Discarding your sentimental items is difficult – a lifetime of memories for you, of less relevance to your family and (let’s face it) junk to everyone else. But if you are serious about decluttering your home you need to tackle these items if you are going to achieve the aim – less stuff. So if you are downsizing because you are moving to a smaller house, or just because you recognise that leaving it all for your surviving relatives to manage, you need to have a serious look at sentimental items.
You have to give yourself some amount of slack. If you rush it then you’ll feel pressured to get rid of the items that you really like. It’s about finding the right balance between discarding trivia and incidentals and keeping the meaningful and historic.
Start off by gathering your sentimental items from all over your house or apartment – your whole space. You might be saving most of it in one location and then that’s easy – but try to go through other rooms and find the lurking pieces in odd cupboards and drawers. Lay it out on a bed or the floor and try to get an overview. Having an appreciation of the size of the task is a useful approach and will give you a timescale and space assessment.
Then try dividing your accumulated contents into different categories. You might have photos, toys, clothes, journals, soft toys and a miscellaneous corner. You might see when you start doing this that one or two piles are a lot bigger than the rest of them. If you have a really big pile of teddy bears then you might not need to keep all of them. If you have a huge collection of books or pictures then it might be time to dispose of some. Being selective by category should mean you keep the most valued items in each.
You could also try a keep/discard/undecided policy. As you sort, the first two categories may well be obvious and leave you with a small selection of items. You can filter these according to your available space or ruthlessness spectrum. You can also ask other people in your family if there’s something they want or like, as there might be things in your pile that have a lot of memories for others, less so for you.
Getting rid of your sentimental items is of course emotional. It’s hard going through all of your things but you have to examine pieces one at a time. Consider – do I really want to keep this, what memories do I have attached with it and does it make up for the space that I need to store it? Will my family value it as I do? Can I donate it to a good cause? Is it valuable? Unique? So many questions, and memories – but also a cathartic experience as you recall those memories and experiences.
It’s easier to get rid of some items than others. Clothes for example, either fit or don’t. There may be sentimentality attached (a wedding dress is often a keeper) . There are also questions of style and condition – usually clothes should be an easy section to deal with. There are charities that will collect old clothes – and of course there is always EBay.
But all of those rules kind of don’t apply to sentimental things you kept them because you’re emotionally attached. That’s why this area is a lot more difficult than just going through your wardrobe or your cupboards in your kitchen. It’s really important to be patient with yourself but at the same time keep in mind that it’s just stuff and most people just keep so much more than what actually brings them joy or value in any way.
It’s a lot more enjoyable when you boil it down to what really matters to you. You might be one who saved your school papers, reports, certificates and brochures. If it gives you pleasure to view this stuff that’s part of your character, and that’s perfectly fine. But you won’t get far if you also apply that level of retention to other areas so you have to be selective if you are going to progress.
If you cannot make progress, try asking yourself three questions:
- If you had to purchase the item yourself, would you?
- If you received the item as a gift would, would you still keep it?
- Does the item bring back some happy memories?
You will need to be analytical, logical, realistic. And you will feel guilty about discarding something that you inherited yourself – but ask yourself whether if you passed it on to a future generation would it be received with thanks? Is the jewellery that was stylish in the fifties be of any use in today’s world? How about that chisel that you saved from your father – a useful tool in it’s day, likely blunt and worn by now. Be thankful for the memory – discard the relic.
The truth is that you heirs and successors will thank you for making their task of discarding your sentimental items easier. So it’s a worthwhile exercise, if a difficult one.