Honor Your Sentimental Clutter and Still Let It Go
Sentimental clutter is a tough one, my friends. I can have six trash bags full of stuff ready to donate from the kitchen and then I’ll happen upon an old ice cream scoop from my childhood and BAM- I’m now keeping an ice cream scoop from 1990, that doesn’t even work, because my mom used to use it, and my motivation to declutter is shot.
That’s a true story, too. When I was helping my dad clear out the house after he sold it, I ran into the ice cream scoop and stuffed it in my hoodie pocket. I’m a psycho path.
What is Sentimental Clutter?
Sentimental Clutter is any object that you are holding onto that triggers a memory or an emotional response, however, serves no purpose to you.
This can include things like stuffed animals, baby clothes, knick-knacks, your kid’s school work, drawings, collectables, trophies, etc.
Here are a few things that I am guilty of holding onto:
- Cloth Diapers
- Baby Clothes
- Woven Wrap
- Dog Clothes
- My mom’s Christmas Decorations
- Celebrity Autographs
- Ember’s School Work
- Ember’s Art Work
- Hordes of Pictures
Those are just a few, too. The anxiety I get when I think about letting things go that belonged to my mom or that Ember has made, is unreal. I get so many ridiculous thoughts in my head. After really trying to understand why I wanted to keep all of Ember’s drawings and school work, knowing full and well she will not want this stuff when she is older, I figured out what my problem is. I am scared that she is going to die and that her drawings and school work will be all I have left of her.
Drastic, right? My rational brain knows that. But my irrational brain takes over in these emotionally charged moments.
How do we let it go?
Here’s the thing. Technically, you don’t have to let any of it go. For me, I had cabinets FULL of papers and pictures. When I would open the cabinet to look for something, it would all come falling out which always made me angry. So I would clean it up and somehow I would end up rage cleaning the whole house. The thing I was looking for long forgotten.
My clutter was wearing on my mental health. I had so much stuff that I couldn’t keep up with the house. I couldn’t keep things clean or tidy. This left me always picking something up because I am physically unable to handle the amount of stuff I had.
When I finally made the decision to declutter and get organized, I started small. I didn’t start with sentimental clutter. In fact, I started with my junk drawer in the kitchen. That led to my coffee bar cabinets. Which eventually led to the entire kitchen.
When the whole kitchen was done and organized, I could finally breathe.
My kitchen hasn’t been a mess, since. It is so easy to clean up because there isn’t a bunch of junk in the way. Everything has a place. My kitchen is now my favorite room to be in because it’s not cluttered and is clean.
Deciding to take on your sentimental clutter
After realizing how functional my kitchen was and how easy it was to keep up, I decided to take on the living room. I decided I would tackle the book case cabinets first. Mistake.
Those cabinets are the home of every piece of sentimental clutter that I own. Every time my dad sent something new home with me, I would just open the cabinet and throw it in.
Everything I didn’t have a place for but couldn’t let go of went into these cabinets.
I’ve got Yearbooks and photo albums, knick-knacks from my mom and grandma, an entire cabinet full of Ember’s school work and drawings… I was actually nauseous.
I won’t even lie to you and tell you that making the decision to let this stuff go was easy. It wasn’t. And it didn’t have in one day, either. It took me a few weeks to lighten the amount of stuff that I had accumulated. Weeks.
I could only do so much at a time. Right now, in this moment, I could say I will go home and toss all those yearbooks and trophies from 4H. But the minute I touch one, my stomach twists. My mom is pictured in some of them. 4H was something I was proud of when I was a kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I wasn’t good at anything, but I loved 4H and it was something my mom and I did together.
Initially, I said “No way”. I wasn’t letting any of it go. Then my rational brain started talking..
The cabinets were a mess. I couldn’t find something in there if I wanted to. If I wanted to see these memorable objects I wouldn’t be able to get to them. The way it was then was not functional. And at this rate, it was all going to be destroyed, anyway.
If I had less, I could make it functional. I could truly honor all these sentimental items if I could organize it. But I couldn’t organize it until I had the space for it. Which meant, some of it had to go.
Picking what sentimental items stay and what goes
I pulled everything out. Every last piece of paper and binder was thrown on the floor.
It was a nightmare, but it really helped me to understand that all of that stuff was unnecessary and doing more harm than good.
I went through all of my moms recipe binders. They are all handwritten and I feel like a monster for throwing away something my mom wrote in her beautiful script. But there was no reason for me to keep it all.
