Questions to ask if you’re struggling with sentimental clutter. It IS possible to get rid of our stuff without guilt!
1. What is sentimental clutter?
Note: Sentimental clutter is anything you can’t part with because of the emotions involved and no longer serves a purpose. This includes photographs, family heirlooms, yearbooks, baby clothes and even large items like furniture.
Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living. Peter Walsh
2. Why is it so hard to part with sentimental things?
There is so much to say on this subject but I’ll be clear here! I believe sentimental clutter is often connected to grief and loss. (Read clutter and grief: are they connected?)
We don’t know what to do with those things that have memories and nostalgia attached to them. Or maybe there’s guilt over a death and the inability to repair the relationship before that person died.
Maybe we feel like keeping all the stuff is honoring to the person who gave it to us. Or perhaps it was a gift from someone still living and it’s become a burden rather than a joy.
But there’s a problem. We end up with too much stuff, clutter, baggage.
We are still alive for a reason and sifting through the baggage of our emotions will also help us deal with the clutter in our home.
Give yourself time and grace as you begin to sort through your sentimental items.
This isn’t an easy task. If at all possible allow yourself time to work through the feelings and emotional attachment that may come up as you decide what to keep and what to give away or trash.
It’s also helpful to have someone else with you to be a neutral helpful partner. It’s probably best to use someone outside your immediate family who has no investment in the decluttering process.
You may also be able to find someone who does this as a job. Ask on Facebook or google downsizing experts in your area. That will at least get you started.
3. Do I love this item and why?
We all have THOSE THINGS, gifts, souvenirs and inherited pieces that are burdensome, rather than delightful. (Read how to declutter after a death or loss.)
Ask yourself do you really love your children’s artwork, piece of furniture or knick knack? Then think about the why behind that answer.
Is that wall hanging worth keeping because it belonged to your mom and it’s a reminder of your relationship?
Do you keep that collection of ______ (fill in the blank) because you’re supposed to? Angels, photos, stuffed animals, dishes. You name it. We all have more than one of something.
(Yes, years ago I collected tea pots, tea sets and tea cups!)
Are you unable to help your kids part with their ridiculous amount of toys because you also have childhood “toys” that are overwhelming your home and life?
You have to start somewhere, and deciding if you even like your stuff is a good place to start.
(This is a great post on what people hold onto and why by Porch.com)
4. Does it have a physical place in my home?
You’ve decided you love that special piece of milk glass, but is there really room for it? Does the sentimental value override the sheer amount of space your object takes up?
Can you use it to decorate a shelf, hang it from the wall or as part of a centerpiece?
(I used this for storage for my bracelets AND it looked good!)
Does it have a purpose other than occupying space or is it just one more piece of clutter?
Are you running out of physical space in your home?
Most of us have limited space in our homes, and we often fill those rooms with things that are forced upon us or have sentimental value.
(My ex husband decorated the walls of his office with record album covers and his guitars. Not my favorite but he enjoyed the space.)
Maybe you inherited your parents’ wedding china but you mostly eat off paper plates.
Perhaps you have souvenirs from your favorite trip to Disney World but they’re just taking up desperately needed space in your closet.
Do you have boxes in storage filled with gifts from family and friends and you can’t even remember what’s in there?
Should I even ask about those clothes that haven’t been worn in YEARS? Yep, I get it, painfully so.
5. Is it something I need?
Now I may step on some toes here, but first, a personal story.
When my husband and I separated in 2021 I purchased a little cottage home right around the corner. I went from 2000 sq. ft. to a 1000 sq. ft. for me and my dog. Because of the circumstances we put our home on the market and I only had a few weeks to literally get rid of half a house.
(A few months after I moved in to my cottage home.)
Would I consider myself a hoarder? Not in the least but I had yard sale finds I just KNEW I was going to repurpose but hadn’t. I still had all the kids homeschool work in the attic, but I threw them away because they didn’t want them. (I had already made each kid a homeschool scrapbook album.) And on and on as you can imagine.
Stressed much? Absolutely. But the real surprise?
Ruthlessly getting rid of so many things and living with less has been absolutely freeing.
