How to Get Rid of Sentimental Clutter

How to Get Rid of Sentimental Clutter

Sentimental clutter is much easier to talk about when you’re not in the thick of it, which is why I am writing this post as a reflection on My Money Story instead of what I was dealing with during my move.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am NOT an expert on getting rid of sentimental clutter.


I know, I know, why would you even keep reading if I’m not an expert?!

Because even though I’m not an “expert” per se, I have recently gotten rid of a LOT of sentimental clutter all by myself. Although at the time, I didn’t call it sentimental clutter – in fact, I didn’t know what to call it except “stuff that means something to me and I am sad to part with”.

I think “sentimental clutter” is much more poetic.

No matter what you call it, I think most of us have it – things that we’re holding on to even if we don’t use, want, or sometimes even like, just because of the memories attached. Often times, we don’t even remember we have it until it’s right in front of our face.

Sentimental or not, physical clutter can have serious consequences on your mental well being. Whether you’re holding on to the pants you wore in high school or a stack of magazines that you’ll read one day, physical clutter carries a weight that can’t be seen.

Don’t believe me?

Have you ever gone through your things and felt physically and emotionally exhausted afterward? That feeling is what you’ve been carrying around with you while holding on to them. 

It’s not a coincidence that people say they feel lighter after getting rid of their junk – emotionally, they are.

If you have extra rooms or a storage unit, this extra stuff may not feel like as much of a burden. But, what if you need to downsize or are just sick of spending money to store things you don’t actually need?

How do you get “okay” with letting go of these things? 

Here are a few things that helped me:

1. One Thing at a Time

Whether you have one closet or an entire room full of stuff, looking at what you have to go through in its entirety is overwhelming and likely to put you off from ever starting.

So, how do you get over the hump?

Commit to dealing with one thing per day – whether that be one shelf, one box, or even just one item. Eventually, it will give you the momentum to keep going or, at the very least, you will be making a dent slowly – which is better than not making a dent at all.

Another thing, if possible, completely remove your one thing from the room or pile in question when you go through it. Getting out of the headspace of all that stuff will make it much easier to deal with.

Not convinced? Neither was my mom. That is until she started taking one box out of the room per day and now has a clean and organized room. She was surprised at how motivated she was once she started to make a dent.

2. Dig Deeper

You may think you know why you’re keeping an item, but sometimes you get so used to having it where it is that you don’t question why it’s there in the first place.

It’s time to question it.

Take the time to ask yourself what part of the item is sentimental to you. Is it because it belonged to someone important or reminds you of a time or place? 

If your answer is that you truly love the object itself, it’s not clutter. But, if your answer has nothing to do with the object itself and everything to do with its association to one of the things above, it may be time to get rid of it.

While the item may trigger a memory for you, the memory isn’t in the item itself – it’s in you. Getting rid of that item isn’t going to take away the memory. 

Also, you can still love, remember, and honor someone without holding on to their stuff. 

For example, I have my dad’s Bose computer speakers. While they are nice speakers, I don’t have a desktop computer – or even a desk for that matter. In fact, the only reason I’m holding on to them is because they were my dad’s. The thing is, my dad wouldn’t care if I kept them or not. Sure, if I needed computer speakers he’d be happy for me to use them, but my connection to his memory won’t be any less if I get rid of them.

This is not to say that you HAVE to get rid of everything that has sentimential value. I’m not suggesting you get rid of valuable family heirlooms or items that truly bring you happiness (even if only because of their association to a memory).

The bottom line is that everything you own should make you feel good. If it stresses you out or makes you sad, you probably don’t need it in your life.

3. Bring in Reinforcement

Sometimes you need a friend who will check you on what you’re keeping. As an uninvested party, a friend can look at your items with a distance you cannot. This doesn’t mean they’ll always be right – since, in the end, it’s your stuff – but sometimes talking it out with someone is all you need to remove you from the sentimentality of it all.

I can’t tell you how many extra things I’d be carrying around with me if I hadn’t had my friend over my shoulder asking me why I need it. And, guess what? I don’t even remember what the items were anymore, so it’s safe to say I have no regrets.

By the way, you don’t NEED to have another person to do this – please don’t use your lack of another to be an excuse. It’s just a tool that can help you when you’re struggling to narrow things down.

4. Whittle Down Multiples

Do you have 16 sets of china that have been sitting in the box since you got them? Maybe you have 5 different sets of martini glasses and you’re more of a wine girl? Or, maybe you’ve kept every painting your kid ever made and now have an entire cupboard full of them.

You get the point – you probably don’t need ALL of them. Keep your favorite pieces of china, one martini glass from each set, or your favorite paintings your child made when they were little and get rid of the rest. If you keep the items that mean the absolute most to you, you will value them that much more.

Burst/Lisa Johnson

5. Take a Photo

Cameras are much more accessible than they used to be – you may even be reading this on a device that has one built in. While taking a photo of an item won’t allow you to touch or use it, it is a great way to preserve a memory without taking up physical space. 

Photos are especially helpful for things like receipts and documents. In addition to external hard drives, there are plenty of inexpensive cloud-based options to store these things – you could even use both if you want a backup. Not only will this free up space in your surroundings, but it will also make these items much easier to find when you need them.

Have a trick I didn’t mention? Leave a comment below and let me know – I’d love to hear what works for you.

If you want to know more about the psychological effects of clutter, these articles from Fast Company and Psychology Today are great reads.

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