Why It's Okay to Get Rid of Sentimental Stuff When You're De-Cluttering (and How to Do It)

I know from personal experience, that one of the most intimidating parts of de-cluttering and minimizing your belongings, can be all the stuff that has sentimental value.

Whether it's something as special as your grandmother's locket or as random as a glass dolphin figurine you got on vacation as a little girl, chances are, you have some items in your home that have special memories, feelings or significance attached to them.

And when these items pop up during a downsizing and de-cluttering process, they can often be a big enough roadblock that many people will plain give up.

"I can't get rid of this!" you think, as you pile up knick knack after knick knack, memento after memento.  But then you start to feel discouraged because you feel like you're not making any progress and "See, this is why I haven't done this before!" and "This is stupid, I'm going back to watching Game of Thrones on Netflix" start flashing in your mind.

Sound familiar?

But I have good news for you!  This does NOT have to be the case.

And let me preface this right here by saying, I am a VERY sentimental person.  By my very nature, I tend to hold on to everything under the sun... movie tickets, concert tickets, greeting cards, gifts, photos, postcards, souvenirs... you get the idea.

I am a big mushball when it comes to sentimentality and memories, so there was never really a question about whether or not I should keep all of my mementos.  Of course I should!

That was, until I did my major purge in 2015 to move into a 160 sf tiny house.

See, the thing about moving into a tiny house is, it will help clear up what you need and what you don't real quickly.

Now of course, I already knew that I didn't need my high school pom uniform or all of the valentines cards from my many suitors in kindergarten.  But that doesn't mean that I didn't want them!  Or at least I thought I wanted them...

But a funny thing happened once I started going through my downsizing process.  The more I purged, the more I liked purging.  The freer I felt, the lighter I felt, the happier I felt.

It was like I was finally giving myself "permission" to get rid of stuff that no one had been telling me to keep anyway, except myself apparently.  I got rid of clothes I no longer wore, supplies for hobbies I never took up, books that I never read and kitchen tools that I never used.  It was amazing!

But then came the time to go through my SIX+ Rubbermaid containers of keepsake stuff (I told you I was a very sentimental person).  Okay, to be more accurate, two of them were the shallower under-the-bed kind and the other four were the giant Rubbermaid bins.  That's a little better, right?

Oh and did I forget to mention I also had a giant steamer trunk full of keepsakes as well? 

Seriously, I was starting to think I had never gotten rid of anything.  Ever.

I had a lot of memories and mementos to confront.  School papers, yearbooks, scrapbooks, souvenirs, greeting cards, clothes, photos, postcards, crafts, etc., etc., etc.  It spanned literally from my early childhood all the way up to present day and carried a wide range of emotions along with it.

But you know what I did?

I went through it all, piece by piece.

I looked at every paper, every photo.  I flipped through every yearbook, read every note.  And as I did that, two things happened.

1.  I was able to relive the memory - good, bad or indifferent.  Feel the feelings associated with it.  Laugh, smile, cry, frown, whatever.  And then...

2.  I was able to let it go.

Yes!  I realized that I no longer HAD to keep all of these things.  There really was no point.  They were just taking up space and I didn't ever go through them.  And what were the chances that "one day" I'd want to sit down and show my grandchildren every paper I ever brought home from school?  I think they might wage a mutiny on Grandma if she even tried that anyway.

I realized something bigger was going on here... I was letting go of my attachment to "stuff."  I was cutting the fat, ditching the baggage, letting go of the junk.  And that included the hard stuff.

Yes, I did have an emotional breakdown one evening after doing a lot of memento purging.  

I had looked at things that had to do with my father (who passed away), my mother (who passed away), my old dog (who passed away), gifts/drawings from my niece and nephew as little children (who are now 11 and 17), photos from my younger, more innocent and carefree days and a whole lotta other stuff.

It was enough to drive anyone to the loony bin.

But, it was still okay.  I didn't go crazy.  Yes, I cried.  But it was actually a huge emotional release.  And ya know how I felt afterward?


