How to Declutter Sentimental Items Successfully

Working on decluttering your home but having a hard time letting go of certain items? This post will help you learn how to declutter sentimental items without losing (much) sleep.

Working on decluttering your home but having a hard time letting go of certain items? This post will help you learn how to declutter sentimental items without losing (much) sleep. #decluttering #minimalism #minimalist #declutter #cleanout #organization #howtodeclutter #sentimental

How to Declutter Sentimental Items

As a blogger, I get hundreds of emails each week, many of those being personal emails from readers that have a question about something I’ve written about on the website and sometimes about things I haven’t written about. A very common question that I get in my message in regards to decluttering is “How do I declutter sentimental items?”

That is a tough one, it really is. It was even a difficult task that I had to face when we recently downsized our belongings by 75% and moved across the state. There are always going to be things that are hard to get rid of. Perhaps a family keepsake, or something that you paid a lot of money for, or just something you’ve held onto too long. Hopefully, the tips contained in this blog post, put together by my own experience will help you deal with those items when it comes to making a decision on them.

Before you get started on this blog post, watch this quick video I put together.

First of all, take your time.

Unless you have an actual deadline (moving date, etc), there is no need to rush when decluttering. It took you a lifetime so far to accumulate the items that you have, they are not going to (and don’t need to) be gone overnight. By rushing your decluttering process you are creating undue stress and you are probably going to make some decisions that you will regret later. Either keeping too many things because you didn’t have time to make a good decision or by getting rid of too many things and then wishing you had them back. Take things one day at a time when possible so that you can make good decisions about what needs to be done with the belongings you need to declutter.

As you are working on decluttering, take one room or one section at a time until you feel yourself getting too attached again. At that point…back off or work on a different area of your home until you can go back to the same place with a clear frame of mind.

–Take a break from decluttering sentimental items and head to your closet for a quick clean out How to Create a Minimalist Wardrobe

Take pictures or minimize the items.

If there are some items that you aren’t attached to as a whole and just want the memory of a few pieces creating a shadow box is a great idea. Pick a few pieces from the item you want to declutter and gather them along with several other pieces of other items and create a lovely shadow box with a theme. Maybe the box could be a reminder of a person or a particular time in your life. Shadow boxes help to contain parts of memories and yet they can hang up on a wall and stay out of the way.

Or perhaps you don’t even really want the item, just the memories attachedย to that item. In that case, take a picture of the item before you part with it. Place all of the pictures into a special album and be sure and attach a label to the picture stating what the item is, what you used it for, or what the memories attached to it are. One large photo album will take up considerably less space than a room full of items.

Kitchen Wall Decor

Repurpose the items.

This is one of my current goals for the sentimental items that I have kept. To actually use them! I may not always use them in the purpose they were intended for (for example, old water pitchers from my great-grandma have replaced all of my flower vases) but at least it will be getting used instead of collecting dust in the closet. There are so many ways that you can repurpose old items! Something else that we’ve personally done is take pieces of my grandma’s embroidered flour sacks and pieces of my great-aunt’s aprons and put them in frames in my kitchen. I love the decor, it was free to make since I already had the items, it’s meaningful to me, and it looks really neat!

–You might also enjoy: Frugality vs Minimalism

Find a new home.

Some items that you will come across while you are decluttering you will want to stay in the family. Unless you are using or enjoying the items now, find them a new home with friends and family. This is a rather easy way to clean out as you know the items that you care about will be going to a new home.

Write down the memories.

Instead of storing all of the items that you have a sentimental attachment to (and thus leaving many items for someone to go through someday when you are gone), considering writing down the memories instead. Several members of my family (including my Great-Grandma Anna who I shared her stories here) have written down their life stories and memories and those few pieces of paper are more precious to our family than any material items ever would be. I’m happy to have these memories and not only are they just a few pages which take up very little storage space, but they can also be shared by many family members who cared about that loved one. We aren’t minimizing the memories…we are multiplying them!

Deal with gifts.

I find one of the hardest things to declutter are items that were gifted to me. I absolutely love giving gifts and so I tend to overthink the amount of time and thought that probably did not go into certain gifts that I’ve received. The important thing to remember with gift items is that you shouldn’t feel like you need to keep them if they are something that you cannot or will not use. The gift-giver would not want that item to be a burden on you and likely once a gift has been given, chances are that person will not ever ask to see “their” item again.

