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Struggling To Declutter Sentimental Items? Try The “Wave” Technique

Mementoes can be a big stumbling block for a lot of people when it comes to decluttering. With so many emotions involved, it’s hard to see past the feelings to the purely logical, rational part of us. So here’s a step-by-step process for how to declutter sentimental items, making it easier to part with the past.


How to declutter sentimental items & finally let go of the past | KonMari Method | Mementoes

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How To Declutter Sentimental Items

First, it’s important to realise that, just as with other items, sentimental stuff resides on a scale – some things will be incredibly near and dear to us, such as the former possessions of a loved one, but some will be a little less infused with emotion, such as old school photos.

The level of attachment you form to things is very subjective, and you alone will know the point at which you simply can’t part with something. But if you’d like to make some inroads, keep reading, because I have a step-by-step process to declutter sentimental items. It focuses on the rational over the emotional, and teaches what to do with what’s left.

You’re going to go through everything in “waves”, slowly getting rid of more and more stuff with each pass. We’ll start with the easy stuff before progressing to the hardest. Complete each step with all your sentimental items before moving onto the next. I’d recommend leaving at least a day between each “wave”, which will give you time to process each pass.

It may take some time but, as you’ll see in step 4, there’s a very good reason for going through everything multiple times.

1. Dump the trash

I know I know, you’re thinking, “None of this is trash!” But when was the last time you actually went through it? And I mean properly went through it. You most likely have lots of photo albums or even boxes of photos you’ve never actually looked at, or not in a long time. Similarly, you may have boxes of trinkets and things that haven’t seen the light of day in a decade.

You’re almost guaranteed to find some trash in amongst the treasures, so do a quick sweep and weed it out. This will include dark or blurry photos where you can’t even make out the contents, plain buttons or safety pins hidden away in a jewellery box, and general knick knacks that actually hold no value, sentimental or otherwise.

If you find yourself wondering why a particular item is special, take that out too. It’s not sentimental if you can’t even remember why you kept it.

Remove all those and you should already be starting to see a small improvement.

Declutter sentimental items – box of trinkets

2. Start at the bottom of the scale

Like I said, some things will hold a lot less meaning and significance than others. Go through your items again, looking for things that don’t have a huge hold over you. Look for photos of random places or things, especially ones that could easily be recreated. You’ll also probably have a lot of duplicates, or photos you already have a digital copy of. In those cases, you can let them go.

You may also have several of what is, essentially, the same thing. Maybe you have a lot of old Christmas cards from someone. Could you keep the most recent and remove the rest?

Another example is owning something that you also have a photo of. You don’t need both, so decide which one you’re going to keep. Usually, the item itself is what holds the value for you but, very often, a photo will suffice to jog your memory. After all, that’s where the real treasure lies – in your mind, not in a box.

Declutter sentimental items – donation pile

3. Part with painful memories

You’ll most likely have some things stored away that, while infused with memories, they’re sad ones. If the feeling that something gives you is primarily a painful one, make your peace and let it go. Strolls down memory lane should be pleasant and positive. You have enough challenges in life without holding onto things that only serve to remind you of past struggles.

This can be hard if it’s tied to a loved one but consider this: if you loved them, you’ll want to remember the good times. Let go of the bad or anything that taints those memories, and keep only the good.

Declutter sentimental items – box of letters

4. Re-evaluate your relationship to things

By now, you’ll have been through everything at least 3 times and things that you previously thought held some significance may now seem downright plain. The reason for that is things that are tucked away in an attic can take on an air of reverence and importance. They almost become a shrine. When they’re dragged out of dusty corners, however, you can see them for what they really are – just random, ordinary items. Very often, the more you see them, the less special they seem.

Things that are truly dear to you will hold their value and meaning, or it may even increase over time. If this isn’t the case and something is simple decreasing in worth the more you see it, let it go.

Declutter sentimental items – 'before'

5. Treat the rest with respect

So you’ve been through everything, slowly whittling it all down with each pass, and what’s left is stuff that truly means a lot to you. Now’s the time to prove it.

If something makes you happy, why hide it away? Bring it into your main living areas and display it somewhere you can see it everyday. What better way to brighten your day than with a precious memory?

If for some reason it can’t be displayed or you’d rather not, then at least keep it in a safe, suitable place. Store it somewhere safe from damp, acidity, and insects, and you’ll be able to enjoy it for many years to come

Declutter sentimental items – 'after'

6. Take regular strolls

If things are tucked away never to be seen again, what’s the point in keeping them at all? You may find some comfort in knowing they’re there but if those things were to disappear overnight and you’d never even notice, you may need to re-evaluate how important to you they really are.

Take time on a regular basis – maybe at the end of each year – to pull everything out and allow yourself a happy stroll down memory lane. Allow yourself to appreciate each item, and hear the stories each one holds.

Honour your memories and, in turn, they will provide you with a lifetime of happiness.

By following this process, you’ll be able to reduce your stockpile of sentimental items, find some peace and closure for certain parts of the past, and truly cherish your happiest memories.

Instead of hiding things away, let their joy fill your home.

What do you think, will this “wave” method help you declutter sentimental items you have stored away?

What’s one of the most sentimental items you own?

If you'd like to see me struggle through the 'Mementoes' category of the KonMari Method, click the 'play' button on the video below: 

And don't forget to pick up your free KonMari checklist:

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3 Responses

  1. This is so timely for me. I’m selling my house this Fall and moving into a camping van. Plans are to become a nomad/snowbird.

    I have a ton of stuff to get rid of and I’ve been surprised at how attached I am to all this “stuff”. I’ve always been the type to buy multiples and hang on to things “just in case”. This whole process of letting go is overwhelming . But, I don’t want all these anchors holding me back from my dreams.

    I’m 70 and want my last years to be filled with wonder and joy, not fear in a safe, junk filled cocoon.

    So, thank you again, my dear, for your always clear, no BS paths to “getting my shit together”.

    You’re a gem. xo

    1. My in-laws did the same thing and have more got rid of everything. They are such an inspiration and are having so much fun! Enjoy this new chapter.

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