My Sentiments on Handling Clutter


It’s not surprising that it’s more difficult to make decisions about sentimental items than other items when you are decluttering and organizing your space.

Sentimental items have an emotional weight that your latest department store purchase just doesn’t hold.  Do you still have piles of holiday cards from 2016 or earlier that you’ve been intending to sort?

Think about where your photos, documents and other memorabilia are currently being stored.

Are they in the basement or attic?

When is the last time they received attention and were enjoyed?

Here are some thoughts and considerations for handling precious possessions.


Location Matters

Take your sentimental items out of the basement and attic where there’s likely to be temperature extremes. A dry environment can make photos and papers brittle, and a moist environment is a breeding ground for mold. Ideally, you want to store sentimental items in a space where you’d like to spend your time – somewhere safe, dry and warm. Start with one small box, bag or pile and find a large flat area where you can spread out to begin the project.


What’s your WHY?

WHY is the most important question to ask yourself about each organizing endeavor and each item.
  • Do you actually like the item?
  • Why do you want to keep it?
  • Is it beautiful, useful or does it bring you joy?
  • Or is there a feeling of guilt or obligation associated with the item?
  • Does the item represent a part of the past that you want to carry into your future?

Have you been gifted something special from another person you were very close to?

Let’s say you inherited your grandmother’s fine dinnerware that is full of memories of family gatherings.

Is it possible to use the dinnerware everyday instead of “saving” for a special occasion?

Perhaps there’s another inherited item that could honor the past such as a photograph, a blanket you use on your sofa or something you can put in a shadow box and display on the wall immediately.


Set Limits

Use a timer: When handling nostalgic items, make an appointment with yourself and set the timer. Work in intervals as short as 15 minutes.  At the end of the first interval make an appointment with yourself for the next organizing session and repeat.

Set a physical space limit:  Designate a specific container for memorabilia – keep only as much as will fit in the container.


Seek Support

If sorting through memory-laden belongings is something you have been procrastinating, ask for help from someone you trust. If this is a process you’d prefer to do on your own, consider “bookending” your organizing session and stay accountable by calling a friend or coach before or after the session.


Curate & Create

  • Keep items that you enjoy and can incorporate into your everyday life.
  • When it comes to photos, save the best and discard the rest.
  • Frame and display photographs that you are happily drawn to, digitize the best of the rest.
  • The holiday photo cards I received in 2016 are currently taped inside my kitchen cabinets. I can enjoy the family photos and special handwritten messages all year long. After the 2017 holiday season, they’ll be updated.
  • Another way to preserve the holiday photo card is to snap an image and update your smartphone contacts.
  • Keep the cards with inspiring and special images and display in a place you see regularly.
  • Create look books on sites such as Shutterfly or Blurb.
  • Not sure what to do with the volume of artwork the kids are so proud to show you? Check out Artkive.
  • Repurpose clothing. Project Repeat takes old t-shirts and turns them into quilts.

If you have unfinished projects related to your memorabilia, make it a priority to take the next action step.

Either take action toward the finishing project yourself or hire someone else to do it. Ask the question WHY is this project important? Is it still important?  If not, let the project go without regret.


A man’s real possession is his memory.

In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor.

Alexander Smith (1830 – 1867)


Commit & Honor

While it’s important to acknowledge the sad emotions that belongings may evoke, you don’t have to carry them forward in physical form. We tend to infuse memories of an event and a person on physical items. Something to aim for is displaying and enjoying the possessions that honor your past and inspire your future. Let go of the rest. Don’t let your sentimental items become sediment.

How have you handled sorting through your sentimental items?  Have you found creative ways to use them in your everyday life?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

3 Responses to My Sentiments on Handling Clutter

  1. Hi Melanie, What a great post! It’s so easy to become a repository for family heirlooms whether you like them or not. This is a big challenge for me. I have ended up with many things I don’t even really like because of this feeling of obligation; but recently, I have gotten better at standing firm if I really don’t want something. I think the conflict comes from wanting to hold onto memories and not wanting to disappoint others.
    thanks for the article!

    • Hi Thea,
      Ahhh, not wanting to disappoint. I’m sure many can identify, myself included. Congrats on that awareness. Namaste

  2. This is an excellent article – one that should be front and center in all households. One more point, if you think that your kids are going to want grandma’s China; think again. Old folks if you declutter the cebtime tal stud they won’t have to. I love my centimental stud and have down sized it several times in the last year or so. Perhaps, it is time. To do it again. Isn’t spring the time to clean up and bring inflowers and fresh air? Yes.
    My thoughts. Thanks Melanie

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