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How to Declutter Sentimental Items in 7 Steps

Even the most mundane items become sentimental in our homes. To help you let go of them, here’s how to declutter sentimental items in 7 steps.


Avi Hopkins

August 28, 2020

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When downsizing or preparing for a move, plenty of people struggle with figuring out how to declutter sentimental items.

This makes sense. After all, decluttering can be an intensely emotional process all on its own. Even the most mundane items take on special meaning once they enter our homes, and items linked to our most cherished memories become particularly potent.

Whether it’s linked to a memory from your life or the life of a loved one, our sentimental items are particularly hard to let go. However, there are many things you can do to let go of your sentimental items and possibly give them even more meaning! Here is how to declutter sentimental items in 7 steps:

1. Get started

This step may seem redundant, but many people struggle with this part the most. The idea of letting go of items can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult even to begin. That’s why it’s incredibly important to confront that fear and make the first move.

2. Organize the items

Organizing your sentimental items can mean different things. If you’re organizing items from your own life, consider categorizing them based on different time periods, interests, or parts of your personality.

This same process works for items belonging to loved ones as well.  Are there items linked to their time in the military? Were they an avid music fan who acquired numerous pieces of memorabilia?

Once you finish organizing, you can go about selecting the pieces that best represent each category. That way, the sentimental value of each item isn’t lost, but one item can come to represent something more significant.

3. Make note of where the memories really come from

As you’re considering an item to declutter, ask yourself what memory is linked to it. Does that memory have to do with that item in particular, or does it remind you of something broader? If the item itself is tied to a specific memory, then it might be worth keeping. If not, then there are other ways you might better capture those feelings.

4. When possible, digitize

If an item itself doesn’t have a specific place in your memory, there are a few ways you can preserve the feeling it evokes that allows you to part with it the object itself. Consider taking a picture of the item, or writing out a detailed description of the memory linked to it. Better yet, do both!

5. Ask yourself why you’re hanging onto something

Sometimes, people lose track of why they’re hanging onto a sentimental item.

When decluttering, it’s important to consider this fact. Does holding onto an item make you happy? Things like that are good candidates for keeping. Or perhaps holding onto an object is making you feel sad. Maybe you’re holding onto it out of guilt, or out of fear of experiencing a sense of loss.

When these complicated emotions arise, it’s important to give yourself time to sort through them. Acknowledging those feelings is a vital part of learning how to move on from them.

6. Let go of gifts (and the guilt associated with them)

Some of the most common items linked to guilt are gifts. People feel guilty for parting with something someone else gave them. The feeling is understandable. It comes from the idea that you’d somehow be disrespecting the sentiments of the gift giver.

However, remember that the giver’s positive feeling came from the act of giving the gift. If you’re not using it, or it’s become a burden, there are better ways to honor that person’s gift.

7. When you’re ready: repurpose, regift, or donate

If you have an item that you want to declutter but are unsure how to part with, there are several meaningful things you can do:

You can repurpose items for better use around your home. If possible, consider turning them into wall decorations or featuring them in a shadow box. Better yet, if you’re hanging onto functional items like silverware, use them! The more you bring those items into your everyday life, the more opportunities you’ll have to relive the memories associated with them.

You can regift items to friends and family. Perhaps a younger relative is a sports aficionado who would get more joy out of you or your loved one’s memorabilia than you do now. Regifting is a chance for someone else to experience those cherished memories you already enjoy.

And if no one in your immediate family is ready to accept your sentimental items, you can still spread positivity if you donate them to local organizations. Doing so gives things a chance to become sentimental all over again for someone else.

These are just some of the options for how to declutter sentimental items.

Some of your items might not be easily categorized, digitized, repurposed, or donated. But no matter what, there are certain steps you can take regardless of the specifics. It’s important to start the process of decluttering sentimental items, but make sure you give yourself time to consider the emotions attached to each memento. Giving yourself that space means you'll feel confident in your decisions to keep things or let them go.

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