepsake boxes! We don’t advocate putting EVERY LITTLE THING in there, but choosing a few treasured items for yourself and your kiddos each year can create a beautiful box of mementos to pass along one day.
If you have larger collections of things you’re struggling with — vintage t-shirts, greeting cards, teacups, tschotskes — consider keeping just one, favorite item from the set to memorialize them all.
Our goal is always for people to feel comfortable with what they’re keeping AND what they’re giving away. If you find yourself struggling with any or all of these tips, feel free to set your collection aside and come back to it down the road. Sometimes time will give you all the clarity that you’re seeking.
And consider grabbing a friend or family member — or a member of our team! — to help you go through your items. Having someone who’s not emotionally invested can help you edit your items through a different lens. And as a bonus, they’ll be there to help you enjoy and relive the memories that this process brings!
Joni + Kitt
For more inspiration, check out: