Decluttering Sentimental Items

Decluttering Sentimental Items
After we’ve gotten rid of all the meaningless stuff around the house, decluttering starts to get a little harder. We have to start thinking about the items that aren’t used, but we’ve kept because someone special gave it to us, or owned it or for whatever reason we felt guilt at the idea of letting it go.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we had one or two of these items, but for most of us in the United States, we have an abundance of these items. Some people rent storage units for thousands of dollar a year to keep all their relative’s items.
Some move into their parent’s homes after the parents have passed, and couldn’t stand the idea of letting anything go, so they have items from 2 households under one roof.
That’s a lot of stuff. A lot of burden.
It’s difficult to part with items that evoke strong emotions.
But we must remember: when we get rid of an item, we are not getting rid of the person or the memory.
For those who have passed on, of course we want to remember them! But if something is more of a burden than a blessing, is it really honoring to the person who is no longer with us?
I know my loved ones who aren’t here, wouldn’t want their stuff to be a burden to me.
They would want to be remembered in love, not in guilt.
Letting go of sentimental items is a lot of work and often emotionally draining. Allow time to process. Work through each item and evaluate:

  • Do I love it? Does it makes me smile? Is it beautiful to look at?
  • Do I use it? Collecting dust on a shelf doesn’t count.
  • Does it bring me peace? Do I stress about the kids breaking it?! 

To ease letting things go, journal the memories that come up when you see the item. Take a picture of it, write the stories that you think of. Keep the book of memories.
Don’t rely on the past to define you. Build your life around the present; Who you need to be building relationships with, what you were put on this earth to do.
What about the people that are still with us, but don’t understand why we would get rid of things?
I know this is difficult and many don’t understand and often take offense if we get rid of things that they gave us. If you have someone in your life that fits this category, this is how I have handled it:

  • Invite them over or out to coffee/dinner to visit.
  • Explain how I learned about the “living with less” philosophy and why it appeals to me.
  • Let them know that I will be working at letting things go and freeing up time, space and energy.
  • Let them know that I love them and don’t want to cause offense, because they’ve given quite a few special items to us over the years, but we simply have too much, so we’ll be letting some things go.
  • It they mention particular items that they don’t want you to get rid of, but you know you will, offer it back to them.

Remember that in the end, they may still take offense. This is not your fault.
What we allow in our home and surround ourselves with, is our decision. It affects our family and our environment. It’s not healthy to be surrounded by items that give us any sort of negative feelings, so let those go and release the emotional clutter.
How about you? Are you struggling to get rid of something? Leave a comment below to continue this conversation.

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I created a FREE Facebook Group - feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group and I share videos each week on YouTube


  1. Anna on 10/08/2014 at 6:34 am

    I am pretty new to minimalism (even though I have never liked clutter and always wanted that sense of freedom that comes with living a simple life). The things that are complicated are these you mention – sentimental items, or even more photographs and art others or me myself have made. I have a few questions about how you handle some situations and was wondering if you could just give me some tips?
    – I have embraced this lifestyle and I really do love it! The problem is I am now almost ‘allergic’ to bringing any new things into my life.. and it feels so hard having to tell people I don’t want their gifts and such.. even birthday gifts. How do I tell them but in a kind, non-hurting way?
    – The same with my nephews and younger sisters who keep giving me artwork? I do love getting it, but I also get this feeling of ‘please no more stuff’ every time. Do I keep it for a time and then get rid of it? Or does this not count as sentimental stuff cause I keep it more out of guilt to be honest..
    – The most troubling thing for me is that I have always loved making various projects. As soon as I’m not working and have time to myself I get creative; writing, drawing etc. and I love doing it! But I also feel like I don’t know what to do with the finished products..I have started to dislike doing these things simply cause I don’t want to add another drawing/thing to my ‘collection’. Should I delete things when I finish them or keep them anyway? Should add I make a lot of things so it does start filling up eventually haha 😉
    — I always get rid of journals and such when I have finished move on with life. That’s why Im wondering if I should do the same with all else I create? —
    Do you have any ideas, or how do you handle these? 🙂
    (English is not my first language so it might sound a bit strange)
    Hope you have a lovely day x

    • Rachel on 10/08/2014 at 12:40 pm

      Whew Anna! 🙂
      I accept all gifts and thank the giver. Sometimes I keep it around for a short period of time, so the giver sees it in my home and then I pass it on. My close friends and family, thankfully all understand and give gifts that are consumable (chocolate, wine, etc) I have a whole series on gifts: and perhaps you can talk to them about it respectfully, so they know where you are coming from.
      For children’s artwork, this is what we do: , perhaps you can determine a time from of having it on your fridge or bulletin board and then let them go.
      And I get the creative aspect too! Creativity is my form of coping. I tend to give it away. I do paint and have a collection of my works that I have available for sale and do exhibits/shows, so it’s not always at my home.
      Photographs: many people will scan their pictures and just keep the digital file, so it does take up space on the computer or USB drive, but it takes up much less space then the original.
      Hope that gives you a place to start! Thank you so much for coming by. 🙂

  2. Julia on 10/08/2014 at 9:37 am

    I’m new to your blog but enjoying it!

