Marie Kondo’s Best Advice for Dealing with Sentimental Clutter

updated Jan 9, 2020
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(Image credit: Denise Crew/Netflix)

Watching Marie Kondo help people tidy up their homes (and oftentimes their personal lives in the process) in her Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” is heartwarming and inspiring. Using her signature KonMari Method, which divides decluttering into five categories, sentimental items are addressed last—and for good reason. Here’s what we’ve learned from the world-renowned tidying expert.

Hold each item one by one, and see if it sparks joy

At the center of the KonMari Method is this idea of sparking joy, something that is honed throughout the process, beginning with clothing and followed by books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and finally sentimental items. In the first episode, “Tidying with Toddlers,” Kondo told the Friend family that the ultimate goal of tidying is to cherish everything in order to achieve happiness and live comfortably.

Show gratitude for items you’re letting go of

This lesson rings true through all stages of the tidying process, but it’s especially important when handling sentimental items. In the episode “Sparking Joy After a Loss,” Margie Hodges decided to let go of a dress she’s had since she was nursing her children (her youngest daughter, Lucy, is now almost 26). Kondo told Hodges that when letting go of an item associated with a lot of memories, it’s important to say a heartfelt thank you.

Find a proper home and storage method for everything

In getting and staying tidy, having a proper place to store things is key. For the cherished Christmas decorations belonging to Wendy and Ron Akiyama, who worked with Kondo in the “Empty Nesters” episode, this meant storing them in clear boxes instead of piled on top of their pool table and in garbage bags. For photos, this meant keeping them in a nice box or album and storing them in a place that sparks joy, like a bookshelf or coffee table.

Categorize photos by year or events

Handling photos can be its own beast, and Kondo’s advice is to make a pile and trust in your ability to know what sparks joy for you. Go through each one individually, and if you come across similar photos, keep the one that sparks the most joy. When organizing a pile of miscellaneous photos, Kondo advises categorizing them by year, events, or both.

Save sentimental items for last

Delving into personal items too early on—especially when addressing the belongings of a loved one—can stall the tidying process. When Hodges insisted on sorting through her late husband’s personal effects early on, Kondo allowed her to do so but noted that normally when working on sentimental items too quickly (before sufficiently honing the ability to determine what sparks joy) you can get stuck.