Four Tips for Clearing Out Sentimental Clutter

sentimental clutterWhen we last revisited “What if” items I said we’d look at getting rid of sentimental items – a decidedly difficult task.

Sentimental ideas include things like; greeting cards, baby clothing, items given to you by someone important, such as your grandmother’s china, old notes from all your high school friends, and most items that have been a part of your child’s life such as school work, art projects, and birthday party items. Of course there are others.

Most everyone has sentimental items that they’d like to keep, but like all items many of these sentimental items take up space, especially if you don’t use them. Here are some tips for clearing out sentimental clutter.

1. Saved by tech:

In the age of computers it’s easy to save many sentimental items. If you have a scanner, or something like NEAT Receipts, you can scan almost everything. You can scan old letters, newspaper clips (like wedding announcements), greeting cards, report cards, some of your children’s art, and more. If you like to re-visit say, old greeting cards then revisiting them on disc will work for you without having three boxes of greeting cards hanging around. Once you scan your cards onto a disc, you can let your kids use the cards for art projects, you can turn them into new greeting cards, or simply recycle them.

2. Figure out why you’re saving an item:

After my grandma died I got her sewing machine. I wanted it because my grandma was likely the most important person in my entire childhood and among other activities we’d always sew together. However, a few years ago I realized that I just don’t sew anymore, not since my grandma died. The sewing machine was just taking up space. It took me a long time to get rid of it, but I did. I had to realize that the sewing machine is not my grandma. With or without it, I still think about her each day. I still remember all the cool things we did together. I don’t need the sewing machine. Also, I don’t think she’d want me carrying around extra stuff.

If you’re saving an item simply because it reminds you of someone, and said item is taking up too much space, it may be smart to let it it go. You can write about your memories of the item, snap a picture of it, and then let it go. Granted, I have lots of stuff from my grandma that I do use daily, her old butter dish and a chest for example. If all you have is one big ticket item from someone who passed away it can be harder to give up, even if you never use it. Try to consider if you can remember a person without the item around. I bet you can.

3. Reuse:

If you have sentimental items around that you’re not using, but can’t give up, consider reuse. Turn the item into something you will use. You can turn old quilt scraps into an actual blanket or quilt – same goes for baby clothing. You can turn an old set of silverware into garden art or wind chimes. Think about keeping an item in a new way. To get ideas visit this post.

4. Three boxes per family member:

I used to have many boxes of Cedar’s old baby clothes. Mainly because I might someday have another baby; but it’s a lot to cart around, and I know I can snag baby clothes from friends if I really need them. I sorted his clothing down to just one medium sized box, keeping only the most meaningful outfits. Later he can have them when he has kids, or just because. I also have a box of baby items and memorable baby toys I kept for him, and one box of paper items, such as his paintings and notes people have given him.

Three boxes per family member of memory items is a good goal in my opinion. Anymore, and you’re just storing too many boxes. Three is manageable to pass on. If something happened to you, three boxes is going to be easier for folks to sort than ten.

Memories or not, there’s honestly no reason to keep boxes and boxes of sentimental items you don’t use. It becomes a sentimental nightmare cycle. Look at it this way, your grandfather got two boxes worth of sentimental stuff from his grandfather, then you inherited the same items, and when you die, your kids will get the boxes. Each generation calling the boxes sentimental, but never unpacking them, or using the items. It’s a little silly.

There’s more you can do to unload sentimental clutter, but this is a good jumping off point. Which sentimental items have you had luck clearing out? How did you do it?

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    • Cherie

      Great tips. I can relate to your sewing machine example. I had my grandma’s sewing machine too, and it was hard to part with it. But I came to the same realization, that the machine was not her. Not only that, but the newer ones are much better than her old one, too.

    • Jenet Shuey

      Very good article I had tons of baby gear I had to depart with.

    • Genevieve

      Just because a special person has passed away that doesn’t mean that you are required to hold on to their excess. The item might be a sentimental item but I am sure that if it does not have a function in your life that someone else would be better off with it.

      It does not mean that you love that person any less. It is not a disrespect to them in any way. On the contrary, they would probably want someone who would enjoy the items and put them to good use.

    • Jennifer

      Cherie – no kidding. I don’t sew much since my grandma died, but my ex does, and he was always frustrated with my grandmas machine. He finally got a newer one.

      Genevieve – it’s hard for some people to realize this. But agreed.

    • Michele

      I find it important to reassess continually. I wrote about getting rid of a trophy that I won in a powerlifting competition during my freshman year of college over 20 years ago. It was a minor victory in a minor meet, but I was proud of it so I kept it. Now, I am no longer interested in powerlifting or competing in general so it made sense to get rid of it a few years ago.

    • Lindsay

      I kind of like the cleaning-out-your-closet rule that says if you haven’t worn something in a year, throw it out (or donate it), since you’re probably not going to wear it again anyway. I think that can be applied to a lot of clutter around the home.

    • Chad

      Hey Great post Jennifer, some good tips.
      I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and still can’t seem to get rid of enough stuff :(

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    • PlanningQueen

      Really need to take some advice here. Sentimental clutter is big weakness of mine!

    • Chris

      The worst thing you can do is to make your clutter into a collection. Like old typewriters. Talk about heavy, clumsy and hard to get rid of! And they had all become so “precious” – ! I finally got rid of them by using “freecycle” locally and posting a generic offer of “a manual typewriter” and just kept giving one away when someone would come by. The next biggie for me will be dismantling my vast LP record collection.

