First off, let me say this: if you are just beginning your decluttering journey. Save all the sentimental items for later. Focus on the tools, the utilitarian things around the house that bring no emotion to mind when you wonder “should I keep this or let it go?”
The beginning of your journey is not the time to sort the challenging items.
Set yourself up for success and declutter the meaningless junk first.
Sentimental items are overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel that these things will never get sorted, which is why I always recommend you save them for last. Give yourself plenty of decluttering victories before tackling the hard things.
But, if you are ready to work through the deeper levels of clutter, then roll up your sleeves, set a determined look on your face and let’s dig in.
When you are decluttering sentimental items, you have to recognize that different feelings and emotions are going to come up.
This is normal and healthy.
Sure, feelings can be uncomfortable, because we often spend our lives avoiding them and avoiding causing other people to feel things (“I have to keep that teapot Aunt Linda gave me, so I don’t hurt her feelings”). Addressing those feelings is one of the major benefits of embracing a simpler life.
It’s not just the physical clutter that adds stress; it’s the heavy emotions behind the items and the postponed decisions that weigh us down. When you take time to feel and acknowledge those feelings, you can work through the emotions and let the item and the weighty emotions go, bringing some calm and peace into your life.
When we refuse to feel the emotions we have, we live impaired lives, missing out on various gifts that are available for all of us. Though it may be uncomfortable at times, paying attention to your feelings is a must if you want to declutter those sentimental items.
Three steps to take when you look at a sentimental item:
1. Feel your feelings – take responsibility for what your heart is saying.
2. Talk about it; whether this is with someone you trust, or in a journal, it’s important to express your feelings.
3. Admit your need. We all need, it’s human. We cannot be perfect, complete, and whole in and of ourselves. This may be admitting you need to cry, acknowledging you need the person you lost, admitting you feel broken, or admitting that this life isn’t perfect.
The steps may be easy for me to write, but I’ll be honest: they are not easy steps to take. But, if you allow yourself to work through that process, you open yourself up to healing and fulfillment in your life.
Keep the important items
Embracing minimalism doesn’t mean you are going to get rid of every single thing. It means you are going to eliminate the excess. The things the prevent you from living the life you want to be living.
For a few people, this will be getting rid of all sentimental items so they can live out of their backpacks. But for the majority of people, it means recognizing the pieces that are special and giving them a place of honor in your home.
Keep the number of items you feel comfortable with. Do you have a painting from your grandmother that you love? Keep it. A dining room set that you don’t? Let it go.
Permitting yourself to keep the special items before you begin will help curb the anxiety of decluttering these items. You can face it, knowing that you are simply editing out the things that don’t serve you but keeping the things that do serve you.
Why do we struggle to let go of items from people who have passed away?
We all have an innate desire for this life to be whole, complete, and perfect. It’s not, and we can’t make it that way, but we all have a desire for it. Part of the struggle is admitting that there is an end to every season, and when we lose a loved one, facing the end to that season is one of the hardest things we have to face.
We long for things to be right, well, good, and continue as such.
The more we value something, the deeper our sorrow, but that isn’t all bad. Sadness is an honoring emotion. When you allow yourself to feel sad, you honor what was lost and move towards accepting things, that feel wholly unacceptable.
When we refuse to feel that sadness, we transfer our emotions from the person we lost to their old possessions. We try to keep them alive, embodied in their old stuff because we are unwilling to let them go.
Then, when we decide to get rid of the items, it feels as if we are losing them all over again, we can’t possibly go through that again, and we become enslaved to the emotions we don’t want to face.
If we grieve genuinely, we eventually come to accept life in these imperfect terms.
It doesn’t matter how long it has been, or if you think “that’s water under the bridge.” You have to feel those feelings before you can move on and find healing.
Accepting life’s seasons
It is similar in all the sentimental things we have to sort, whether they are drawings the children made, baby clothes, or college textbooks and notes.
When you let go of baby clothes, it is admitting that that season of life is past. When we hold the clothes, we remember how little they were, all the hopes and dreams we had, and how life isn’t quite what we imagined it would be now.
None of those feelings are wrong. And to move on, you have to feel them. Allow yourself to be sad, allow yourself to admit if things aren’t like you dreamed they would be. It’s part of the process, and in doing so, you allow yourself to accept the past and live more fully in the present.
The past is not the present
We have an incredible ability to remember the good things. When we think back to when our babies were small, we think of the fuzzy head resting under our chin, we think of the little eyes that lit up when they saw us, and the little arms that came running to mama whenever there was doubt.
Those are precious memories. But if you are holding onto the clothes, the toys, and all the various whatnots that come with little humans, because you can’t bear to be out of that season you aren’t fully able to appreciate the season you are in now.
No matter what season you are in, there is joy to be found. Holding onto the past makes the present joy much more difficult to see and embrace.
- Decluttering Sentimental Items with the help of Emotional Processing
- The “5 Whys” to disconnect from sentimental attachment
- Navigating Emotional Landmines as You Declutter Your Home