Items with sentimental value are the hardest to let go, but I think you know that else you wouldn’t be reading this. I’ve always been a sentimental person, keeping all sorts in my pretty ‘memory boxes’ from concert ticket stubs to one of my wedding invitations. Then there were all the photo albums, things people had given me as gifts and all those tacky trinkets I had bought on my travels. It’s all gone now, except for five items, and I feel so much better. I know a lot of people struggle with this process and whilst I can’t tell you what to do, as someone who has been through it, I can share my perspective and what worked for me.
What I did
I would love to have been one of those people who got rid of everything in one go, but for me decluttering the sentimental stuff came in waves. I’d already got rid of a lot before I even attempted it because by this time, I’d developed the skill of determining somethings value to me.
I went through everything individually, in my own time. Things like jewellery from an old boyfriend were easy. I never wore it and the memories weren’t happy ones – I’d much rather have the money from the sale thanks.
Yearbooks were another easy one for me because looking through them didn’t make me feel happy, so I recycled them. I’ve always loved taking photographs and I’d built quite the photo album collection. Going through each one I realised I’d been keeping a lot of them because I thought I should. Even if I thought I looked awful, perhaps they had a family member or a friend in them. I got rid of all those photos that didn’t make me feel joy and I scanned what photos I had left.
Gifts were very tricky. I wanted to get rid of them because I knew they had no use and I didn’t really like them but even the thought of selling, trashing or donating that item filled me with guilt. Would the person who’d bought it for me think I was horrible for getting rid of it? What if they asked for it back? What if they come over and asked to see it? I didn’t want to upset anyone. As an over-thinker, I went through all the scenarios you could think of here.
I realised I was talking myself into keeping things and I wasn’t going to get rid of anything at that rate. So when I struggled, I reverted back to asking myself questions that were less emotional and more practical. Does this item really make me happy? Does it really add value to my life? If they were a real friend, would they really care if I didn’t want it? If I reversed the situation and someone didn’t want to keep something I’d bought for them, I wouldn’t want them to keep it. This thought process made letting go much easier.
Items that triggered happy memories were tough too. They sparked real joy, reminded me of someone perhaps or a certain time in my life. So, yes they make me feel happy but did I really need the item to treasure that memory? No. Not to sound too gushy, but I knew the memory was in me and nobody could take that away. If everything was lost in a fire or a flood, the memories would always remain.
Item by item all those gifts, travel trinkets and the contents of my memory boxes either went to the charity shop, got sold, recycled or trashed. All I had left was some jewellery that once belonged to my great grandmother, a teddy bear my grandparents had bought me one Christmas and the rosettes I had won from Horse of the Year Show. I kept these items because I really wanted to, not because I thought I should. I was happy with that outcome and they now live in my wardrobe where I can look at them regularly.
What I learned
Firstly, as hard as it was, I found that decluttering these items the most beneficial. For example, letting go of all those photos that made me feel bad about myself was a huge confidence boost because now, I only feel happy when I look through my remaining collection.
It’s only once we get rid of stuff, we realise how little value it had. This is such a shame because it leaves you wishing you’d realised this years ago. It’s clear now just how much space this stuff took up in my home and in my life and how negative that was. We all worry that we’ll regret getting rid of stuff and we won’t be able to get it back, yet I haven’t experienced or heard of one person who has regretted letting this stuff go. I never find myself thinking ‘I wish I’d kept that’.
We feel attachment to sentimental stuff because we believe there is some sort of magical essence in the item. We believe it’s that item that holds the memory and without it, the memory will disappear. Those memories don’t disappear because the item representing that memory did and there’s something very freeing about that.
Sentimental items can actually make us feel really sad. If you own items that belong to someone who has died, they sit dormant in our homes and subconsciously we know they are there at all times and that affects us. It can really weigh us down. Would that person want you to feel that way? The chances are not.
Like any skill, the ability to declutter improves with practice. The skill you need to develop is the ability to recognise something’s value to you specifically. We must find our own path and do this in our own way. There is no right or wrong way to go about it.
Tips if you’re struggling
1. Take the time required to really think about how an item makes you feel, how useful it is to you, what value does it really add to your life. Be brutally honest with yourself here. Write the answers down if this helps you think more clearly, there is no rush.
2. Put items you’re unsure about out of sight for a while. If something can live in a box for 12 months and never get looked at or used, it is really valuable? No. The only reason you have it is because you think you should – this is not a good enough reason for anything to take up physical space.
3. It is ok to keep some stuff. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember it’s about identifying what really adds value and discarding the rest, not getting rid of every single thing.
4. You only have to do this once, because once you’ve transitioned to a new way of thinking you’ll never accumulate these items again.
5. Remember it’s just stuff and it has no meaning, you’re the one adding meaning to it.
6. The truth is it’s highly unlikely anybody will notice that gift has gone, they won’t ask to see it. Would you notice if someone got rid of something you bought for them? Be realistic.
7. That guilt you feel is a consequence of our culture. We’re put under pressure to have stuff and hold onto sentimental items. This is all part of the consumerism merry go round you want to get off.
8. Listen to your gut. If it’s telling you that you can manage without this item then go with it. Ignore all the emotion, that will disappear soon enough once the item is gone.
9. If you’re worried about what others will think, it’s important to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing to people like family or friends.
10. Think of creative ways you can minimise things. Digital clutter is still clutter but it doesn’t weigh us down as much. Can you scan all those photos? Switch to e-books?
11. Give yourself the advice you’d give to your best friend in this situation. This is usually much more logical and supportive.
I’m cheering you on and supporting you to go and get rid of all those items you know you want to. You will feel so much better once you do! Make sure you let me know how you get on.
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