An Organized Lifestyle

How to Address and Declutter Sentimental Items

February 19, 2020

Hello, I'm Rachel
I’m a busy mom, entrepreneur, and an expert in organizing your home, office, and life. I believe in the profound impact of organizing on every aspect of life. 
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A few weeks ago I spoke to a group of women at the Verse Media event held at Longview Gallery in Washington, DC. The event was put together by Birch Event and Design and photographed by Mariah Miranda and boy, what an event it was!

The group got to hear from me, as an organizing expert on sentimental clutter, strength and conditioning coach, Joel Sanders from Exos and Cathryn Carruthers on creating meaningful work.

I have talked many times before about sentimental clutter as the hardest type of clutter there is and when speaking at this event, I didn’t hold back.

We all have those items that we have stashed in closets, drawers, under our beds or in different cabinets that we don’t use. But why don’t we get rid of them? That is the truly hard part because there is an emotional component to those items.

Those types of items, the ones with the emotional value, are hardest to part with. Yes, I get people want and should hold onto keepsakes but how many keepsakes do you need? And what if you don’t deal with your items now? Then what? If we don’t handle our own clutter now, eventually someone else will have to do it. And dealing with clutter is never easy.





Our team is currently working in a home where the client is now in a nursing home and unable to declutter. Her cousin lives out of state and the house is filled to the brim with items. It will take my team several weeks helping clear out this family home. And for the family, it will be long and emotional process to review items and decide what they would like to have and keep.

Thinking about the items in your house that you don’t need and enjoy anymore isn’t a fun process. Trust me, I help clients with this process on a daily basis and no one want to do it.

Do any of these types of items make you feel anything?

  • Keepsake baby clothes in multiple bins

  • Tons of kids pinch pots, popsicle stick creations and lines across the page

  • Ticket stubs, museum admissions, plane tickets, event passes, receipts,

  • Writings on writings on writings and random papers

  • Travel books from formative trips you took years ago.

  • Certain inherited items that, while you might love the history of these items, you don’t ever display or use. These are the items that it might hurt to admit that—it’s like you are letting my family down in a way. So rather than give them away, you tell myself that “one day” you will know where to put them.

So, why is it so hard to part with sentimental items? For most people, they feel that holding onto the material item will mean they are holding onto the people or the memories and on some level, that is comforting. But I also ask clients to see if those items they are holding onto are being used or enjoyed. And if not, that would mean you are not really preserving anything but just hanging onto the item. And hanging onto something is different than preserving it.

So, I would recommend letting (at least some of) your items go, and I know it’s hard. But it is doable, I promise. And you’re not alone in the desire to hang on to objects with emotional value, but breaking free can be quite rewarding. I am going to encourage you to work with all the feelings you are having towards that item when going through this process. Below is a quick guide on how to declutter and let go of sentimental items.

How to Declutter Sentimental Items

1: Put all items together

Most people have sentimental items all around their home. By boxing it up and containing it in one area, you can then review it all together, when you decide to. Even if you’re not ready to purge, put items in boxes, label them, and put them somewhere safe and dry. I have seen far too many cardboard boxes on the floor of the basement get wet due to a flood so please do get all sentimental, value items off the floor. And I recommend that if you have just gone through something emotional like a death, divorce, you have moved, etc., it is best to wait at least six months before you again touch the items in the boxes.


2: Enlist help of a friend or professional organizer

Going through sentimental items that you have an emotional attachment to is hard. You will want someone to help that isn’t emotionally attached to your items. And just make sure it’s the right kind of help before you start. Do you need someone warm and fuzzy because the work would be unbearable alone? Or do you want a tech-savvy person who can help with getting items on Ebay once they have been purged? Is this person a friend or someone like a professional organizer who does this for a living?

3: Work in short time spans when working

I highly recommend only 20 minutes at a time when reviewing sentimental items. And while you might build up time over the longer span of working, you will be depleted and have a lot of things to do, even after 20 min. While you are reviewing items, please reference my chart below when you become stuck on an item. And always ask yourself, are you keeping it because it has emotional value for you or for the person who you got it from

4: Take a picture

I know that a photo isn’t the same as the physical item itself but if you store a photo on your computer, it will 1) save space 2) minimize the risk of the item being damaged in a move, in storage or just in everyday life due to sun exposure, temperature and more. I also believe in taking a photograph so you can actually display it and look at the item that you might not have even seen if it was stored in a box. Below is the company that I use and discount to all of you!

ARTKIVE: $15 off a book of up to 200, RACHELORGANIZES20

Finally, it is a wonderful idea to photograph meaningful items before letting them go as it will hopefully give you less purger’s regret.

5: Save only the best of items

We all know you can’t keep everything so when there are many of the same item, I suggest keeping one to represent the best of the group. This way, you will still have the memory and sentimental attachment to the items but just hold onto the best of the them.

6: Think of a new home

For most people, it’s easier to let go of items if you can later envision them being used by others. But in reality, not all items you part with will go to a friend or family member. Often one person’s junk is—let’s face it—is another person’s junk. So really asking whether items are really wanted before you hand them off and listening to the answer, is critical. There are also local and national organizations that take donations as another step in your donation process.

7: Understand this is a process

I am a big believer that organization and decluttering are a way of life and not just a one time event. Yes, you will go through the process of letting go of sentimental items but understand this will happen more than one time. And your relationship with those items will also change over time. I suggest looking at items once a year and taking an inventory of what you are keeping. Having some distance and time from the items will give you a fresh outlook on it.

And now that a sentimental item has made the cut, what do you do with it? I suggest bringing it into your day-to-day life, if you can. For example, use that set of China from your grandmother or wear those pearl earrings. For less practical items like photographs and other mementos, find somewhere you can store the item but still have access to it vs. an attic or basement.

Tell me: what are some of your more sentimental items that you are keeping?

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I'm Rachel, founder of Rachel & Company

I’m dedicated to helping you create a lifestyle that is more organized, sustainable, and joyously livable.

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