How to More Easily Declutter Sentimental Items

How to declutter sentimental items without the guilt or any of the overwhelm and stress about what might happen if you let go of something. 

Out of all the emails I get on decluttering and organizing, there is one I get asked about the most. “How do I get rid of things I Iove? Things from my past that remind me of so many moments when my children were younger when…. I was younger?”

organizing tips for sentimental things

If you are new to Declutter in Minutes, there is one thing I like to remind my readers of, and it definitely bears repeating.

If you love your things and you have room for your things, then please, keep your things. 

I am not here to tell you, you must toss out all of your treasured memories. Life is all about being happy, and if keeping a recipe from your Grandmother makes you happy, then please keep it.

My grandma's framed brownie recipe on a counter with a plant behind.

I am here to help you let go of the things you don’t love.

The extra stuff in your home that is weighing you down every single day. I want to help you let go of that “stuff” so you DO have room for the things that make you happy.

And yes, there is an easier way to do this. Because another thing you may or may not know about me is that I LOVE easy!

But before we dive in, let’s back up just a bit.

I am an extremely sentimental person. This is especially true when it comes to my kids.

I think I kept every single thing they ever made or wore. When my grandson was born, I was so excited to get out those clothes I kept from my own boys.

Clothes I pictured him wearing long before he was even born. I took out a few outfits that would fit him and washed them all in their “parental approved” detergent.

The next time I had him over, I took out an outfit to put on him, and the elastic disintegrated in my hands. I remember I just sat there looking at those adorable pants and thinking that saving all those clothes all those years left me with things no one could really use now.

That weekend I went through all those clothes and only kept things that were still wearable. Literally 1/3 of what I had saved.

One Third

Pile of baby clothes, close up

I overthought things back then. So worried that if I let go of any of it I would be left with none of it. And since I was keeping so much of it I was not storing it in a way that would keep the integrity of the item.

Here is a valuable lesson I learned. If you want to keep it you need to store it in a way that keeps it safe and in good condition.

Treat every item like it’s a million-dollar vase.

Wrap it, store it, and label it clearly. Make it easy to find so when you do want to get it out to display it (more on this later) you will not only find it right away but you will find it in a good condition.

How to (More Easily) Declutter Sentimental Items

Not all clutter is created equal. Some of it is “blind clutter” – things we are so used to seeing we don’t really notice it anymore. Like that stack of receipts on your dresser or that pile of magazines in the bathroom. And if that was what we were dealing with here, this would be a much easier article to write.

Sentimental clutter is not that. It’s emotional and feels almost as if it has a life of its own.

Have you ever had a smell from your past show up unannounced? In an instant, you are transported back to a day in your childhood. Every time I smell cinnamon I am reminded of these amazing rolls my mother used to make on Thanksgiving. It’s like magic how that one smell can bring up such memories.

Items that trigger such happiness should be things you keep around. Yes, I am giving you permission to keep the things that make you smile.

We are only going to remove the things that don’t. Things that just remind us of the past but do not make us grin, sigh, or laugh.

Life is simply too short not to be filled with days of happiness, especially in our homes. So, our goal today (and every day) is to be sure we are surrounded by things that make us happy.

family laughing at home

Gather Up Your Supplies

When going through sentimental things, it is important to have the correct storage containers before you begin. I would invest in sturdy totes of different sizes. This will allow you to store things correctly, so they last as long as you need them to.

Bubble wrap, newspaper, and post-it notes. I like to wrap and label each item because it can be quite hard to tell what something is when it’s all wrapped up.

This is your decluttering kit and a good collection to have ready to go whenever you are ready to declutter.

a decluttering kit sitting on a counter in a kitchen

You will also need labels and markers so you can clearly see what is inside of each tote. This is your index, and it really is important when putting random items together in one storage container.

I like to have memento totes for each of my kids. This is a great way to share some of the sentimental items from our family that they may want to have themselves someday. My grandmother’s dishes, for example, were divided up, so each of my boys got a place setting. Just something small to remind them of someone that meant a lot to me. The trick is to attach a label that explains briefly what it is and why it’s there.

Be careful here. You do not want to pass clutter on to your kids. Keep only enough items to fill just one tote. This will make those items more of a treasure box rather than just a tote full of stuff.

Baby Steps

With any clutter project, it is so much easier to break things down into smaller steps. With a sentimental clutter project, it is imperative. Things need to be done slowly so you have time to deal with any memories that come up. Don’t just toss and go here, take the time to go through things one at a time and make your decision slowly. This is probably the one step most folks skip over and regret later.

Let’s start out easy. Take a walk around your home and see what you have out. Look at things on your shelves and in cabinets. If you can see things right now that you are okay to pass on or let go of altogether, gather them up and take them to your totes.

D/M Pro Tip: You may want to take this walk a few times before moving on. Each time you go through your things, it gets easier to pick out items that are not treasures as you once thought they were. Ask yourself if it is best to have it in your home or if someone else would love it more. This one question can really help to more easily pick out things that are no longer something you really care for.

A box of photos

Please don’t panic here. Remember your goal. You are simply removing those things you no longer love, so you have more room for the things you do.

Let’s look at it this way.

If you have a shelf that is crammed full of photos of all different shapes and sizes. It can be almost impossible to see each of them. But, if you have a shelf of a few photos each in their own space, you will notice them all along with the memory that comes with each one of them.

