Decluttering Cure

You Can Streamline Your Sentimental Clutter with These 5 Tips

published Sep 20, 2020
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Sentimental clutter is both the hardest and the easiest clutter to handle.

It’s the hardest because there are feelings involved. Big feelings. And sometimes letting go of objects feels like you’re also letting go of people, memories, or stages of life.

But let me flip the script on sentimental clutter for a moment. Most things you keep because they’re functional. (Even if you use a turkey baster once a year, you still use it.) But sentimental items are things you keep around because of the feelings they inspire. And you can’t relish in those memories (aka your objects can’t demonstrate their value) if those things are tucked in a dusty box in the attic.

Decluttering Tip: Try to establish a penchant for displaying your sentimental items, rather than storing them. You really only need to keep what you can cherish day to day.

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It really can be that easy. This whole thing is mental, I promise you. So brace yourself, and get going on today’s mission….

Credit: Minette Hand

Day 13: Streamline your sentimental clutter.

Today, your mission is to sort through some (or all) of your sentimental clutter, and decide what you want to keep. Open up the closets, drag out the boxes, and find your most feelings-rich stuff.

What counts as sentimental? Anything you’re hanging onto not for its usefulness or even its beauty, but just because of what it represents to you.

I chose the words for this assignment—decide what you want to keep—carefully. Unlike when we’re rifling through the kitchen looking for cookie cutters from Christmas ’09, I don’t want you to approach your sentimental clutter searching for things to eliminate. I want you to consider the things you’re storing, and make value-rich decisions on the things that mean the most to you.

Here’s what’s worth keeping, in my opinion:

  • Keep things that bring back quality memories. Especially anything you hadn’t thought about in a while. Don’t hang on to things that bring back unwelcome feelings. Notice I say “unwelcome” rather than “sad.” You’ll know an unwelcome feeling when you feel it.
  • Keep a few treasured things from a bigger collection. If you have a big collection of, say, mugs or snow globes or birthday cards, a good way to maintain order is to curate your collection, like you’re in a museum. Keep a few of the very best or most memorable, and pass some of the less interesting ones to a new home.
  • Keep small capsules from moments of your life. You might decide to dedicate a shoe box each to a stage of your life—childhood, college, your first kid—then fill it with small mementos from each era.
  • Keep things that can be made into other, more useful things. Turn ticket stubs into art, or t-shirts into a quilt. Instead of keeping a childhood toy, you could decide to have professional portraits or illustrations done to remember it by. Even just taking an old photograph and using it as a bookmark means you’re getting to enjoy it 10 times more than when it’s stuffed in a box in the attic.
  • Keep things you want to keep. You don’t have to be the keeper of your family’s mementos unless it’s something you personally value.

Once you’ve picked through a decent share of your mementos and found many things you love, step back for a moment. If you only kept those things, how would that feel? Could you let the rest go?

More importantly: How do you feel? Was sorting through the things a touching trip down memory lane? If you’ve got space to store it, keep some or all of it and don’t apologize. But if you were feeling distressed or remorseful about the things you’ve decided to hang on to, or the manner in which they were being stored, you’re a great candidate to let it go. Make room for the things you’ve decided to keep so far, and send the rest of it on to another home.

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