Stuck on Decluttering Sentimental Items?

© 2013 Christy King

An exercise in decluttering sentimental items

Is decluttering sentimental items hard for you even after you’ve tried the suggestions in my Minimalist Keepsakes post? If so, try thinking about what you’d take if you had to evacuate on short notice.

Some of you may have already experienced this. In that case, remember what you took. Also think about the things you wished you’d taken but didn’t have time or room to pack.

Most of us, thankfully, haven’t had this experience, so we’ll have to use our imaginations.

Either way, grab a notebook or open your note-taking app. Make a list of what you’d want to take – limiting it to what fits in the trunk of a medium-sized car. Nope, not your Suburban. The trunk of, say, a Camry. I’ll call this List 1.

Don’t bother listing stuff like your kids, pets, prescriptions and wallet. [If you’re curious how to prepare for a real evacuation, click here].

Also, even if you don’t have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, pretend you do. This exercise isn’t about money. It’s about keepsakes.

Once you’ve finished List 1, make a list of the stuff you really wish you could take, but it won’t fit in the trunk of your imaginary car. I’ll call this List 2 (see how creative I am?).

“The hurricane flooded me out of a lot of memorabilia, but it can’t flood out the memories.”

– Tom Dempsey

Now that you’ve made your lists, see if there’s some way to make room in your imaginary car for the items on List 2. Are there some items on either list you could save in a smaller format?

Maybe you’d be just as happy with photos of some of the items. Perhaps you’d be content keeping 1 or 2 photo albums and digitizing the rest of your photos. Maybe you need only a few pieces of Grandma’s china to remember her by instead of the whole set.

Try to get the contents of both List 1 and List 2 to fit in the trunk of your imaginary car.

Once you’ve gotten as close as you’re going to get, grab your real life items. Start photographing your kids’ craft projects, digitizing photos, and giving away some of Grandma’s china.

With the exception of big items like furniture, you can safely give away most, if not all, of the sentimental items that didn’t make either list. Apparently, they turned out not to be as important as you’d thought.

Happily, this exercise serves two purposes. You’ll not only declutter those problematic sentimental items, but also make it easier to prepare for a real evacuation.

Your Turn

What’s your biggest challenge in decluttering sentimental items? What’s been most helpful for you?

6 thoughts on “Stuck on Decluttering Sentimental Items?

  1. Great ideas, Christy! Actually, I know exactly what I’d take if I had to evacuate on short notice because my husband and I had to do just that one year ago. I very quickly grabbed only a few toiletries, a change of clothes, and my husband’s medicines. The next day, we went back and grabbed just one grocery-bag-full of other real necessities. Instant minimalism! I’m in favor of living a simple life, but I wouldn’t recommend having to do it that way! Also, I have a dear friend who, over the course of five moves, shed almost all of her belongings. It seemed to me that she gave away so much that she lost her identity. I learned a lot from my forced evacuation and her voluntary minimalism. Right now, my husband and I are in the midst of a typical Baby Boomer downsizing, and we’re trying to do it the “right” way so that the end result will be a positive one.

    • It’s definitely nicer to have time to carefully consider what you want to keep and not. I’m grateful that (so far anyway) we haven’t had any need to rush through the decisions.

  2. I like your approach. I did my big purge 2 and a half years ago. Wish I had read this then. What I finally did was look at the items that I inherited and realized those that left me these things valued them, but they didn’t fill their homes with stuff handed down to them so why should I. It was the gifts from people who were still friends (or family) that I had a harder time getting rid of because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I finally decided to tell those individuals that while I loved the gift (often I didn’t but I didn’t say that) I was downsizing and wouldn’t be able to keep (whatever it was) and offered it back to them. One person was angry about it but I knew she would find fault with any choice I made.

    • I’m lucky in that I currently don’t have the guilt problem since no one still living has given me anything they’d be upset if I got rid of. I have had to deal with that in the past though, and it’s rough. I’m glad you were able to get past it.

  3. Oh, Christy! This is the perfect post for the perfect time. I am going through this right now (for the third time). Unfortunately, I’d still need a Suburban for my stuff, but I’m going to try your technique and see what I can get it down to. Oh boy, now that I think of it, I need more than a Suburban. Egads!

    • I’m glad it’s helpful. I’m not sure mine would fit in the trunk yet either, but a few months ago, I got rid of a bunch of a large things so it’s getting close.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.