Knowing When to Let Go of Sentimental Items

I’ve always been a collector of sentimental items. Concert tickets, vacation mementos, CDs, papers I wrote in school, gifts and cards from family and friends—I took them all from place to place as I moved around the country. Then, a little over a year ago, I got into minimalism. I felt weighed down by my possessions and knew it was time to start letting go of my belongings.


Living in a small studio apartment, I had to look at everything I owned, every single day. It was a constant reminder of the things I owned but never used. I was surrounded by a bunch of keepsakes that no longer brought me joy. I realized I’d be happier without most of the items that were constantly in my presence.


After many years, it was finally time to part.


Besides freeing up a lot of space, cleaning out the goods I no longer needed made it easier to appreciate what I kept. I now have room on the bookshelf for my favorite novels, I framed my favorite posters and hung them up, and I no longer have gifted clothing (that I never wear) taking up closet space.


Letting go of sentimental items is a difficult process. But, there are some steps you can take to make it easier.


Here’s what helped me.


Understand why you’ve been holding onto the item

Does it remind you of a cherished memory? If that’s the case, consider writing a paragraph about the object or memory. This saves space in your home and still gives you a way to recall the event later on.


Do you feel guilty getting rid of it? Chances are, even if the item is a gift, the person who gave it to you won’t care (or notice) that you didn’t keep it. It does them no good for you to keep a present you no longer want. Plus, you don’t need something hanging around that makes you feel guilty.


Take your time with the process

You don’t have to go through every possession in one day—or even one month. Do it at your own pace. You could go through a different room every day or just a few items each week. Find a speed that feels comfortable for you.


Give items away

For the especially hard-to-part-with keepsakes, giving them to friends and family can be the perfect solution. Your loved ones may use the item more, and you know it’s going to a good home. This feels more like paying kindness along instead of just getting rid of an object. For clothing and other still-usable items, consider donating to others who will get use out of them.


Take photos

This has been one of my go-to decluttering methods for years. If there’s an item I know I don’t need, but I still want a memory of it, I’ll take a photo before getting rid of it. I have a photo album on my computer for all my keepsake photos. In all honesty, I end up deleting most after a year or two. But, I’m glad I had the option to make the decision later.


You have to decide what you can let go

No one else can decide whether or not an item is worth the physical and mental space it takes up. You have to make that decision. It’s okay to keep some sentimental items. I certainly did. Some objects bring you joy every time you look at them, and, if that’s the case, by all means, keep them. In fact, it will be easier to display those most important memories because you’ll only have things that actually matter to you.


As you’re cleaning, just spend a bit of time with each item. Really think on each one. Keep it if you don’t feel comfortable getting rid of it. You can keep a bin of the sentimental items you don’t want to part with. This won’t be the only time you go through the process, and maybe next time you’ll decide you really can part with that sweater your grandma gave you for your previous birthday.


Do you have any tips for letting go of sentimental items? Let us know!

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