I made quick decisions like a boss and enlisted some friends to help me deal with the attic nightmare. We rented a pod to use as a storage space and everything I didn’t want went into it. After I physically moved into my new cottage I gave away every single thing in there. My friends and I carried six car and truck loads to the local Salvation Army.
Would I suggest everyone deal with their sentimental clutter this way? Possibly! Seriously, I was RUTHLESS. I realized how many things I owned just didn’t mean that much to me anymore when faced with the reality of my new home size.
Living with less has allowed me to create a clutter-free home and let go of sentimental items and mementos. I’ve also created new habits that will ensure I don’t bring more stuff into my home without giving away some of the other junk! I wouldn’t say I’ve embraced minimalism but I definitely am living with less.
I was FORCED to make quick decisions about what I owned. You may not have to do this as radically as I did but making choices is still within your power.
6. Are you ready to invest the time it takes to care of all the things?
Our stuff comes with an obligation to take care of it, unless we hide it in the closet, basement or attic. At that point you need to ask yourself question #4!
Let’s talk about our closets, shall we? Full of clothes, shoes, and heaven only knows what else.
(My closet in my previous home before we changed the doors and I organized it. ~don’t judge!)
Do you even know what’s inside yours? How long has it been since you went through and cleaned them out?
Does your heart start racing at the thought of dealing with ALL THAT STUFF?
The thought of dealing with what was in my attic held me hostage far too long. Only a drastic change in my living situation forced me to face what should have been done much earlier.
So the question remains: am I really taking care of the things I’ve been blessed with or are they just occupying space?
Do you actually wear all those clothes in your closet, use the decorations stored in the attic or that collection of cute memorabilia that you haven’t looked at it in 10 years?
If you’re not using what you own you’re not being a good steward of all God has blessed you with. This hard truth can also be freeing if you let it stir you into action.
7. Where to dispose of or donate items?
Now that we’ve looked closer at what we have, are you ready to do something about the clutter?
As my readers tell me, they don’t know where to start (that’s a whole ‘other post!) What I can tell you is once you start addressing the overabundance of STUFF you own, you can then decide what to do with the items you part with.
If you have a multitude of items and you’re up for it, you can earn some money by holding a yard sale or even listing things on craigslist or Facebook marketplace. This involves time so weigh how much you might earn with the time it takes to get ready. (Read my 5 tips on how to make money on a yard sale.)
I’m a firm believer in blessing others whenever possible. Those clothes that are too little or extra dishes you don’t need, all may be a lifesaver to someone less fortunate.
How do you know what to do with the things you want to give away?
Many charities will come pick up larger items like furniture. Some organizations operate a thrift store and use the proceeds to pour back into people (Think Goodwill and Salvation Army.) You may also receive a tax deduction when you give these things away.
Often churches will accept donations for their clothing closet for the needy. I like to support a local organization associated with our church because I know exactly where my gifts are helping the most.
When you look at life as an opportunity to give back, you’ll be amazed at the ways you can make a difference.
Just one last thought. You CAN begin to take control of your home with these ideas for decluttering sentimental items (and everything else!) The power to face your overwhelm is within your grasp!
FAQs about decluttering
- Here’s what I’ve learned from my early years of clipping magazine pictures and studying beautiful homes. We all have our own style and taste. A tastefully decorated home like ones you see in magazines and on the internet is possible. But it will take some work and require some decision making on your part.
- When I asked my readers the one thing they struggled with when decorating their home, I kept hearing the same answer repeated over and over. Clutter. What to keep and what to get rid of. Where to even begin attacking the overwhelm.
- I completely understand. I walked my parents through their last years of life while homeschooling my kids and living a busy life. The overwhelming pull of STUFF and the decisions I needed to make for my parents, day after day, possession by possession, drained the life out of me.
- Can you relate? Are you part of the “sandwich” generation, torn between parenting roles and older family members? Does the thought of letting go of things that feel so important make you want to curl up in a fetal position?
For more resources on the connection between grief and loss, check out these posts!
When Should You See a Therapist?
Living with Grief and Heartbreak
Clutter and Grief: Are They Connected and are You Stuck?
How to Declutter After a Death or Loss
What No One Wants to Talk About at Christmas
How to Overcome Stress and Anxiety When You’re Stuck