Sentimental Decluttering, Let It Go

Let’s face it, the most difficult element of ridding your home of clutter is sentimental decluttering. We’re told so often to get rid of unused items to make way for the useful, but you might have tried this and hit an emotional wall. If so, I want you to take a deep breath and open your mind and your heart to the possibilities of another approach.

I’m not for one moment going to suggest a hardcore approach in which you throw away all of your treasured memories with abandon. I’ll start by telling you that I too have a collection of old medals from childhood, a bundle of my baby’s precious ‘firsts’, and of course a library of photographs from before the world went digital. (Argh I feel so old, I’m just like my parents reminiscing about black & white TVs, and 8-track tapes).

The key point to remember when sorting through life’s souvenirs though, is that if we hang on to all of our past, then we don’t leave any space to create our future. Our present becomes clogged up with physical items that aren’t as important as the cherished memories in our head anyway. Over time, we very often lose the emotional link that we had with these inanimate objects in the first place.

Identifying Emotional Anchors

Sometimes, the items we hold onto evoke feelings of regret tangled up in nostalgia. I personally held on to a ballet syllabus for no less than 34 years! I’d pulled it out from my bookcase many times (as you can imagine) and pushed it back. I remembered all of the childhood years spent training to be a dancer. This time I noticed a sadness in me as I held the book, and realised I was holding onto a regret of not pursuing dance through my insecure teenage years.

Once I’d distinguished the negative emotion, I thought about whether this feeling came up each time I saw the book. It did. I asked myself if I wanted to keep feeling this regret every time I came across the book. I did not. Finally I let it go, and it was a little like forgiving myself for abandoning the dream – or at least, allowing myself to move forward with one less emotional anchor.

Memory Chest

If you have items that are truly treasured, then you should be sure to treat them like the treasure they are. Rather than have them crushed in the back of a drawer like an old odd sock, or just plain lost in the realms of the daily dumping ground. Have just one ‘memory chest‘ in which you can delicately and deliberately store a carefully considered collection.

By limiting the storage space allocated to this type of emotionally loaded item, you’ll be encouraged to come to realistic decisions. Limitation leads to more prolific purging of items, and so helps whittle a collection down to a size that is comfortable rather than overwhelming. As is human nature, many of us feel compelled to keep a sentimental ‘cushion’, but not a lot of peace comes from a haphazardly crammed hoard. Aim for a carefully considered curation that can be properly cherished and easily looked back on.

Make Room for Happiness

A solid way to begin is to gather together all bits and pieces that bring about ‘complicated’ feelings. I use the word complicated here because the word ‘sentimental’ often evokes an unnecessary sense of duty. If we take a moment to analyse this, keeping possession of emotionally sticky items is usually a self-inflicted responsibility.

You might tell yourself you are holding on to family history for a future generation, when in truth they feel no connection to those items at all. Mentally labeling an item an heir-loom can be an excuse for hoarding objects you simply don’t want to make your own decisions about. Is it fair to pass a burden on to the next generation? Try discussing those items with family members now rather than later. You may find the approval you need to free yourself from the clutter, or to immediately pass on anything that others do deem important to them. Don’t be a storage unit for someone else’s sentimentality.

Identify the Emotion

For the remainder of your ‘complicated’ items, I highly recommend you pick up just one at a time and pay true attention to the emotion/gut feeling it provokes. Be true to yourself about the emotion it does bring…

Ask: Does this object bring me feelings of happiness or comfort?

Imagine your future-self finding only joy in the objects you have chosen to keep. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to let go of the things that evoke any feelings of discontent.

Ask: Do I want this emotion I’m feeling to be evoked each and every time I see this item? Would I feel lighter and more free if I could release it?

It could be time to let it go and move on.

Quick Fix Sentimental Decluttering

A lengthy piece-by-piece process may not appeal if you’d prefer not to linger over the sentimental decisions of it all. You might have a large menagerie to cut down to size because sometimes old items are kept just because they are so old.

Kickstart decluttering dust collectors from your non-negotiables by imagining a split-second decision scenario. Instantly recognise the keepsakes you hold invaluable from those you find less important by imagining a moment where you are forced to save only an armful of items from your memory chest before it is gone forever. Which ones would you be devastated to see slip from your grasp, and which ones could you manage to live without?

Value and Revalue

In letting go of less deeply rooted souvenirs, the others become gloriously more precious, like shiny little jewels. Each time you make an addition to your memory chest/treasure chest, do a quick check to see if there are any items that have now lost their lustre. Often, items that seemed important to keep at the time that they entered the memory chest no longer hold the same high value.

For example: When our son was born, to make room for all of the new cherished baby bounty, I found it easy to let go of memories made before his arrival. One thing I purged was a stack of old greeting cards, to make room for his ‘welcome to the world’ cards. Interestingly, I looked back through those at a later time and didn’t feel the need to keep them any longer. I was able to simplify because we’re celebrating the adventure of having a much bigger boy now, along with a new little girl. Times change, life moves on. Possessions need to be moved on too.

Individual Memory Boxes

I should say that the latest airing out of our memories chest, and expulsion of extras, spurred me to create one additional small memory box for each of our children. These are reserved solely for the early mementos that I truly believe they will appreciate when they are grown. If you have a large family, you might find it more practical to allocate into smaller lots like this. Do remember to peruse and purge the contents of these individual memory chests when making additions though, in the same way as editing the family chest.

Aside from the ‘just in case’ mentality, sentimentality is the prime reason we hold so many unused items in our homes. But only by sweeping away the overgrowth can we rediscover our true treasures.

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