I decided that I didn’t have to get rid of everything. I could keep some of it. So I choose to keep all the recipes that I actually liked and that I remember my mom cooking. That left me with about 10% of what I originally had. Seven binders were condensed down to one.
Next was Ember’s school papers. Realistically, there is no reason I should be keeping her math tests from kindergarten. I let go of all of her test papers and kept her report cards.
Going through her art work, I got rid of all of the things that I could tell she didn’t actually do herself. If she just scribbled on a picture and the teacher cut it out and pasted it together, it left.
Pictures that she drew and I remember her being proud of I kept. But the rest of the stuff left.
I continued this method with the rest of the stuff. I kept my favorites and the things that meant the most to me and I let go of the rest.
Honoring the Sentimental Items
Ya’ll, I went from four, two door cabinets full of sentimental clutter down to one bin that takes up a third of a cabinet. In fact, I turned one cabinet into a “Memory” cabinet and Leslie, Ember and I all have a memory bin. When we find something like a picture or a small item, we toss them into the appropriate bins.
This makes it easier to actually see the things that mean so much to us.
I realized that I could remember and feel close to my grandma looking at one of her knick-knacks. I didn’t need all 10. A small reminder brings back all the same memories and feelings that the entirety of those cabinets did. No less.
I think that’s what a lot of us have to realize. We have to remember that we hold the memory. Not the object. Me getting rid of handwritten recipes doesn’t erase the memories I had of my mom cooking. Instead, it gave me room to enjoy the recipes that I wanted to enjoy.
Now when I am looking for a certain recipe, I run into hers and for a second, I feel her.
A memory bin is just that, a memory bin. I use a cloth bin that fits into cubby shelves. As it fills up with papers or whatever, I go through it and condense down.
Leslie has trinkets from her dad in hers. Some old pictures she got a few months back when her grandpa passed away. It’s all tossed in her bin.
You want to make these bins accessible. Especially if you like to keep art work and things like that because MAN those kids bring some artwork home. Place your bins where you can get to it easily and quickly, that way the things don’t pile up.
Button File Folder
I didn’t think I would like this idea because I am not a filing type of person, but I really enjoy this. I have four button file folders. Things like important papers, mail, etc go in three of them but I reserved one specifically for Ember’s school things.
Originally I was going to file her things by grade but since she repeated 1st grade, I didn’t want the confusion. So, instead I filed everything by the year. Report cards, drawings, pictures, really anything that is school related goes in this file.
When my memory bin is full, I empty it out and file the papers. It’s so simple and it also limits me on the amount of stuff that I typically want to keep. Now I know that I only have this space available so I can only keep the important things.
Having pictures makes it very difficult to condense the clutter. My mom took photos of everything. I’ve got pictures of my grandmother when she was a teenager, pictures of my mom and dad as teenagers, my sister and me, dogs.. the list goes on.
I’ve also got a ton of pictures of Ember. I mean, a ton. I took a large photo frame that I had and I made her a collage of pictures. Some of her and my mom, her and her dad, our pets, her with friends and anything that I thought she would like. I hung it up in her room and she was absolutely thrilled with it.
Don’t want things hanging on your wall? Grab a cute little cardboard box from the dollar store and dedicate it for photos. There is special paper that you can buy to keep the photos from wearing down or ruining in the box.
I love this idea because you can get a really beautiful box and place it on a shelf somewhere and just grab it down whenever you want to look through your memories.
Take a picture of the big things
Do you need the physical item to feel the emotions you do when you see it? If you were to take a picture of the item, would you still feel the same things and remember the same memories?
Trophies and things of that nature are great items to take a photo of for the memory and then declutter to bring you peace in your home.
Print your photo and place it in your memory bin or photo box. Now you’ll always have it.
Keeping the items doesn’t mean you’re honoring them
If the things you are keeping is causing you clutter then you’re not keeping them for the right reasons.
We hold on to these things with good intentions. However, the manner in which we’re keeping them is wrong.
The items are going to waste sitting, unused, in a cabinet. I’m not using all of my mom’s Christmas decorations. I only use the ones I love. There is no reason for me to keep them all. So I kept the ones I loved and got rid of the rest. Now, someone else has the opportunity to love these things just as much as she did. They’re no longer sitting there useless and unloved. They can serve a purpose again.
We can use that thought process and apply it to all of the things we are keeping but are just ending up as clutter.
Don’t let your sentimental items become sentimental clutter. Give them the space they deserve and let go of the excess. You don’t have to let go of everything. Letting go of the excess is a start, though.