Decluttering Cure

This Type Of Clutter is the Most Difficult to Part with — a Master KonMari Consultant Shows You How

published Sep 27, 2022
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Shelf in someone's home with sentimental objects including greeting cards, small souvenirs, framed art
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Apartment Therapy’s Decluttering Cure is a free two-week decluttering program that’ll help you achieve a tidier home. Joining us today is guest cure-ator Emi Louie, a master KonMari consultant, Blisshaus stylist, and professional home organizer. She helps people break free from clutter and the emotional weight that comes with it so that they can focus on living life with more joy and intention.

We’ve reached the part of this decluttering process where things get really tough — because sentimental clutter is by far one of the hardest things to let go of. When you’re tinged with nostalgia or filled with sadness as you go through your things, it can prevent you from taking on or finishing a project.

I get it. I still keep my memorabilia in a very overstuffed box that’s just one postcard away from breaking apart. But not all sentimental items are worth the walk down memory lane. When these items start to bring up only difficult moments or bad feelings — they shouldn’t have a place in your home. 

And for the items you do love, tucking them away in a box or drawer never to be seen doesn’t give them the adoration they deserve either. 

Day 9: Streamline your sentimental clutter

Today, we’re going to take our sentimental clutter out of its hiding places and streamline it. What’s considered sentimental clutter? It’s something you hold onto because it represents something to you, evoking memory and emotion in the process.

Sentimental items tend to be difficult to declutter because there are so many emotions to them, says Emi Louie, a master KonMari consultant and professional organizer. And they tend to be wholly unique, like something passed down from family. That’s why it’s the last category to address in the KonMari method.

Since this is a big undertaking, be sure you’re checking in with yourself and going at a comfortable pace. As today’s guest cure-ator, Louie shares how you can sort and streamline your sentimental clutter:

Know your why. Why are you decluttering your sentimental clutter in the first place? That could be because you’re downsizing, need the space, or it’s creating stress, says Louie. Be very clear on what your “why” is because it’ll help center you as you go through this emotional process.

Identify your vision. Figure out what the vision is for your home and your sentimental clutter. Perhaps you want to organize and archive your family history, display the photos you love, or put everything on a USB drive so you can travel the world, says Louie. It doesn’t have to be a physical representation either. It could be preparing things now for how you want to be remembered in the future (or what you want to pass down to your children).

Gather and categorize. Bring all like items together so that you can see the actual volume of what you own and if you have any duplicates. This will also help you to compare items and see what’s more meaningful to you. When you categorize, you’ll want to break things down and focus on one category at a time. Common categories are photographs, childhood things (like stuffed animals), paper (such as journals or ticket stubs) family heirlooms, and cultural items. In addition to categorizing by type of item, you can also categorize by time frame or location, such as the road trips you took or places you’ve visited.

Choose. Start to curate the items to support your vision for your sentimental items and your home, shares Louie, because if “everything is special, nothing is special.” Pull out the key items that tell the story, whether that’s the trip you took or your growth over the last decade. “Identify what serves you now and what you want to become rather than who you were before,” she says.

Discard. When you decide to let go of items, be sure to thank them. “What this does is for the most meaningful things that you have, it makes it easier to send them off,” says Louie. Consider discarding it in a meaningful way too. The KonMari method recommends wrapping photos in pretty paper before placing them in the trash. In Japan, some shrines take old dolls and toys so that they can be given a new life spiritually, shares Louie.

Store. Take the items you’re keeping and store them in a way that’ll protect and honor them. Perhaps you’ve decluttered a shelf recently and these items can take over that space or you want to create a photo collage and display it on the wall. 

LOUIE’S PRO TIP: Letting go of your sentimental items can be emotional, so consider “eventizing” it. Creating an event around decluttering your sentimental clutter will make it easier to do so. Invite friends and family over to join in on the process. You can call (phone or video) or come together to go through items. This gives your things a “last hoorah” too.

Share with us your sweet sentimental stories in the comments below. If you participated in the pro tip, let us know what your “decluttering event” was!

More ways to participate in the Decluttering Cure:

The Cure Program is a tradition here at Apartment Therapy — it happens every January, April, and September. Click here to learn more about the year-round program and when to sign up.