How to let go of sentimental items

7 May 2018

​I know for some people, the first thing they think is "why would I let go of sentimental items?? Isn't the point of sentimentality holding on to things that are truly special to us?"


Well, it all depends on your goals. If your goal is to live in a clutter-free home, or to live a minimalist lifestyle, or downsize into a smaller home, then it is possible that sentimental items might be one aspect holding you back.


Sentimentality describes feelings like tenderness, sadness or love for things, especially for things in the past. This is a key point.


When we are feeling sentimental toward something we are usually remembering a moment from the past. We attach the special memory to a physical object as a way to help remember it. We are scared that if we let go of the item, we will forget the memory.


There is no limit to the types of things we may attach sentimental feelings to... clothing, furniture, rugs, books, children's toys, children's clothes, cars, clocks, watches and even garden statues. 

But not everyone is sentimental. I remember very clearly the day one of my good friends told me that she isn’t very sentimental. What... you mean it is ok not to be sentimental  I thought. This was a liberating moment for me. I realised that it is ok not to be sentimental.


Pause for a moment and consider your own family. Do you have one person who wants to hold onto every piece of family furniture or household item and another who doesn’t seem interested to keep anything? 

If you feel that sentimentality might be holding you back try these four steps.


Four steps for letting go of sentimental items


1. Start with the two key questions: does it bring you joy or have a practical use?

You have one life. It is important to think critically about what you want to surround yourself with and to focus on the things that bring YOU joy. The things in your physical space impact the way you feel, so concentrate on how you want to feel in your spaces and how you currently feel. If there is a difference between the two then you have some decluttering to do.


In saying that, I am also a realist and I believe that not every single item in our homes has to spark joy. Some things are needed for purely functional reasons (in my case this is most things in my kitchen ;)). That's why I allow items to stay in my house if they bring me joy or have a functional use.


2. Display it, use it, wear it

If you have decided the item brings you joy or has a functional use and if you are not already doing so, it is time give it the love it deserves. This means display, use or wear it!! Why keep it stored away in the garage where you can’t appreciate and enjoy it?


I have cutlery that came from my family home growing up. It is quite sentimental to me. This cutlery was kept high up in a cupboard and only brought out on special occasions. It reminds me of family Christmas’s, birthdays and specials dinners with my family. In my new house, I decided to move it from storage to the kitchen for everyday use and to get rid of the crappy kmart set :)

If you find that you can’t bring yourself to put your high school art work on the wall, or you can’t find a nice place to display your first skateboard, then ask yourself, does it really spark joy?


3. Capture the memories another way

Ok, so you have decided you have an item that does not bring you joy or can’t get used in your home but you are still struggling to give it up.


The next step is to take some time to capture the memories in another way. There are a lot of different ways you could do this and it depends how creative you want to be.


A simple method is to take a photo of the item. You could take a cute picture of your first teddy bear, have it framed and hang it on your wall. Or you could photograph each of the trophies you have stored away and file them on your computer to look back on from time to time.


If you have a bit more time, you could create an online memory book using photos of the special moment or the sentimental item. And I guarantee, if you take some time to add captions, you'll enjoy looking back through the albums even more (and don't have to rely on your memory!).


Another option is to start an online journal specifically for recording memories. Apps like Penzu allow you to have multiple journals so you could create different journals for different types of memories. For example, you could create a journal for all memories about your parents. Start by writing about the memories associated with the specific item you are letting go and add to it each time a memory of them pops into your head.


4. Say no to obligation

Sentimental value isn’t just something we impose on ourselves, it can also be pushed upon us from other people.


Have you experienced a family member try to give you something and even when you try to say that you’re not interested, they say “but it was your so-and-so’s” or “but it has been in the family for 50 years”?? It can be hard to tell the person that, just because they chose to keep the item, doesn’t mean you want or have to.


In these situations, it might be helpful to remember that the person is probably struggling with letting go themselves. They want/need to get rid of some things but can’t bear to give it to a stranger. They would feel better if they knew it remained in the family.


Keeping this in mind, you can gently let the person know that the item isn’t special to you and you don’t wish to accept it. You could suggest they photograph it and offer to help them sell or donate it.


Next time you discover a sentimental item that you have been holding on to, pause for a minute to think about how it makes you feel and if you truly need to keep the physical item any more.


I would love to know - have you parted with any sentimental items and did you preserve the memories before you let them go?




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Melbourne Australia