Something to consider is talking to your friends and family about gifts beforehand. Ask for experience gifts or just be upfront and ask for things you need. As a person that loves gift-giving, I would be very happy for someone to tell me what they need so that I can give them something they will get a lot of use out of.

Side Note About Pictures:

Just a side note…on other articles of similar topics I have seen recommendations of getting rid of pictures (ie: family pictures). I do not recommend this. If you have duplicates, those are fine to re-home but I don’t recommend getting rid of family pictures. Pictures take up very little space (unless you have amassed an extremely large collection) and they can be a wonderful way to connect future generations to the past. Be sure and label each picture with the name of the person in it or the memory it contains as soon as possible so you don’t forget.

Decluttering sentimental items will always be a big task simply because…the items are sentimental! You’ve held onto them this long because it’s been hard to make a decision on them. But just because a task is hard, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. Stop being a caretaker of items that simply collect dust, focus on being a curator of the memories instead.

If you are just getting into simple living, I would highly recommend my eWorkbook, 31 Days to Simpler Living! If you are ready to make big changes in your home and in your life, my ebook will walk you through, step by step.

What tips do you have for others who are looking to learn how to get rid of sentimental items?

This post on How to Declutter Sentimental Items was originally published on Little House Living in October 2017. It has been updated as of October 2019.

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17 Comments

  1. There are companies now that you can send a box of your kids art work to and they can make a book for you. I know personally there are some pieces of my kids artwork that I don’t want to let go of, but some of the others that was a great alternative. My kids are now in their early 20’s, so it’s fun to go back and see what they did.

  2. Like what Brenna mentioned about the kids artwork, you can do the same with photos via similar companies. They usually put them on dvd. My parents did this while decluttering in preparation for a cross country move.

  3. What about scanning photos. I have a large number of photos that came from my parent’s home and thought about scanning them.

  4. Hi, Merissa love your blog. One note I’d like to pass along..I was a photographer many years ago and I try to share with people that if they do write something about the picture on the back, to make sure they use a pen that won’t bleed to the front. I’ve seen very old pictures ruined this way. Also write along the edge so as not to obscure anyones face if it does bleed.

  5. We got rid of all childhood art. There was a ton, as we home-schooled. We kept their most recent art. A professionally framed adapted rendition of Van Gogh’s (starry night) in acrylic from one son. Two deluxe framed art pieces from older son. One is a watercolor of an outdoor scene. The other a colored pencil still life of an indoor theme. We look at them daily.

  6. Gifts is the definitely the toughest one for me. So hard to get rid of without feeling a sense of guilt. When appropriate I give away to charity which makes it so much easier ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Same for me. I LOVE giving gifts and put a lot of thought into them and I have to try and remember that not everyone feels the same as I do about the gifts they give and even if they do, they would not want them to become a burden for me.

    2. My mother in law always gave a gift with the comment that it came with no strings attached and that I was allowed to give it away to someone else or a thrift shop if I didn’t like it. It was so freeing and I try to have the same attitude when I give a gift to someone. Then there is absolutely no guilt.

  7. This is an excellent article as it sooner to me and my current difficulty parting with the items u an attached to.

  8. I really enjoyed reading your good advice and ideas.

    Being a sentamental fool it is hard for me to declutter. But I must. I do not know how we have accumulated so much stuff! But some of is so hard to let go of. I think I shall take photos! And perhaps by Spring maybe a garage sale.

  9. Thank you for the comment on old pictures. I was afraid to even read the article because I have a lot. In fact, my great-aunt recently passed away, and her son (in his 60s) who lived with her, soon after. We were not able to get into her house to get her old photos, which my mom asked for a few months ago when she was visiting (“oh we’ll look at those another day” said my great aunt. Sigh.) Anyway….old pictures can connect those who may have lost old photos or never got to see them. My grandmother had pictures of her great -aunt who I never knew. I kept them. Recently through dna matches, a cousin found me, whose great-grandmother was this great aunt of my grandmother. (her great grandmother and my great grandfather were siblings). She was adopted and was looking for birth family. She had never seen a photo of her grandfather or great grandmother, both of which I had. It was SO worth it to keep these old photos!!

    I am sentimental and keep everything – but I have been clearing out. Such as my great grandmother’s plastic “glasses” given to her at her 60th anniversary party. She died in 1979….. lol…and my cousin “passed” them along to me last year after she decluttered. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Time to pass them on!