CSO Blog: How to Tackle Sentimental Clutter

How to Tackle Sentimental Clutter

Sentimental Keepsakes vs. Sentimental Clutter

More than clothing, paper, sporting equipment, or perhaps any other clutter, sentimental clutter is very challenging for most people to sort and part with. There is a difference between sentimental keepsakes and sentimental clutter. Your wedding dress that your daughter is going to wear someday, or your mother’s Thanksgiving turkey platter that makes you smile each year when you use it for the holidays, those things are not clutter because they add value to your life. The 7 giant plastic bins of random photos that fill up your guest bedroom, the porcelain doll collection of your grandmother’s that is just collecting dust in your basement, or the old suitcase that has a broken handle and is no longer functional but you keep because it was your grandfather’s, those things are clutter because they have no use in your current life. In order to differentiate if something is a sentimental keepsake or if it is sentimental clutter, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is this item currently useful in my daily life?
  • Does this item make me happy when I see it/use it/wear it?

If you answered “no” to either of those questions, there is a good chance the item is sentimental clutter, and not a sentimental keepsake.

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Before You Begin Tackling Sentimental Clutter

There are a few important things to consider before you tackle sentimental clutter. One is that it is hard to go through everything all at once, and it is easy to get discouraged if you bite off more than you can chew. Tackle one project, area, or category at a time. Complete that successfully, and then move on to the next one. Another thing to be aware of when going through sentimental clutter is that it can be an emotionally taxing process. Be kind to yourself. Take your time, ask a friend or give me a call to go through it with you if you need some support.

Tell yourself you are only going to keep the things that make you happy and add positive energy to your life, and that you will let go of the items that might bring up painful or negative memories or that take up valuable space in your home. You also might need to go through your sentimental clutter a few times before you can really pare it down to just the worthy keepsakes. Let yourself do one round of elimination, see how that feels, and then proceed to get rid of more the second time around if you can.

Strategies for Ridding Sentimental Clutter

When you’re ridding to dig in, here are a few tips for sorting through sentimental clutter:

Take a Picture

  • One of the simplest strategies for getting rid of sentimental clutter is taking a picture of the object so you have the memory and the visual reminder, but you don’t have to actually store the item itself. This is a great place to start. The one word of caution here is of course to make sure you back up your computer or put the photos on Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud so that photo is secure if your computer crashes.

Reduce the Size of a Collection – Pick your Favorites

  • Collections are a source of sentimental clutter for many. Whether it’s a stamp collection from childhood, a collection of snow globes from your travels, or a Beanie Baby collection that you were hoping would pay for your retirement, consider reducing the quantity and just keep a few favorites. If you have a collection of 20 items, consider picking your favorite 5, and parting with the rest. Sometimes when the collection is smaller, you can actually enjoy it more by finding a special place to display the few items that you keep instead of having boxes and boxes of them in storage.

Set Limits on What You Keep

  • Similar to collections, set quantity caps on other items that you keep. For example, if you have 6 boxes of baby clothes from when your children were little, decide that you will only keep as many outfits as will fit in 2 boxes, to reduce the storage by 1/3. Or if you have an entire guest closet of your mother’s clothes, go through and eliminate it down to a few pieces that can fit in a nice cloth garment bag at the back of the closet, so they are properly stored and you can free up all that space for when someone is staying in that room. Setting limits on the quantity of items can be a great way to cut down, and it will make you choose the things that you love most from a group, and eliminate the rest.
  • I recently did this for myself when I went through my high school cheerleading uniforms. I had two entire boxes full of outfits from the 4 years of school, which of course had not been touched since I graduated. I picked two full uniforms to save in case I ever have little girls someday who want to dress up in them, which fit in one small box, and I donated the rest.
CSO Blog: How to Tackle Sentimental Clutter - Strategies

Don’t Keep Things out of Guilt

  • Some common ways people accumulate sentimental clutter are gifts given to them and family items passed down or bequeathed to them. You are not obligated to keep anything that you do not actually want. If someone has given you something, they have already had the enjoyment of that transaction, and it does not mean that you owe it to them to keep that item. Write a thank you note, take a picture of yourself wearing the sweater to send to them or simply pass the item along to a charity, a friend, or to anyone who might actually enjoy it more than you do. Keep only what you want and love, not what you feel like you should keep.
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Getting Rid of Sentimental Clutter from the Past Creates Space In Your Life for the Future

As you go through this process, you will probably notice that it can be very challenging and emotional to part with something that reminds you of a person, a time, or a place in your life. While that is completely understandable, it is important to remember that getting rid of that item does not take that memory away from you. Memories are not in things, they are in you. Holding onto the past can actually inhibit your growth and movement forward, and the memories and people in your life will always remain within you, whether you have a physical item to represent them or not. Eliminating clutter creates space in your life and invites new energy and possibilities to enter. Tackling your sentimental clutter might allow you to let go of the past and open up to new potential for the future more than you could have ever realized.