Grieving Through The Past As You Declutter Sentimental Items

Grieving Through The Past As You Declutter Sentimental Items
Sentimental items are difficult to declutter. There is no way around it; so many different emotions come up as we see the item, touch it, or smell it. They take us back in time and help us remember.
It’s not wrong to keep items like that. The issue comes when we have a full storage space filled with them. If these items are stored away, we can’t take an afternoon to reminisce- if we try, we wouldn’t even scratch the surface.
So, what’s the end goal with decluttering sentimental items?
Since the point of keeping these items, is to relive memories, we need to be able to access them easily. So, we need to be able to keep all our sentimental items to a manageable amount.
We don’t need a lot.
For example: when children are grown and out of the house, it’s bittersweet to see their toys or clothes from when they were little. It only takes one baby outfit to have those memories come flooding back, we only need one. We don’t need an entire box (or multiple boxes). Many people don’t even need the outfit- if they have a picture of the child in the outfit, that’s enough for them to remember and enjoy those memories.
It’s hard to decide what to keep out of a collection of sentimental items. It helps to gather things into categories; Grandmother’s things, vintage clothing or tea pot collection.
Look over them and pick out the one or 2 items that you LOVE. The ones that you would grab if you were deciding what to save in a house fire.
It’s ok to let the rest go, allow them to serve a purpose in someone else’s life.
If you think about what you would save in case of a house fire… and you realize that you wouldn’t save any of them, then it’s time to let them go.
What you keep and what you let go of, is up to you. Many times it’s easy to think “what would they say if they saw me giving this away??” and we allow that thought to freeze us in our tracks.
Remember, that you are the one that is living in your home. Your home needs to bring you peace, joy and comfort. Not anyone else. What you allow to stay in your home and be taken care of by you, can only be decided by you.
How to let go of sentimental items:
When you decide to let items go, that are special, but you know you don’t want them stored away in your home any longer, you will need to allow yourself to feel all the feelings associated with each item, or each collection.
Giving away baby items means: mourning the fact that the child isn’t a baby anymore. You can cry, you can miss that season and you can remember… and then, you can let them go.
Giving away items from a loved one who has passed means: mourning the fact that they are no longer with you. You can cry, you can miss them, talk to them, write a letter to them… and then, you can let them go.
Letting go of these items doesn’t mean you are throwing away what you had, throwing away the memories or disregarding that relationship.
What can help:
Have a ceremony.

  • If you have an abundance of papers from your education, or occupation that is no longer needed- have a bonfire and a burn them all.
  • Thank the item for years of service. Thank the item for making you smile, for fulfilling it’s purpose in your life. Send it off to serve a purpose in someone else’s life.

Photograph and journal about it.

  • Take a photo of the item and journal all the memories that it brings up. Can you picture grandma baking coffee cake in her kitchen with that dish? Write about it- write out all enjoyable memories that come to mind.
  • Photograph letters, children’s drawings or crafts. Label with name and date/age. Store in a file on the computer, or create a photo album with your favorites.

Display it.

  • If it’s something you really love, display it. Some things can be put into a shadow box, others can be enjoyed on a shelf. If it makes you smile, why not have it out to enjoy?
  • A shelf with an eclectic arrangement of memories can bring joy. If you struggle with making things aesthetically pleasing, ask an artistic friend to help. Even if you don’t keep it the way they arrange it, it may inspire you on how to group things together to be pleasing to your senses.

Only keep one.

  • Keep one thing from a collection; If a great aunt had a huge teacup collection, but you don’t want to display 57 pieces- keep one of the cups and let the rest go.
  • Keep one photo from each trip, each event, etc. It only takes one to remember, but yet, we tend to hold onto 20-50+, and duplicates and duds. Keep one, use an acid-free photo pencil to write on the back: the date, and anything particular you want to remember about it. Then let the rest go.

If you are struggling with letting sentimental items go, but know you want to and need to, please take some time to watch this webinar: Decluttering Sentimental Items With The Help Of Emotional Processing
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About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Kelsi on 02/11/2016 at 1:31 pm

    This is a really sweet and well-put article. It gently reminds us that it’s the memories, not the items themselves, that we ultimately cherish. And it’s nice to be reminded that we have permission to release those items to their next home. Thank you for this!

  2. Lauren Jade Martin on 02/21/2016 at 5:39 pm

    Great suggestions. This is definitely something that my parents struggle with a lot more than me. But I feel the sentimental items and closets full of stuff is what keeps many people from ever starting the decluttering process. It can seem so overwhelming emotionally. Love how you’ve broken it down and provided so many thoughtful insights!
    Lauren Jade

  3. Janelle on 02/23/2016 at 5:17 pm

    I have decluttered many sentimental collections in the past but have avoided tackling others. This article provided many practical tips to help me overcome obstacles that have hindered me from beginning the process previously. Thank you!

  4. Sheryl at Providence Acres on 02/26/2016 at 4:34 pm

    Sometimes declittering takes time. Set the sentimental items aside and think about it. The shock of giving away something emotionally valuable will fade as you look at that item and think about why you should keep it. Sometimes you have to move all that stuff to a new home to realize that you don’t need it anyway. Then get rid of it when you can’t fit it in anywhere…

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