Oh, how I used to dread this question.
Every time I talk about decluttering and reducing physical stuff, someone asks what to do with the sentimental stuff they’ve kept. It’s the thing I’m asked about most … and yet, it’s the last thing I want to talk about.
Everyone has things they are attached to — mementos from their past and the people they hold dear.
Maybe it’s your grandmother’s silver bracelet, a painting from your parents’ home, a baby blanket, love letters or old family photographs.Whatever “it” is, everyone has something (maybe many things) that can be classed as sentimental.
I used to get uncomfortable because it seemed like people were expecting me to tell them to get rid of those things. To challenge them on whether they actually needed them. To (not so gently) encourage them to just ditch it even though they’re attached to it.
But I don’t do that.
I don’t tell people to get rid of their sentimental stuff. I don’t give them a hard time about what they choose to keep.
Surprised? Were you expecting tough talk about how to get over your attachment to this stuff and just throw it away?
That’s what most people expect especially now that minimalism’s become sexy. But I’m not interested in minimalism for minimalism’s sake. I never have been.
I simplify because I want to enjoy life more. I reduce my possessions so I can live happily in a smaller house with well-made items I love — and not go broke trying to keep up with the latest thing.
I choose to be intentional about what I have in my home so I can create an environment where my family and I thrive. That’s why I teach people to declutter their stuff.
So what does that have to do with how to deal with your sentimental stuff?
The goal isn’t to have no stuff
Stuff isn’t the enemy here. We all need material things. And it’s fine to enjoy the things we have. In fact, I think it’s essential.
The idea isn’t to get rid of everything and just make do with the bare essentials in a self-flagellating way.
The goal is to have things that matter — things that you enjoy, things that make your life better, things that make your life truly easier. It’s to consciously choose what you own so you don’t end up unconsciously spending your time and energy — your life — caring for things that don’t matter. Because that would be a waste.
When you look at your stuff from this perspective, two things happen:
- You evaluate sentimental stuff the same as anything else you own because you expect all of your stuff to be worth owning and looking after
- You decide that not all your stuff — sentimental or not — makes the cut
This shift was life-changing for me. I went from being someone with stuffed closets and just-in-case supplies for almost anything to someone who sheds first and acquires second.
Keeping things because they make your life meaningfully better changes the conversation you’re having with yourself. And it makes it much easier to decide what to keep and what to let go — sentimental stuff included.
But it takes time to get comfortable with looking at your stuff this way and that’s why I don’t think it’s helpful to ask what to do with sentimental stuff right away.If you’re going to declutter successfully, don’t start with sentimental stuff. Click To Tweet
Don’t start with the sentimental
No matter how much easier it is with a new perspective or the right questions, decluttering sentimental stuff is still not easy at first. It’s not Decluttering 101. It’s an advanced maneuver.
Because as much as you ultimately use the same approach to deciding, the stuff itself is different in a couple of important ways — and those ways make it harder to deal with.
- Sentimental stuff is irreplaceable. We all know this … and it’s why people are reluctant to let anything sentimental go. The stakes are a lot higher if you make a mistake because you can’t get another one.
- Keepsakes and mementos are also part of your identity. Not because the objects themselves are necessarily special, but because of the meaning we give them. Every item has a story of who you are attached to it. That’s why we’re attached to things.
But that doesn’t mean you should keep everything.
The solution isn’t to never deal with clutter — the solution is to cut your decluttering teeth on easier stuff. Declutter things you’re not so attached to first. Practice recognizing how you feel about an item and evaluating whether it’s important in your life, learn how to let things go in general … before tackling your sentimental stuff.
For now, just set aside your sentimental stuff.
Let yourself get the hang of this decluttering thing. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do with the sentimental stuff yet. Learn to make decisions with the non-sentimental. Then it will be easier to see what’s important for you to keep. Most people have plenty of other stuff to clear out before doing the most difficult things.
Over to you
Do you often wonder what to do with keepsakes, photographs and such? What could you do differently now? I’d love to hear from you.
And if you’d like to hear more about the specifics of dealing with sentimental stuff, pop your name and email address into the box below to get free exclusive content — and an invitation to free Q+A sessions — that I only send via email.