    • Laura

      I have trouble getting rid of greeting cards from relatives who have passed away, especially my grandmother. When I see her writing and signature I feel guilty thinking about throwing it away. I have thirty years of cards from her, but I need to just do it.

    • Thrifty Karen

      In 4 weeks we will be moving into a place that is 1/4 of the size of our current place. As you can imagine, we’re doing some serious decluttering. I’m trying to look through every cabinet, drawer, box, etc and only keep the necessities. It is a draining process that must be done in only a few weeks.

      Last week I came across cards that were given to us when we got married. That was 14 years ago!!!! I looked at them and ended up only keeping 2. I recycled the rest because most people had just signed their name to the card. That’s not sentimental at all.

      Today I went through my children’s momentos. I got rid of some preschool colorings and paintings. I haven’t held on to a whole lot of their things, but I had a few more papers than I’d like. As far as their baby things, I’m keeping 2 outfits – the one they came home in the hospital in and the one they were dedicated in. I’m keeping some hair from their first haircut, their favorite baby toy (very small toy), and some other small things like that. It all fits into one tote.

      It’s amazing how things accumulate in our homes, if we let them. This process is very time consuming and tiring, but I know I’ll feel much better when it’s all over.

    • Jennifer

      @Laura I can’t toss my grandma’s cards either. I try; but she was one of the most important people to me ever, so it’s really hard.

      @Karen I like your thinking. You work a little like me. I have cards I got rid of due to just having a signature, but nothing personal. I keep cards with special messages. Also, our lists of what to keep of the kids sounds very similar. Except I can’t get my son’s kept baby clothes down to 2 outfits. It’s funny because my son wore some of my brother’s baby clothes from the 70s! If Cedar’s son wears them one day, that’s some major reuse.

    • Laura

      What about my wedding bouquet?

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    • DebraC

      I like the 3 boxes per family member rule. That would be certainly a challenge for some family members!

    • Chris Grasse

      Well, this will be my second post on this subject (see above, from back in 2008). That collection I had of heavy, cumbersome, standard manual typewriters (all 28 of them) have now found new homes. Whew! What a profound sense of relief in getting free of those. I have been giving away bags of VHS movies via our local “Freecycle” group here in South Portland, Maine. Once again, I make the “Offer” generic, and hand out yet another bag when someone drops by. As people drop by, I fill up another bag for the next person to show up. Out the tapes go, bag by bag. Do you know where they were? Stacked seven feet high, stored in french fry boxes from a famous fast-food chain, not doing anyone any good, which brings me to my big point this time: ask yourself what is more important: to share generously with others, in gratitude for all you have that is intangible, or to keep stockpiles of things sitting inert in some “vault” in your home (attic; basement; back of closets; under the beds)- ? Everyone hesitates, because they feel something bad will happen if they get rid of things. They hold their breath, but nothing happens. Okay, the one thing that DOES happen is – you feel unburdened and terrific. In closing, the one thing which speeds up my clutter clearing efforts is to feel the person to whom I am giving my things will take care of them. I need to take that “caretaking” thing I do one step further by trying to find a caring person to receive the items. Once that is established, I can get free of just about anything. Good Luck, people, clearing out your excess, especially this time of year (Spring, 2010). Thank you for this marvelous website on which I may, from time to time, post my thoughts on the subject of freeing up living space and getting the need to own things and be in control all the time out of my psyche, once and for all. It is all about letting go and trusting the Universe to provide for you. That takes awhile to understand and establish in your heart, especially if you were raised by terrified parents who “saved everything.” Submitted by: Chris Grasse, South Portland, Maine, U.S.A., 7 March 2010.

      • Kathy B.

        Thank you. It’s difficult to get started when it comes to getting rid of sentimental things, but some of what you wrote sounds like I either wrote it myself, or I could write it myself with a little more time.

    • Chris Grasse

      Your clutter will not seem so cumbersome if you put it where you will next use it. And if you are not using it, put it in a box in the back hall to bring to the Goodwill. For years, we used to store all our Christmas things in fourteen boxes (!) up in the attic. They would usually get placed closest to the eaves, so every year around Thanksgiving, I would be up there, breaking a sweat, excavating behind things to liberate all those boxes again. No fun at all. Too much like work. I thought, “There must be a better way.” Well, it occurred to me, with big closets throughout the house, what would be wrong with boxing Christmas things and keeping them in the rooms where they would be used when the holiday arrived which is exactly what I did, but before I placed a box here and there throughout our home, I weeded out all that extra Christmas stuff I never used from year to year. If you try to edit your things during the Christmas season you won’t be able to do it because all those old habits will kick in – your “Christmas Ritual” I call it – and it will be just plain hopeless. Better to weed things out off-season when they don’t have that binding emotional compulsion of the season. Amazingly enough, we are now down to just three boxes of Christmas things, down from fourteen from before. Placed around the house in various closets, the only items stored in our attic now are (1) the Christmas wreath for the front door and (2) a small, four-foot adorable little Christmas tree with lots and lots of colored lights on it. This has simplified Christmas to the point where it has become fun again for me. I offer these tips to help anyone who just doesn’t know what to do with everything they have. Submitted by Chris Grasse in South Portland on September 8, 2010.