Everything is not special: how to declutter sentimental items

Tackling sentimental items when decluttering can be a real challenge, but making choices is what gives those items even more value and importance...

When I’m working in my clients’ homes, regardless of whether we are clearing a wardrobe, reorganising a kitchen, or sorting through paperwork, at some point in every session we’ll find at least one item that will stop my client in their tracks as they get misty-eyed and tell me the story behind it. These sentimental items can be really hard to deal with as they can evoke such powerful feelings, and while we like to think that sentimental items are only the photos of loved ones, or our kids’ first pair of shoes, actually they can be almost anything! And if you struggle to let go of sentimental items, this can make even the most straightforward areas a challenge to declutter. However, I hold the possibly unpopular opinion that if you keep everything then nothing is special. 

Let me explain. 

As you can imagine I try not to keep hold of loads of possessions, but I love scarves. I have quite the rainbow collection, all of them get worn and are well-loved and my children definitely associate me with scarves: my youngest asked me the other day “had there ever been a day you haven’t worn a scarf?” (Clearly she doesn’t remember the summer we’ve just had!).

Now I know some people might find this a bit morbid, but I sometimes reflect on how my children will deal with my possessions after I have died, and I wonder how they might approach my scarf collection. They could keep all 17 (yes, 17 – don’t judge!) as each one might remind them of a particular place we visited when I wore this one, or times when I wrapped them up warm in that one. But if they have a photo of us in that place or of that time, do they really need to keep the object too? 

And what becomes of a large collection in a home that someone else is trying to live in the present moment and when they need space to create their own memories? It can become a burden, it can get in the way, and over time it becomes significantly less special. 
The reality is that just one of those scarves – or even part of the fabric, maybe made into a cushion or a cuddly toy – could embody all of those memories about what the collection meant to them. By keeping just a fraction of that collection they instantly make it more special because it is something that has been purposefully chosen, rather than things they have just ended up with. 

So if you are struggling to let go of an entire collection of kids’ drawings, or every single photo of a much loved family member, or maybe even having to clear a home after a bereavement, consider how you could curate those items into something that sums up that person, or that relationship, or that passage of time. Then decide how you would like to honour those items and that relationship by displaying them or having easy access to them to evoke those happy memories. 

Special things deserve special places – don’t let them get lost amongst the clutter.

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