D/M PRO TIP: If you love photos, swapping them out every few weeks or months is a great way to keep things fresh. Set a reminder on your phone and make that “photo swap out day”! Change up a few or all of the photos you have on display. This is a great way to bring out older photos, showcase new ones, and really turn a shelf into a home centerpiece!

Another thing to remember with photos, they are small and take up very little space. That is a good thing as long as you keep them organized so they don’t take over. I love to use these photo organizers. They are simply amazing! They are easy to stack and move and work great to organize photos more easily. These organizers do only hold 4×6 photos, so if yours are larger, you will need to check the dimensions.

Decluttering Gifts

There is nothing as emotionally draining as guilt. And gifts can sometimes come with a load of it. I used to stress out about getting rid of something that was given to me. And I honestly believe that is one of the things that got me into my cluttered mess in the first place.

If you take only one thing away today, let it be this.

Gifts should never equal guilt.

Do not keep things because you think you have to. That is simply an unexpected pressure you are putting on yourself.

Most people know that a gift they are giving may not be something that is needed or loved. And that’s okay! Even you have given gifts to others that they may already have or may not even want at all. The thing to remember is, that you do not give gifts with requirements attached to them. And if that is true, then others are not giving gifts to YOU in the same way.

It is okay to let go of things that were given to you as a gift.

A Few Options for Sentimental Items

Take a Picture

A picture is worth a thousand words and a few memories too. By taking photos of some of your items you may be more willing to part with them.

But wait, what on earth do I do with the photos? You can create photo albums! Small mini-albums to hold photos of items that are all related.

Like an album of 2nd-grade artwork from your son. Or an album of pictures of dolls you had when you were young. Or (and this is a biggie for me) an album of things from your wedding. I saved our napkins, invitations, matches, decorations, cards, and more. it’s all crammed in an old box and the next on my list of things to go through! You can grab these albums at the Dollar Tree for a buck each!

D/M TAKEAWAY- Take pictures of your things and make mini-albums instead!

Use Technology

Consider using technology instead of storing your things. I have a box of old cassette tapes in our attic. The funny thing is I do not have a cassette player nor any desire to go out and buy one. Today’s technology is pretty amazing. If there is a song I want to hear. Any song in the world, I can simply Google it up and play it. And because of that, I was able to let those tapes go and free up more space in my home for things I truly love.

D/M TAKEAWAY- Keep the memory without having to keep the “thing”.

Pass Things On

Pass things on. One of my clutter hot spots is crafts. I seriously had more craft supplies than Micheals and more material than Joanna Fabrics. To me, those were valuable supplies and I was simply not going to get rid of them.

Then my niece was born. When she was older she found she loved to sew. Each holiday I would create a small “bundle” of material and send it off to her. She loved getting those bundles and my overly stocked shelves began to take shape. This regifting idea soon turned into a tradition.

Later I realized my other niece loves to draw and use stickers. And just like that, another tradition was born. Each holiday I mail her a large envelope of papers, stickers, and more.

D/M TAKEAWAY: Tossing is not your only option! You can give your things a second life by passing them on to someone you love.

Rotate Your Things

I am not a collector. I never really got into any fads as I grew up. That is until I discovered my love of coffee. And if you are a coffee lover, then you might understand why I love to collect mugs. There is just something about finding the perfect mug that makes me happy. The size, the feel of the handle, and even the shape all matter for it to be one I love and use. And since I love mugs so much, I have quite a few of them now.

The problem is, I love every single one of them. So, that means decluttering is not going to happen here. To compromise I rotate my mugs out with each holiday/season. This allows me to keep all the mugs that I love but keep my collection much more reasonable too.

How it works. 

I took out all of my coffee mugs and sorted them down by theme.

  • Summer
  • Easter/Spring
  • Halloween/Fall
  • Christmas/Winter

Once that was done, I then packed up the ones that were “out of season” in a tote that was clearly labeled and left the rest in my cabinet. Each new holiday/season I swap out my mugs for a fresh batch to enjoy. This cleaned things out without me having to part with a collection that really does make me smile every single day.

D/M TAKEAWAY- Rotate a collection out so you can keep it all and still enjoy each piece throughout the year.

I hope you find these tips helpful when you declutter sentimental items. It’s true you will still need to do the work, and if you set aside a bit of time each week you might just be surprised how much you can work through in those small pockets of time.

Just know that the more you can work through, the less stuff you will have in your home. And the less you have in your home, the more you will free up all that extra space for the new memories you are sure to create.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the wonderful tips! This is a difficult area to sort through, but with these suggestions, I an do it without the guilt. Grateful!!

  2. Very helpful Tracy! I have used your methods for a while & my home is starting to look like one-instead of the crammed to the gills storage unit it used to resemble. I’m passing your info on to my friend who is overwhelmed & does not know where to begin. Your advice has helped me tremendously. Thank you so much.

  3. I can relate to this, and I like your tips. I bet I will end up with disintegrating baby pants. Ha! We move every 2-3 years, which means we have to constantly declutter. That is one good thing about the moving. We stayed here for a whole three years, and the kids were home all the time thanks to covid, so wow. I have my work cut out for me right now. I can use all the tips I can get.

  4. Thank you for sharing these tips. My sisters and I will be going through our parent’s home over the next year and I think all of us are dreading the task. I pinned this for comfort and ideas as we start this process. #HomeMattersParty

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