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How to declutter sentimental items with out the guilt.

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De cluttering pictures, heirlooms, keepsakes, childrens art work, and other items with sentimental value can really take it’s toll, but here are some proven strategies to help you win at de cluttering sentimental items and working thru the guilt.

Keeping your home tidy is difficult enough. It gets even harder when your trying to sort and de clutter sentimental items. The memories and emotional attachments can make it nearly impossible to ket go of anything.

Maybe you’ve kept every art project your child has ever created or every letter and greeting card you’ve ever received. Maybe it’s your grandfathers fishing poles and your great grandmothers china collection that reminds you of specific times or events in your life.

What ever the actual item is, the sentimental attachment you’ve formed make it incredibly difficult to part with.

The mere sight of these items can bring back years of memories and all the wonderful emotions associated with them. Some make you happy recalling a wonderful tropical vacation or an annual white elephant Christmas party with family and friends, and others might make you sad due to the loss of somebody close to you.

Holding on to too many of these items causes clutter and it can impact your mood, health and life, as well as your home. It can make you feel crowded and cramped.

When those items start feeling heavy and weighing on you in any way, its time to de clutter those sentimental items and find different ways to preserve all of those memories.

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According to a report on, the average size of a single family home in 1973 was approximately 1521 sq ft. That size increased over the nest several years to a whopping 2169 sq ft by 2010.

A quick drive around my twon would suggest the average size of a single family home currently sits some where around the 2000 mark.

The increase isn’t because our families are getting bigger although I’m sure there are exceptions. Most of its because we obtain and keep way more stuff than ever before.

We’ve turned our homes into oversized overpriced storage units. And alot of what we are storing is sentimental clutter.

Here are some strategies to help you de clutter those sentimental items and take back your square footage.

What is sentimental clutter?

Sentimental clutter can be any item that’s no longer useful but you keep it around because you’ve formed an attachment to it. It can also be excessive amounts or collections of similar things.

Any physical item that creates negative feelings, causes you distress or feels like a burden can be considered sentimental clutter.

I’ve already mentioned a few examples above, but the possibilites are limitless. What other items can you think of?

I’ll give you a few more examples to help you identify the sentimental clutter in your life.

Think about every picture you’ve takes in your life time. Are they all stashed in bins or boxes in your garage or do you pile them up in the back of a closet?

What about all of the programs you saved from every sporting event you’ve ever been to?

Maybe you’ve lept every card or stuffed animal you’ve ever received from a boy dating all the way back to all those child hood home made valentine days cards.

Or maybe you still have a trunk full of favorite shirts that belong to a lost loved one.

Sentimental attachment to clutter.

I possibly just triggered some new raw emotions but hear me out and keep reading. You might like what I have to say.

We’re all human. We associate items with people, and we attach our feelings for those people to those items.

It’s oaky to keep some of those around. When they become a burden or make you u happy they’ve crossed the threshold from memories and precious keepsakes to sentimental clutter.

Sentimental clutter is costing you.

It’s hard to let go, but make no mistake, sentimental clutter is clutter, and it’s costing you in several ways. It can impact your mental and emotional health, ruin your relationships, and deplete your wallet.

Mental and emotional health.

Sentimental items don’t always have happy feelings and emotions attached to them. A majority of them can have both.

The feel and smell of your mothers favorite sweaters probably take you back to happy childhood days and make you smile. Seconds later you’re ugly crying because you’ve been stuck in the grieving stage for five years.

Maybe it’s time to move on and celebrate all she did while she was here.


Relationships can suffer too.

Often a spouse or loved one doesn’t have emotional attachments to items. They aren’t built that way and they don’t understand why you need te items to retain the memories.

Do you argue about the amount of clutter, the specific items, or the way they impact you emotionally.

Is your sentimental attachment to certain items more important than the relationships that are being affected?


This is actually a big one. The true dollar cost of clutter is outrageous! Even if you’ve optimized the organization of your clutter, it’s costing you dearly.

Remember when I said our homes have become over sized storage units? Lets explore that a bit more.

Write down the price you paid for your home, then divide it by the square footage. This is te cost per square foot of your living space.

350,000 cost of home/2500 sq ft size of home = $147.00 per sq ft to store your clutter.

Now measure the sq footage/length x width of every space that’s being used to store sentimental items. Don’t forget the garage and any out buildings that are used for storage.

Multiply that by the cost per square foot that you figured out in the last step. Ouch right! We’re not even done yet.

Now add the cost of any storage bins, trunks, sheds, ect that you purchased to organize your clutter.

That’s the true monetary cost of your sentimental clutter.

Now that you can identify your sentimental clutter and realize what it’s actually costing you, here are some proven strategies to help you de clutter.