    • Rachel on 10/08/2014 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks Julia! 😉

  3. Celeste on 10/08/2014 at 3:50 pm

    I came across your blog and a few others that promote minimalism while looking for decluttering ideas. I love the idea of having less clutter, in fact we have quite a problem with it and would like to get it under control. We have a small house, 2 children so far and are running a farm and home business out of our house. However as I have been reading more about minimalism something about it has started bothering me. It sounds expensive. I do not want to be rude or offensive, but many of the suggestions for keeping clutter at bay is to simply get rid of nearly everything. That doesn’t seem very practical to me. For example if I get rid of the clothes the children have outgrown, or even the brand new ones that they have never worn then when the next child comes along I would have to buy all new clothes. I have two boys so far(and we are expecting another baby) and they can be hard on clothes and it has been a great blessing to have those clothes that I saved from my first son for my second son, otherwise I would have had to spend around $100+ even if I got it at a thrift store(which is where I do shop). Another thing I can’t wrap my mind around is the pantry. Your pantry photo looks beautiful, but I can’t imagine mine ever looking that way. I have at least 3 months to a years worth of various kinds of bulk food items, make almost everything from scratch and preserve a lot of our own food, which saves me lot of money on the food budget. I guess I am just wondering how practical it would be on a very limited budget. So,my question is: if you get rid of almost everything and then end up needing it later don’t you end up spending more money in the long run?

    • Rachel on 10/08/2014 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Celeste,
      Minimalism isn’t about how little you have; it’s about being content and not
      yearning for more.
      Minimalism is going to look different for each person and each family. Of course farmers/homesteaders are going to need more things to get their work done.
      Some people keep hand-me-downs well organized and the system works well for them, others use the consignment shop and sell/purchase everything they need there with credit.
      For us, the older boys were stair steps, so when one outgrew something, the other was growing into it, so I never kept clothes stored away. We used the dot system that I talk about in this post:
      After that, there was a lot of space between children and I’m not one to keep something that I may need 5 years down the road. We do have a large network of friends and family though that pass kids clothes around, so clothing has never been a big expense for us.
      When I decided to reduce by an extreme amount, I was concerned about needing kitchen items, as I cook everything from scratch as well. I packed everything up and stored it in the garage. By the end of a year I had already dug out the items that I truly needed and everything else was free to go.
      For us, having less and desiring less has saved us money. We’re not anxious to buy the next great gadget and we don’t buy things “just because”.
      Blessings 🙂

      • Celeste on 10/09/2014 at 4:32 pm

        Thanks for the reply!
        We definitely try to cultivate contentment around here! We don’t buy very much, but our biggest issue is keeping almost everything we do have! I know we have more than we need but our challenge is knowing when to get rid of things as a lot of it does end up being useful. Also we have the household stuff as well as much of the farm and business stuff in the house. It certainly drives me crazy sometimes! Right now we have probably 15 varieties of garlic in various boxes and we are packing and shipping orders daily in the living room! We are working towards having a separate packing shed, but in the meantime that is one of my biggest struggles in the area of contentment 🙂

  4. Molly on 10/11/2014 at 11:29 am

    I’m all about this topic but my husband is exact opposite!! His father passed away 9 years ago and his mother passed one year ago. If I recommend getting rid of some of their things that we dont need he is very hurt. For instance, we have his fathers suit he got married in from 1970. We have fine china that was his mothers. We don’t USE fine china. Never have. So, what do you recommend for the very reluctant, emotionally attached spouse? I don’t want to disrespect or hurt my husband.

    • Christina on 10/12/2014 at 12:38 pm

      Maybe you could let your husband see if the suit doesn’t fit him, that you could donate it to a local playhouse and then go see the play together in honor of his dad and to help out the playhouse. Perhaps for the mothers china, you could offer to have one big holiday dinner with it (let him clean and wash hehe) and then talk about if you’d plan to use it again or regift it to someone who would love china or a B&B if it’s something one of them would like, or a local Tea Party restaurant or something, or one of those local groups that teach manners/table manners to young girls etc…and tell him how you think that would be a great way to honor his mother that she could look down and see people regularly enjoying the set she used to love, since it’s really not your style and it won’t get used much at your house. Good luck with that!

