I often get asked for tips on how to declutter sentimental items. Everyone is different, but for most of us emotional attachment to gifts, souvenirs, keepsakes, and inherited items can be difficult to overcome. This said, I can suggest a few ways of "reprogramming" your thinking to help diminish the pain and indecision you may experience:
Firstly build up your decluttering confidence by working on less emotionally difficult areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Once you get into the swing of it and start enjoying the positive impact on your home and psyche you will find it much easier to tackle your sentimental items.
When reviewing a sentimental object ask yourself why you are keeping it, what exactly you are sentimental about? Is it the object itself or because it reminds you of a place, time or person. Remember that our memories are held within us not within objects. The object merely triggers the memory. If it helps you to let go then take photos so you can have the memory trigger without the items taking up any physical space.
Remember that gifts are an expression of love and are yours to do with what you wish. You do not need to keep, use or display them if they don’t (or no longer) match your taste or lifestyle. If the gift giver expects to see them every time they visit your home then they are being unrealistic at best, or super controlling at worst!
Similarly, don’t hang on to items out of guilt. For example if you are sad because you fell out with your aunt then keeping the hideous lamp she gave you will just act as a trigger for negative emotions each time you glimpse it. Hanging on to physical things can’t fix broken relationships, accept this, get the triggering object out of your life and move on.
You are not throwing away your life (or anyone else’s) by letting go of a sentimental object. If it helps ease the process sincerely thank each item for its service before you place it in the “let go” pile. This may feel strange initially but go with it and you might just find it relieves the pain and guilt a little! Another idea is to give the object “one last hurrah” for example use the fancy dinner service for a special meal, put on the prom dress and take a photo, or wear the antique scarf out for the day. And then let these items go.
Imagine someone else making proper use of your items or feeling great joy seeing them in their own home. That’s a good feeling right? Surely much better than guilt of hanging on to things you don’t truly need or want. Do a little research so you can find the perfect new home for the things you no longer want but always give yourself a deadline for things to leave the house.
Don't simply offload the burden on to other family members unless they have a real connection with the sentimental item. If you are saving something for when your children get older, for example, think about whether they are really going to appreciate it. Put yourself in their shoes and be honest with yourself.
Sentimental items can keep us in the past, and the past isn’t always a happy place! Shift your perspective to how you want to live today. Free yourself and start afresh with new energy and possibilities.
Consider if you can repurpose things to fit with your current home and lifestyle. For example up-cycle furniture or consider having jewellery pieces redesigned.
If you have a large collection you no longer have room for then select the best and rehome the rest. Similarly if you inherited numerous possessions from one person then pick out the item that means the most to you and let go of the others.
Remember you don’t have to lose it all - if something is very important to you or brings you great happiness then by all means keep it! You don’t have to aim for minimalism but you must weigh up how much you want to keep the item vs the energy, time and space you will sacrifice if you do so. Think about how you want to live and how you want your home to look and function - be disciplined and set limits - you don’t want your possessions to dictate how you live your life.
Don’t procrastinate and don’t aim for perfection. Just dive in and set yourself small tasks. Remember the mantra “done is better than perfect”.
Be kind to yourself and take lots of breaks to reward yourself as you make progress. If you get stuck then that's okay, don't beat yourself up. Place the items in a box and set a calendar reminder to try again another day when you are in a better frame of mind.
Enlist help - having someone to “hold your hand” will help in a number of ways; lightening the mood, keeping you on track, helping you focus and think more rationally. If you’d like a professional organiser to support you then visit the APDO website and find an accredited professional near you.
At all times keep your end goal in mind and give yourself permission to declutter without shame or guilt. It’s your life so live it your way!
Good luck and please get in touch if you’d like any more help or advice with you decluttering - I’d love to help you Rule Your Roost!.