Sentimental Decluttering, Let It Go

Let’s tackle the most difficult element of ridding your home of clutter: Sentimental decluttering. We’re told so often to get rid of unused items, to make way for the useful. You might have tried this but hit an emotional wall. If so, I want you to take a deep breath and open your mind and your heart to the possibilities of another approach.

I’m not for one moment going to suggest a hardcore approach in which you throw away all of your treasured memories with abandon. I want to start by telling you that I too have a collection of medals from childhood, a bundle of my baby’s precious ‘firsts’ and of course a library of photographs from before the world went digital.

The key point to remember when sorting through life’s souvenirs though, is that if we hang on to all of our past, then we don’t leave any space to create our future. Our present becomes clogged up with physical items that aren’t as dear as the beloved memories in our head. Over time we very often lose the emotional link that we had with these inanimate objects in the first place.

Memory Chest

If you have items that are truly treasured then you should be sure to treat them like the treasure they are. Rather than have them crushed in the back of a drawer like an old odd sock, or just plain lost in the realms of the daily dumping ground. Have just one ‘memory chest‘ in which you can delicately and deliberately store a carefully considered collection.

By limiting the storage space allocated to this type of emotionally loaded item, you are encouraged to come to realistic decisions on how much you must purge in order to whittle your collection down to a size that is comfortable rather than overwhelming. Many of us need a sentimental ‘cushion’ but there is not much comfort in a haphazard hoard. Aim for a carefully considered curation to properly cherish and easily look back on.

Make Room for Happiness

Gather together all bits and pieces that bring about ‘complicated’ feelings. I use the word complicated here because the word ‘sentimental’ often evokes an unnecessary sense duty. If we can take a moment to analyse this, keeping possession of emotionally sticky items are usually a self-inflicted responsibility.

You might tell yourself you are holding on to family history for a future generation, when in truth they feel no connection to those items at all. Mentally labeling an item an heir-loom can be an excuse for hoarding objects you simply don’t want to make your own decisions about. Is it fair to pass a burden on to the next generation? Try discussing such items with family members, you may find the approval you needed to free yourself from the clutter, or to immediately move on anything that others may deem important to them–don’t be a storage unit for someone else’s sentimentality.

For the remainder of your ‘complicated’ items, pick up just one at a time and pay true attention to the emotion/gut feeling it provokes. Be true to yourself about the emotion it does bring.

Ask: Does this object bring me feelings of happiness or comfort?

Imagine your future-self finding only joy in the objects you have chosen to keep. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to let go of the things that evoke any feelings of discontent.

Ask: Do I want this emotion I’m feeling to be evoked each and every time I see this item? Would I feel lighter and more free if I could release it?

It could be time to let it go and move on.

Quick Fix Sentimental Decluttering

A lengthy piece-by-piece process may not appeal if you’d prefer not to linger over the sentimental decisions of it all. You might have a large menagerie to cut down to size because sometimes old items are kept just because they’re so old.

Kickstart decluttering the ‘wheat from the chaff’ by imagining a split-second decision scenario. Instantly recognise the keepsakes you hold invaluable from those you find less important by imagining a moment where you are forced to save only an armful of items from your memories chest before it is gone forever. Which ones would you be devastated to see slip from your grasp, and which ones could you manage to live without?

Value and Revalue

You will find that if you let go of less deeply rooted souvenirs, the others become gloriously more precious, like shiny little jewels. Each time you make an addition to your memories chest/treasure chest, do a quick check to see if there are any items that have now lost their lustre. Often, items that seemed important to keep at the time that they entered the memories chest no longer hold the same high value.

For example: When our son was born, to make room for all of the new cherished baby bounty, I found it easy to let go of memories made before his arrival. One thing I purged was a stack of congratulation cards from our engagement, to make room for his ‘welcome to the world’ cards. Interestingly, I looked back through those greetings at a later time and didn’t feel the need to keep them any longer. I was able to simplify because we’re celebrating the adventure of having a much bigger boy now, along with a new little girl. Times change, life moves on. Possessions need to be moved on too.

Individual Memory Boxes

I should say that the latest airing out of our memories chest, and expulsion of extras, spurred me to create one additional small memory box for each of our children. These are reserved solely for the early mementos that I truly believe they will appreciate when they are grown. If you have a large family, you might find it more practical to allocate into smaller lots like this. Do remember to peruse and purge the contents of these mini memory chests when making additions though, just as I described the edit of a family chest.

Aside from the ‘just in case’ mentality, sentimentality is the prime reason we hold so many unused items in our homes. But only by sweeping away the overgrowth can we rediscover our true treasures.


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