Decluttering Cure

There Are Only 5 Types of Sentimental Clutter Worth Keeping

published Sep 29, 2021
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Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

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By far the hardest thing to declutter is the sentimental stuff. I mean… there are a lot of feelings attached when you’re considering whether or not to let go of a cold-press juicer, so of course those emotions come out ten-fold when we’re talking about a treasured hand-me-down or an old gift from a good friend.

That said, not all sentimental clutter is worth hanging on to. For one thing, you can only really appreciate this stuff when you’re reminded about it, so your grandmother’s earrings aren’t jogging any of those good memories of her when they’re wrapped in tissue at the bottom of a storage box. And then there are things that might bring up unwelcome thoughts — like if you’re feeling distressed or remorseful about the things you’ve decided to hang on to, or the manner in which they were being stored.

Today, approach your sentimental clutter — wherever you have it stored — and try to make some decisions that start with the good stuff…

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Day 10: 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. Sentimental clutter is anything you’re hanging onto not for its usefulness or even its beauty, but just because of what it represents to you.

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. Then send the rest of it on to another home.

More Ways to Participate in the Decluttering Cure: