Decluttering sentimental items is the most difficult and challenging aspect of minimalism. It is advanced minimalism, and should be undertaken last. Before attempting to declutter sentimental items, you should have experience in exercising your decluttering muscles. Downsizing categories such as clothing, the kitchen and the bathroom should be categories you have addressed well before sentimental items.
Leaving sentimental items until last allows you to build your minimalist muscle. If you attempt to declutter sentimental items too early, you set yourself up for failure. Not only do you fail to declutter the items, but you experience all the feelings involved that make the items sentimental from the beginning. It can cause you a setback in your decluttering journey.
I have finally reached the stage where I am ready to declutter sentimental items. I have tried to declutter this category before and I failed. That’s okay. My initial sweep through the sentimental category, I downsized sentimental items from three storage bins to one storage bin. Sometimes you have to take baby steps.
If you are just starting with the sentimental item category, I do recommend taking it in steps. First, gather all of your sentimental items together. Second, try to curate your collection. I found that downsizing from three storage bins to one storage bin was a challenging, yet doable goal.
The other tip that was helpful for me was that once I downsized from three storage bins to one storage bin, I took the two storage bins that were going to be “leaving” and left them in a closet for a year. After that year, I was completely okay with the two storage bins leaving and just having the one bin of mementos. In fact, after the year, I had completely forgotten what was inside the other two bins. You can’t miss what you don’t remember, can you?
This was a few years ago that I undertook the three bins to one bin exercise. I am finally at a point in my decluttering journey where I am able to address the one bin that is left. Granted, the one bin is about 90% full of items from my childhood. I’m sure your sentimental bin may look different.
Here are reasons why I am now finding it easier to get rid of the remaining bin of sentimental items.
- I had a horrible childhood. Why do I want to keep items that remind me of the most traumatic time period of my life? Did I enjoy playing with those toys? No, I did not. I lived in a state of abuse and perpetual fear. The toys in the bin were given to me by someone else in the family, who had absolutely no idea of my favorite toys as a child. They had just set aside toys that they liked or thought I would have wanted. I don’t want them. Now, some of these items are worth money. I have a pair of pristine Sonny and Cher Barbies as well as one of the original preemie Cabbage Patch dolls that came in a plain cardboard box from Sears before they started putting them in shiny, colorful packaging with a plastic “window” to see inside. I still don’t want them. They do not invoke any happy memories.
- I have no children. Some people keep a set of their most loved toys to pass down to their own children. I have no children to give these toys to. They are just sitting in a box, not being used, played with or loved. They are taking up space. Toys are intended to bring joy. I’m sure there are children out there who would find joy in playing with them.
- They are not benefitting my life. The toys are sitting in a box taking up space. I am decluttering my house in anticipation of an international move. I refuse to pay international shipping to take those items with me. What’s going to happen to them when I move again? They are going to sit in a box in the closet same as they are now. Why pay time, money and energy to move something from place to place that is going to sit unused.
- Swedish Death Cleaning. What will happen to this box of toys when I die? They will either be thrown out or donated. Why not get rid of them now so they have the opportunity to bring joy to some child.
- Is this difficult? Yes, it is. While none of these items evoke happy memories, it is still difficult to get rid of them. Yet when I sit down and think about it, I cannot think of one good reason to keep them. Do they bring me joy? No, they do not. It is still difficult, emotional and sad to get rid of them. Don’t ask me how. Emotions are complicated that way. You know those times when you feel all the feelings. Even though they evoke negative emotions, I also have negative emotions about getting rid of pieces of my childhood even if it was bad.
In addition to the one bin of childhood toys, I have other sentimental items that will be leaving this year. My entire jewelry collection will be leaving. The only piece of jewelry I am keeping is my mother’s necklace that has Jude, Simon and Jolene’s names on a heart with their birth stones. Why do I need jewelry? It does not bring me joy. No one sees me. My mother’s necklace brings me joy. I am keeping that.
Since the pandemic has started, life has become a story of survival. With no end to the pandemic in sight, why would I need items like jewelry? They are unnecessary baubles. They are not essential for survival. I am downsizing all my items to only those that are necessary or that bring me joy. The other jewelry pieces do not bring me joy. I would not want to take the other jewelry pieces with me on an international move.
I can only wear one necklace at a time. Ok, ok, I’m sure you can wear two or three necklaces at a time. However, that just makes me think of some cheesy 80s rapper concerned with their bling. I personally prefer to wear one necklace at a time. My mother’s necklace is the only one that is meaningful and brings me joy, so it stays. Every other piece of jewelry I have is not irrelevant.
When life is reduced to survival, you really take stock of what is important in life.
There are some sentimental items that are still in the gradual reduction process. There are some items that are too difficult emotionally to leave. I have put those in a box for a year. We will see how I feel at the end of the year. Will I pull items out of the box because I want to look at them or keep them? Will I even remember what is in the box at the end of the year.
To clarify, I do not have a life devoid of meaning. I do have sentimental items I have kept such as my mother’s necklace. I have curated a photo album of my greatest hits / best memories which I take out often and look through fondly. I have some sentimental items that are either in use or on display in my home. I’m not saying to life a life without meaning or sentiment. I am saying to curate what you have. If you love it, display it. Leaving toys in a box for 30 years and shuttling them around from place to place – those are the types of items you really need to question about leaving.
What tips do you have for decluttering sentimental items?