      • Christina on 10/12/2014 at 12:40 pm

        Or…turn some of the tea cups into candles, glue them to the bottom plate and give one to each of the kids to keep at their homes, and you guys keep one just as a memento (and a light in case of emergency) around the house somewhere.

    • Rachel on 10/13/2014 at 2:23 pm

      Sorry, Molly, that is difficult. He’s going to have to get there on his own. I think you can ask questions to help him evaluate why he’s keeping them. One tip I’ve heard of was the “5 whys”, let him know that you want to do so it doesn’t exasperate him. But ask him “why” 5 times: “Why are you keeping your father’s suit?” When he responds, you ask “why?” and continue until you have asked “Why?” 5 times total. This will often get to the root and help him understand his own thoughts and reasoning behind keeping it. When he realizes that, he may be more willing to part with items.

  5. Liss on 10/23/2014 at 1:27 pm

    I have lived this way for a long while and love it…. My home has a very peaceful simplicity to it. My mother lives quite a distance away and hasn’t been to my home in many years. She frequently asks about gifts she gave two of my children when they were younger than five, even though they are now 15 and 18. I have a beautiful (small) keepsake box that I put together for my older daughter when she moved to college to take with her one day when she has a home of her own. I realize she may or may not take it and if she didn’t, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings in any way. My mother, however, would be completely appalled and offended if she new that we really don’t have all of their childhood items packed and saved in boxes and boxes just for keepsake. My mother was very generous with my children when they were little and bought many beautiful items for decorating and play. These are things I have long passed on to other families whose children can now have those beautiful things for a time. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t thankful or appreciative, but those were beautiful things that were ours for a time and have hopefully been loved by several children since.

  6. Lana Templeton on 10/26/2014 at 2:47 pm

    I enjoy this blog. I am a semi minimalist, but am trying to be better. I want memories rather than things. I bought toys at garage sales, but realized even though less pricey than stores I was cluttering the house with things my son doesn’t play with. My mil expects me to keep every toy she buys my son which is quite frustrating. She buys a lot of toys that are either way beyond my son’s age group ( army men that fit in his mouth, he is 17 months old) or are from the $1 store.
    I am not one that is sentimental about too many things so I threw out most wedding cards since most were just signed with a name versus any personal message and I threw out pics of people that I had but didn’t remember who they were.
    Thanks for the great ideas.

  7. Kristina on 01/15/2015 at 7:10 am

    Loving your blog, am so glad you’ve come into my life, Rachel! Your post on sentimental items echoes what I’ve been saying for years (“I don’t want anyone to feel obliged to keep any of my things, I’d rather be a happy memory than a big dusty box of useless!”), but you go further and give me permission to move on the things I have felt obliged to keep – thank you!! Hopefully my better half feels the same – we are both (reforming) hoarders from way back, and I believe this stems from being raised in low-income households. My family always kept everything, because we couldn’t afford a new one and you never know when you might need it – agony!! However, my children are learning about sustainability at school and are now suggesting we try to reuse things rather than move them on – eg we could turn this broken plastic plate into a craft activity! No, I don’t think so! Maybe hoarding is in the genes?!

    • Rachel on 01/16/2015 at 11:52 am

      Kristina, thank you for being here! I love the reuse-reduce-recycle idea, but I think we have to get rid of all our excess before we implement it, too bad the schools don’t instill in us how to not acquire so much in the first place, eh? 🙂

  8. Jody on 01/21/2015 at 7:02 am

    Hi, I have a specific question. I have an old doll that my great grandmother hand sewed. It’s a large doll all hand embroidered, hand made clothes. I have never liked it. It’s ugly and has lived in my crawl space for 35 years in a plastic tub. But what do I do with it? Help!

    • Rachel on 01/21/2015 at 2:11 pm

      I think the best way to look at it is this: The purpose of the gift was to be given and then received, so this doll served it’s purpose the day your grandmother gave it to you. Now, you are free to let it go. Perhaps another person will get joy out of it when you donate it, and in that, it can serve a new purpose. Just remember that it has fulfilled it’s purpose in your life and now you can let it go without guilt.

    • Kay on 05/12/2016 at 1:35 am

      I would ask if anyone else in the family would like that doll.

  9. AJ on 04/12/2018 at 3:16 am

    Oh my! I totally forgot I have Dolores, my mom’s doll from the twenties. She is large. My mom sure loved her and kept her her entire life. I now have her. What am I to do with her? I always thought she was kind of frightening. Thanks, AJ

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