Cleaning House: Purging Sentimental Clutter

Our sentimentality towards objects usually goes beyond simple attachment – it’s about the memory or feeling that the object represents.  The stronger the memory, the harder it is to let go. 

Unfortunately, holding on too tight can lead to a cluttered home! Use these five steps to help you let go of your sentimental items.

1. Plan Early

The trick to handling any mess is starting early – ideally before it ever becomes a problem.  With sentimental items, you really don’t want to leave it to the last minute.  Sort and keep track of items before the house is too cluttered.

If you’re sorting things out with an elderly loved one, do this while they’re still in good health and can fully participate in dealing with their own items. Think about the legacy that you want to leave for your children or loved ones.  Do what you can in advance.

2. Pre-Plan

There’s a lot of planning to do before you get down to the actual plan.  By considering these elements before the sorting stage, you’ll save yourself a lot of chaos.

  • How much space do you have or will you have (if moving)?
  • How much can you fit in your space comfortably?
  • How much do you want to purge?
  • Which family members, friends or loved ones do you want to involve?
  • Are there any items you want to give to specific people?

3. Schedule

A good schedule for going through your sentimental items is the key to success.  Plan for these dates:

  • Pick date(s) for getting together to sort with those involved
  • Schedule movers or delivery services or charity pick-ups or garbage bins
  • Schedule a professional organizer to join efforts
  • Estimate and schedule the time you feel is required to tackle each room of the house

4. Sentimental Plan of Action

Once the three preliminary steps are taken care of, it’s time to get down to the real work.  Create a plan, formula or set of rules with family to work through every item.

Create sorting categories, such as:

  • Keep
  • Sell
  • Donate
  • Digitize
  • Toss
  • Leave to family/friends
  • Undecided/up for grabs

Ask yourself these questions to help sort items into categories:

  • Do I need this item or do I just want it?
  • Am I holding on to the associated memory or do I actually need the item?
  • Could someone else use it more than me?
  • When was the last time I used this item?
  • What is the monetary value of the item?
  • What is the sentimental value of the item?
  • What would a stranger think of keeping such an item?

There are several more questions you can ask yourself to sort items, as it’s different for every person, but the important thing is to develop a process for sorting.  Whether you create a checklist or put items to a vote, be as critical and objective as possible.

5. Execute

Once you’ve made a decision, follow through! Don’t hesitate – commit to that choice.  By gifting, donating or throwing away that item immediately, there’s less chance for purger’s remorse.

The longer that item sits on the shelf, the more likely you are to cave and keep it where it is!  If you think you will have a hard time letting go of a specific item down the road, try taking a photo to look at when nostalgia hits.

Taking Stock and Moving On

It’s important to remember that, for seniors especially, letting go of items steeped in memory is more than just the superficial aspect of it.  It’s about accepting a certain stage in your life, and such change is difficult to come to terms with.  Support each other during this process and make it a time for new, happy memories!