Sentimental clutter is the most emotional clutter we are forced to work through when decluttering our homes.
We face feelings of guilt, hurt, heart-longing, and floods of memories.
When you are decluttering the hard stuff, there’s a single question you can ask yourself to help you push through the debate on whether to keep something or let it go.
Did it serve its purpose?
If you are faced with the difficult decision to keep something or let it go, ask yourself this single question…“Did it serve its purpose?”
It seems overly simplified and maybe it doesn’t apply to every situation, but there’s a good chance it will help you mentally work through letting go of a lot of the sentimental clutter.
Where to start with sentimental clutter?
If you are staring at a room full of clutter, with much of it pulling at your heart, it can be overwhelming even knowing where to start.
My biggest suggestion…. start with the easiest items of the hard stuff.
Easy, fast wins will give you the confidence and practice to keep moving forward.
What was its purpose?
How do you define an items purpose? First, don’t over complicate your answers.
Maybe the time was a gift that was used for a couple years.
Or it could be an outfit worn to a special occasion.
Perhaps it was something that gave you joy at one time, but you almost forgot it existed!
First, determine why an item was purchased or acquired and then if it was used the way it was intended.
If an item has only been owned for a week, it still could have served its purpose.
For example, my kids got a new stocking from a friend for Christmas. It was stuffed with lots of little goodies. We already had Christmas stockings, so the one received had served its purpose as a gift bag.
There was no reason to continue holding on to it. It was cute. It could now serve someone else well.
Related post: Why is Decluttering So Hard?
When evaluating gifts received for decluttering, you can ask yourself…“Did it serve its purpose?”
Even for gifts you love, many only last us a short period of time.
Think about your last birthday gift from a year prior. Do you remember what it was?
Think about your Christmas gifts from five years past. Can you remember?
Even if you can remember, do you still use the items?
Maybe your mom gave you a sweater. You loved it when it was in style, but it now looks used and slightly out of date. It’s OK to let it go, as it served its purpose.
It’s ok to absolutely love a gift received but not keep it forever.
Did your gift serve its purpose?
Related post: Minimalist Gifts for Everyone on Your List
Our babies grow way too quickly, and when they do, it can be super easy to hold on to every single precious memory.
The trick to decluttering baby items is to only save your very favorite pieces and to limit how much you save.
Your children will grow. As they grow, they will create more precious memories.
As you are going through baby items, ask yourself if the item served its purpose.
Maybe you are holding on to multiple baby outfits. However, when you think back, your child only wore the super cute one your grandma gave you for one set of photos.
You have the photos. The outfit served its purpose. You are holding on to it because grandma gave it to you or because it was super cute. Think about the joy it would bring someone else who it could serve well while their baby is still small.
Look to curate only your absolute favorite items, rather than trying to save it all.
Here are just a few of the items you can probably let go of when it comes to baby items, as they’ve already served their purpose:
- Baby outfits
- Stuffed animals (if there was one that your child gravitated to, it will likely stick with them through toddlerhood too!)
- Baby toys
- Baby books
- Baby carriers
- Baby furniture
It was hard to let go of our bassinet after using it steadily two years straight when our girls were born back to back. It had become a part of our bedroom’s landscape. It was beautiful. Surely, it was worth something.
Here’s the thing though, we bought the bassinet used. It was sold (at a really good price) to us from another mother who had a similar story to that of our first born. She was a stranger who sold it to us with love.
Rather than place the bassinet in our attic to save for our children’s children, we passed it on to another family who would love it as much as we did.
It felt so good to know the love continued, as the bassinet had already served its purpose.
Ask yourself as you go through baby items, did the item serve its purpose?
Don’t save your children’s toys for their children. A lot of people will disagree with this statement. They will say they loved watching their children play with their old toys and that their kids love those toys.
Ask yourself, is it really worth storing these items for 20-30 years?
Think of the damage that occurs to the plastic in extreme heat and cold in storage.
Think of the safety changes to items as the decades pass. (I hated my husband’s 30-year-old Little People. They were a choking hazard waiting to happen.)
Shower your future grandchildren with toys they love. If you must, save a toy or two, but make sure they can withstand the test of time.
