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Letting Go of Sentimental Clutter

I hoard sentimental clutter.

I kept a candle for 20 years because my friend gave me as gift from her holiday in Marrakesh. I refused to chuck it out even after it had melted when I left it next to a radiator.

Soft toys from my childhood, old school projects, souvenirs and even birthday cards.  I have a book full of ticket stubs of special places I have visited or gigs that I went to.

Pebbles from beaches, plane tickets, Spanish pesetas, travel books from 2007.

Anything that holds a precious memory I am pained to give up.

Why Is Hard to Say Goodbye to Sentimental Clutter?

Julie Holland, M.D. an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine said that holding on to possessions with an emotional attachment is pretty normal.

“Sentimental clutter is the adult equivalent of a teddy bear,” she said.

Which makes sense as I still have Harry, my dog-eared rainbow rat/bear who now watches over my children.

Jennifer Baumgartner Psy.D. said that nostalgia can make clearing out a space nearly impossible.

“Holding onto something is acceptable when it has become a vessel for an important memory. We often infuse our junk with the spirit of a moment in time, associating the tangible with the intangible. Our junk becomes the object upon which we project our internal experience that we have yet to recognize in ourselves.”

This makes sense. I have several boxes filled with journals and short stories. Even though I know I could type these up, it’s no substitute for the tangible connection you feel when you read the words in your own handwriting from years before.

How Do We Start Letting Go?

The things we hang on to because of the emotional attachment starts to accumulate as life goes on.

Even if you are good at clearing general clutter in your house, the sentimental stuff is the hardest to get rid of.

This type of clutter isn’t necessarily something you should get rid of, but if it is weighing you down then perhaps it’s time to evaluate whether it’s time to let it go.

Joshua Fields Millburn, co-author of Essential Essays by The Minimalists says that when it comes to sentimental clutter, you can take two steps. There’s the giant leap option where you rip off the band-aid and let everything go. Or you can take baby steps by building momentum taking small incremental steps.

“I am not my stuff; we are more than our possessions.
Our memories are within us, not within our things.
Holding on to stuff imprisons us; letting go is freeing.
You can take pictures of items you want to remember.
Old photographs can be scanned.
An item that is sentimental for us can be useful for someone else.”

I struggled taking a Giant Leap and been tackling it little at a time.

Here are a few of my baby-steps tips:

Birthday Cards

The evaluation of my sentimental clutter was triggered by the discovery of three boxes of birthday cards in the back of my cupboard. They had been completely forgotten about so when I found them, I asked myself why I was keeping them.

Was it out of obligation to the person who sent the card? Was it so that I could hold on to the memory?

I went through every greetings card, and kept any that had a special message. My dad always used to write a poem in my birthday cards and I didn’t keep them all growing up, something I’ve always regretted.

I picked a number of cards that I wanted to keep, any without a special message was thrown away.

Donate Significant Items or Give Them A New Home

I used to have a hard time getting rid of toys from my childhood. They held so many happy memories and giving the toys away was like erasing the memory. The saddest thing for me was seeing my toys in the attic, ignored and covered in dust. I had visions of Toy Story 3, where the toys are sad because they are no longer being played with.

Childhood toys or items that you have inherited can be donated to charity or passed down to someone who really needs it.

Knowing that my much loved items were raising money for charity or getting a second life in the hands of another family eased the pain of giving them away.

Scrapbook of Memories

I love scrapbooking and this is a great way of storing old photos, ticket stubs and pictures. I used to make them all the time but now I am looking forward to putting together a book to better honour those memories and share them with the boys as they get older.

Repurpose

If you have something of sentimental value that you don’t want to sell on then repurpose it. I know someone who made their kitchen surfaces from the wood of an old boat. It’s an extreme example, but it goes to show that if you have inherited something that doesn’t fit in your house but you can’t bear to part with it completely, then consider giving it a new lease of life and purpose.

How do you manage sentimental clutter? Do you find it hard to let go?

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5 Comments

  • magicalmamablog

    I have no trouble getting rid of clutter and am constantly trying to figure out better ways to store the sentimental clutter. I try to incorporate it with Spring Cleaning when I’m in the mood to get rid of things and downsize. Time to see what sentiments outweigh others, may the odds be ever in your favor! Great post! Thanks for sharing on Dream Team.

  • Annette, 3 Little Buttons

    *whispers … I really hate clutter. It’s my worst nightmare (being surrounded by it). I very rarely keep hold of anything like pebbles, ornaments etc… but am a huge digital photo hoarder. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing though? Your suggestions all sound very sensible 😊 Thanks for joining us for the #dreamteam

  • The Pramshed

    I have a ridiculous amount of old birthday and Christmas cards, and I am also wondering why I have these. I think I need to do what you do, go through them, and only keep the ones with a sentimental message. That’s a job for tomorrow. Thanks for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

    • EmmaMC84

      It feels oddly satisfying cutting down on clutter! And nice to find old messages too! Thank you for commenting 🙂

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