I felt lighter than ever and I realized I had FINALLY dealt with some emotions that I thought I had already dealt with.  I made peace with a lot of things emotionally.  And as soon as I did that, I no longer needed to hold on to the physical items.

Now, that is not to say that you shouldn't keep any physical mementos.  Of course you should!  I did.  But it is only a fraction of what I used to have.

In fact, everything fits into two small bins instead of half a dozen huge ones and a steamer trunk.  I kept the items that were most important to me.  The items that I would want to look back on with my grandchildren one day.  Or maybe even pass on to them.

But I got rid of all the random stuff.  I still have the memories of the vacations, the trips, the celebrations and the school years in my heart and mind, but I don't need to hoard the physical objects anymore.

Obviously, this process will be unique for each of you and there are no "rules" on what you should keep and what you shouldn't.  But I do have a few tips for you if you're struggling with de-cluttering sentimental items:

1.  Don't let anyone else tell you if you should keep it or not

And I mean "tell" in both the literal and figurative sense here.  So often, we hold on to things because we think "Oh, what would soandso think if I got rid of this??"  Well, does "Soandso" have to find space for it in their home?  No.  You do.  So only keep it if it is important and necessary for YOU, not someone else.

2.  Don't rush yourself through the process

Just like I probably should've spaced out my sentimental purging a little more (and avoided my mini-meltdown), you can (and should) take your time with this process.  Don't feel like you have to rush (unless you really are on a tight deadline for some reason).  Take your time and allow yourself the space you need to process the emotions that are attached.  If you're not ready to let go of something yet, don't.  There will be a time when you are ready and when that time comes, you'll be able to let go of it.

3.  Take a picture

If you have realized that you don't need a physical object, but you still want a tangible way to remember it, why not take a picture?  Pictures take up a lot less space than actual objects, especially now in the days of digital photos.  So snap a picture, purge the actual item and reminisce digitally instead.

4.  Do it justice somewhere else

My father was a collector.  He loved to collect coins, magazines, antiques and records and even ran an antique booth for several years.  So when he passed away, my family was left with a lot of collectible items that really... none of us wanted.  At the time, I had taken a few things and added them to my memento collection, but when it came time to downsize, I realized it was okay to let them go too.  If you are holding on to something solely because it was significant to a loved one or you want to make sure it goes to someone who really appreciates it... let it go and do exactly that - find someone who will really appreciate it.  We found record collectors that were over the moon to get my dad's collection, a family friend who was overjoyed to get my mom's knitting supplies and half-finished projects and even a single mom who was ecstatic to get their Disney movie collection for a fraction of what she would've paid in the store.  Your sentimental items can still bring happiness and joy into someone's life... but you have to let them go, so they can.

5.  keep what's most important

Again, this will be different for everyone.  And only you will know what's most important.  But a good way to figure it out quick is to ask yourself, "What would I be devastated about if I lost it in a fire tomorrow?"  I can tell you one thing, I wouldn't have been crying over my old prom dress, that's for sure.  So I kept only the things that I knew I would be sad to lose.

bonus:  keep it up

Here's one last tip for you after you've made it through your purging process. Keep it up!  Don't start a new mountain of treasures by hoarding everything all over again.  Keep your new minimized lifestyle in mind and pitch concert and movie tickets, ask for gift cards instead of random gifts that can become clutter, throw away greeting cards after the celebration is over (no, this does not make you evil) and refrain from picking up random souvenirs on vacation.

Remember, life is about living.

What matters most are the experiences you have, the memories you make and the people you share them with.

The rest is just stuff.

Are you ready to downsize and de-clutter your home and start feeling lighter, freer and more alive?  My "De-Clutter" e-course will help you every step of the way!  Each week, you'll tackle a different room of the house and before you know it, you'll be done!  And wondering why you waited so long in the first place.  The course includes video lessons, weekly checklists and cheatsheets and is now only $97 for a limited time!  Register now!