Your children’s toys, when they are outgrown, have served their purpose. They have been loved, played with, and now, outgrown. It’s OK to let them go to be experienced by another child who can love them now.
Did the toy serve its purpose?
Related post: How to declutter toys with the help of your kids
Items that belonged to a deceased parent or family member
When evaluating items that belonged to a deceased parent or family member, it can be especially difficult because not only are you having to deal with the difficult emotions associated with decluttering, but you are also working through grief.
It’s so easy to hold on to items that belonged to our loved ones that are now gone because somehow they seem to represent that person.
First, when going through a deceased family member’s belongings, make sure to do it when you are ready, if you have that option.
If time is not a luxury you have, then start with the easier stuff. Look for items with no story behind them. Look for items that can easily be gifted, donated, or even sold.
For items that may hold a deeper meaning for you but they still have no use for your home or how you live, ask yourself if the item served its purpose for your loved one. If it did, then keep only your favorites, and help the other items move on to serve another purpose for someone else.
Another suggestion would be to ask other family members if they would like to have any of the sentimental items. That way, some of those items go to someone who also loved the deceased family member.
Did the item in question serve its purpose for your loved one?
Your own childhood keepsakes
I want to give you full permission to let go of your own childhood keepsakes. I’m not saying to get rid of all of it, but if your mom saved something for you, and you have no idea why, let it go.
If you saved something that was uber special when you were eight, but now you don’t know why, let it go.
It’s sweet our parents tried to save the very best for us. Treasure that thoughtfulness.
However, if your parents drop off a whole bunch of containers for you once you have your own home, and you go through them thinking, what is all this, then that’s a signal to let it go.
Don’t waste your own special space in your home to store things that have no sentimental value and already served their purpose.
I ran into this when I finally threw away some old trophies from my childhood. They were incredibly special when I was a child. They represented years of hard work.
However, as an adult, these trophies no longer served a purpose. I had the memories. I didn’t need the physical representation any longer.
The trophies served their purpose when I was a child. As an adult, they only represented clutter that took up space in a room I wanted to use for a play room for my own children.
Did your own childhood keepsakes already serve their purpose?
Sometimes we put incredible sentimental value on clothing items. It could be maternity clothes, a formal gown, t-shirts from our college years, or jeans that represent a younger body before kids.
When decluttering your clothes, ask yourself, did the item serve its purpose.
That formal gown (that you absolutely rocked) is beautiful. However, part of you knows that you will likely never wear it again. Think of the joy it will bring someone else when they rock it at their own event!
What about the pile of t-shirts from your younger years that represent all your memories from your favorite events, concerts, and places visited? If you can’t bear to part with them, transform them from items that take up tons of storage space into something you will use every day.
You can easily have t-shirts turned into a quilt. Don’t worry. You don’t have to be a seamstress to make this happen. There are tons of services that will do this for a reasonable fee. You will get way more joy from a quilt you can put on your bed or guest bed than stored in a container in your closet.
Did your clothing item serve its purpose?
Limit your storage
When decluttering sentimental items, it’s best to limit your storage. Actually give yourself a limit. Maybe you limit the storage of sentimental items to one container, one box, or one section of a closet.
By giving yourself a storage limit, you are setting boundaries for the amount of keepsakes you will allow to take up valuable space in your home.
Commit to using it
For items you keep and have a functional use, commit to trying to use them.
If the items no longer have a functional use, like old t-shirts, see if you can turn them into something functional.
For example, we had an old quilt passed down from our parents that was a gift to them. It sat in storage for over a decade, collecting dust and taking up space. We would never be able to afford to dry clean it on a regular basis, so I washed it. I now wash it several times a year.
This quilt, which sat in our attic for years unused because it was “a special keepsake” is now actually used on our guest bed and brings about far better memories than it did in a keepsake bag hidden away.
Maybe you kept a pair of earrings that belonged to your grandma. Wear them! Don’t save them for the special occasion that so rarely occurs.
If you can commit to using your special memories, rather than allowing them to stay as clutter, they will become all the more special.
Sentimental clutter can be tough
Sentimental clutter can be really tough to sort through. Ask yourself, did the item serve its purpose. This single question will help you start the path to decluttering all those special memories.