Strategies to de clutter sentimental items.

I write alot about de cluttering.

It’s one of the biggest problems and frustrations we deal with as adults, but de cluttering sentimental items is in a class of its own.

Here are some strategies to help you navigate through it.

1 Recruit a friend to help you de clutter sentimental items.

Enlist a trusted friend or family member to help you out. They can be a shoulder to lean on or cry on, a different perspective, and a reality check when you get lost in your thoughts and sentiments.

They can also serve as a bit of a barrier to the emotional side of de cluttering.

First and foremost, by holding the item yourself, your eliminating the possibility of the tpuch of the item, causing an emotional response.

Secondly, the question isn’t about keeping the item. The question – can you let this item go? If the answer isn’t an immediate no, it’ll likely be a yes.

Your helper can do this for you, and they’ll likely know how to keep you on track but be able to see when you need a short break.

2 Work at your own pace while de cluttering.

I know I said to get help, and I mean it, but make sure you work at your own pace.

Be mindful of suggestions to move along and keep the progress going, but if your really struggling to let something go, set it aside and move on to the next item. You can return to the most difficult items latter.

Don’t make rash decisions. You want the de cluttering process to have a positive impact and end result.

3 Gather sentimental items in one place.

Start by gathering similar items all in one place. If your tackling baby clothes to day, place them all in one spot so you can truly understand how much you have.

Having it all out at one time also tends to put things in perspective. Not only will you realize how much stuff you have, but seeing it all together can also clarify the importance of each item.

Using the children’s clothing example you might have six of your daughters favorite dresses from different times in her life. If you look at each one individually, you’ll likely save them all because of the memory each one brings you.

On the flip side, if you look at all six of them together, you might be able to select the most favorite one and let the other 5 go.

4 Understand and define the emotional attachment to the memories.

Understand and define why you’re keeping something and how it makes you feel.

Does the item really hold the memory or feeling you’ve associated with it? Or is it just stuff? Do you need that particular thing to conjur up that particular memory?

Some times things that bring happy memories can cause frustrations or feel like a burden because pf sheer volume. If the amount is causing negative feelings, it’s time to down size.

5 Repurpose the sentimental items.

This is my favorite strategy. Re purpose the items to create a visual representation of the things on a smaller scale so you can get rid of the bulk of the items and still preserve memories.

Shadow boxes- Shadow boxes are deep frames that are designed to hold and protect small trinkets, pictures, and memorabillia. You can use a shadow box to preserve moments from a specific time or event and eliminate the rest.

Digital files- Digital files include digital picture frames, external drives, and thumb drives. You can use a scanner to transfer collections of photos, letters, cards, ect onto digital media and get rid of the physical copies.

Memory quilts- A memory quilt is a compilation of items that have been transfered on to a fabric and used to make a quilt. I think my good friend has one of the best examples of this.

She tragically lost her young adult son, she honors and remembers him with the quilt made out of pictures of him that were transfered onto fabric, of his favorite t-shirts and other memorabillia from his life.

6 minimize the amount of sentimental clutter.

That doesn’t mean become a minimalist and get rid of everything right now. It just means that grandpas fishing pole can bring back the same memories and feelings that the entire collection does. Just keep a few of your most favorite.

7 Pass the sentimental items on.

Sometimes you holding on to sentimental items out of obligation or guilt.

If the enjoyment you get from these things has run its course, try passing them on enjoy them for years to come.

8 Give yourself some grace.

De cluttering sentimental items is incredibly difficult and challenging. Give yourself a little grace during this process.

Even if you only got rid of a few items, you’ve made progress. Celebrate that!

If you find you’re having trouble letting an item go, but still wrestle with the cost of keeping it, give yourself a little grace and set it aside to deal with latter.

You don’t have to de clutter everything in one session.

9 Wash rinse repeat.

The final and most impactful strategy is to do it again. De cluttering is not a once and done thing.

Do one session, then plan a time and date for another. Each time to repeat, you’ll be able to de clutter a little more. When you gather all the items in one place your brain automatically assigns a rank or tiered value to each item.

Lets say your first session started with 30 of grandpas fishing pole and you eliminated 5, but decided you couldn’t let go of the other 25. The next time you gather them together, you’ll automatically decide which ones are the least important.

Each time you go through your things, a different group moves to the bottom and you can let go of it.

Bonus tip from a reader.

If you have generations of family photos that none of your immediate family want, look into uploading them to a geneology site like

Final thoughts on how to de clutter sentimental items.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what sentimental clutter is and what it’s really costing you, plan a de clutter session.

Get a trusted friend to help you though the process, but work at your own pace.

Gather all of the items in one place. Decide why you are attached to them.

Re purpose into a memory piece, or pass it on to other family members.

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