Letting Go Of Sentimental Items (02.12.16)

Favorite Teddy BearSunday is Valentine’s Day. Even if it is a Hallmark-created holiday, what’s the harm if it brings together people to celebrate romance? Whether or not you celebrate, Valentine’s Day tends to evoke sentimental memories—some joyful, some painful.

Taking a broader view, we all have sentimental items. And we should. They’re part of our history. When I wear my late mom’s jewelry, I feel close to her. When I see the inherited antique inlaid sideboard my dad painstakingly restored, I’m transported back to my childhood home.

Problems surface when we save too much. Unused wedding gifts and grandma’s china service for 12 fill never-opened, dusty boxes that take up valuable storage space alongside the many other things we keep. Over time, things from storage areas flow out to clothes closets, hallways and every horizontal surface.

As a professional organizer, I help people (typically in their 40s-60s) de-clutter and downsize. Dealing with sentimental items is the hardest part. I hear things like, “My sister gave me these so I have to keep them.” (They’ve never been used.) “What if I need it someday?” (It won’t, or it would have by now.) “I wore these size 2 clothes to Grateful Dead concerts in the 70s and I can’t get rid of them.” (Saying that Jerry Garcia’s been dead for 20 years wouldn’t be helpful.)

The feelings associated with things make it difficult to let go. Maybe the sister lives far away and having these things from her makes her presence felt. Maybe the person who keeps “someday” things is a baby boomer who grew up with her parents’ Depression-era values. Maybe the 70s clothes represent carefree, happier times. Mementos kept from an ex-spouse can represent a joyful—or difficult— time.

Critical to consider are the psychological (usually subconscious) reasons for keeping things. The “5 Whys” technique is used in the Analyze phase of Six Sigma methodology. By asking “why” five times (more or less) in succession, you dig deeper to get to the root cause.

Another reason we keep things is because it’s easier to shove things into closets than take time to figure out if we love, need or even want them – and, if we do, where they should go.

I would never suggest to my clients they should get rid of all memorabilia. I help them put things in perspective. Having precious things in filthy boxes buried under other filthy boxes on filthy basement shelves does not honor the things or the memories. A home cluttered with things is not a happy or healthy one. It’s time to let some things go.

You can get rid of sentimental items and keep the memories. For people who struggle with letting go, here are 18 tips.

  1. You are not losing the person when you get rid of things associated with them—they live in your heart.
  2. Use or display things that are important to you.
  3. If there are too many things to display, rotate them seasonally or annually.
  4. You are not betraying people who gave you things you do not want to keep—they are yours to do with what you please.
  5. Conversely, would you want people to keep things they don’t like only because you gave them?
  6. When things outlive their usefulness or natural lifespan, it’s OK to toss them.
  7. Choose your kids’ three to five best pieces of art each year and let go of the rest.
  8. Take photos of some (most?) sentimental items and then let the items go.
  9. Create custom coffee table photo books.
  10. Donate everything you can so others enjoy your things and they “live on.”
  11. Don’t make “things” more important than having a happy, comfy home.
  12. Let go of things that make you feel bad.
  13. Let go of things you’re saving for your kids that they don’t want (ask them).
  14. Turn an old t-shirt collection into a keepsake quilt.
  15. Give extra family photos to other family members who’d like them.
  16. Devote a certain amount of space for memorabilia and stick to it.
  17. Recycle what you can and know you’re keeping stuff out of landfills.
  18. Create a pretty/handsome Memory Box and put your keepsakes in it. The size will depend on what you’re keeping. (For porous items like paper and clothing, use archival materials.)

Letting go of sentimental items is hard. It helps to have an impartial, nonjudgmental person work alongside you to keep you on track and help you make the right decisions for you. As a professional organizer, my clients know I only have their best interests at heart and will get them through this sometimes difficult task.

Your reward? You will have the things that mean the most to you, kept in a way that honors those things and the memories associated with them.

Quote of the Month

Every time we feel satisfield with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.  ~Alain DeBotton