Clients often tell me that when they’re decluttering their home, getting rid of sentimental items is the hardest. They feel like they’re throwing away a part of themselves, or their memory.
Many of us have items that are difficult to part with not because they are particularly useful but because we’ve given them a meaning—a gift from someone who has passed on, for example, or the sweater Grandma knit for you.
This kind of sentimental attachment can be extremely difficult to overcome, but it doesn’t have to be. Psychologists tell us that people in Western cultures tend to view objects as inanimate and unconnected to themselves. Yet when faced with the choice of discarding objects that are tied closely to emotional meaning, people often feel compelled to keep them.
It’s important to remember that getting rid of objects does not mean you’re getting rid of the memory itself. You can keep those memories alive by sharing them with family and friends, or writing them down.
Getting rid of an item tied to a happy memory is not the same as getting rid of someone you loved. It’s just part of the process of removing things from your life that don’t play a useful role – and creating space for something that does.
The process of getting rid of sentimental objects can feel traumatic, but know that there is life beyond grief and you can’t hold on to everything at once.
Here are a few tips on how to let go of sentimental things more easily…
- Keep in mind: things are inanimate.
- Set limits. You must limit how many sentimental items you own, just as you’d limit your 3-year-old from owning all the toys. Maybe you have a designated bookshelf in your home where you keep all of the trinkets you’ve collected from your travels. Or you have a few clear, weather-proof bins that you keep in your garage with all of your sentimental knick-knacks. Define an area (or container) that makes sense for your home and lifestyle… then stick to it. Don’t allow things to accumulate without a limit–and this should be true for both sentimental and non-sentimental things.
- Think of an enjoyable experience you had in your life that you have no memorabilia from. For example, when I was a teenager, I played in a steel pan band and our class got the–at that age, extremely exciting–opportunity to play at Disneyland. I no longer own the t-shirt I wore that day, the drumsticks I used, or the steel pans. What I do have is a few photos from that day and more importantly, the memories. Even if I didn’t have the pictures, I could reminisce about that experience with my girlfriends who were there too.
- Speaking of pictures, take photo of the object. Then memorialize it by writing a journal entry so that even if your memory starts to fade, the memory of the experience won’t.
- Hire a professional. Sometimes you just need another set of eyes to help you sort through those sentimental objects. If hiring someone from a professional organizer doesn’t fit your budget, bring in a friend who is good at decluttering. Have your friend point out things in your home that might be hidden to you by time or sentimentality.
The goal decluttering is to get rid of things that are taking up too much space in your home. And to keep only the items that bring you happiness and add meaning to your life.