How to Actually Get Rid of Sentimental Items: 18 Tips

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Many people struggle to get rid of stuff that they don’t need. Sometimes people keep items because they think that they will someday need them. Other people keep things because they have sentimental value. 

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Both of these reasons are valid. After all, it’s frustrating having to re-buy something that you previously purchased. It’s also nice holding on to keepsakes and other memorial items, especially if the person you are trying to remember died. 

But how much stuff is too much stuff? This, of course, is a matter of opinion. But if you searched for “how to get rid of sentimental items,” to find this article, you must be ready to get rid of some of your treasured items. 

Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself when faced with a house full of stuff.

Tips for Getting Rid of Sentimental Items

A few years ago, books and articles were being written about the concept of Swedish death cleaning. The basic idea behind this concept is that older people should rid themselves of unnecessary items in preparation of leaving it all behind. This makes the older person feel less burdened with the stuff of everyday life. It also keeps their children from inheriting a house full of stuff

If you are at an age to complete Swedish death cleaning, or if your home seems chock full to the brim, here are some tips for getting rid of some of your stuff.

1. Give a list of the sentimental items that you don’t want to your children

We all know families who have fought over who gets grandma’s china or grandpa’s hunting rifle. If you have these items in storage and you’re ready to pass them on to the next generation, float the idea to your children.

Instead of giving the piece to the first person who offers to take it, be more methodical. Ask who may be interested in which particular items. If several of your children show interest, you might need to develop a fair way to divide them so everyone remains friends. 

Try not to be offended if your children don’t want your treasures. For your most sentimental pieces, you might need to hold on to them until your children figure out just how treasured they are. Or you might set a deadline, and if no one responds, sell it. 

2. Ask your grandchildren if they have an interest in some of the items 

Following the same guidelines, ask the next generation if owning any of your sentimental items may bring them joy. Of course, make sure none of your children have an interest before skipping generations. 

Again, don’t feel bad if your grandchildren don’t want your stuff. Millennials are much more into “experiences” rather than belongings. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Your grandson may want your husband’s guitar, and someone into antiques may love to have your grandma’s sewing machine. 

3. Don’t forget extended family members when giving away family memorabilia

Your children may not have an interest in your grandfather’s cuckoo clock, but your siblings, nieces, or nephews may remember that piece with fondness. Keep the item in the family and give it to someone who looks at the item the same way you did. 

4. Don’t feel guilty for getting rid of something that doesn’t give you joy

You may have inherited a collection or other bulky item that belonged to previous generations of your family. Perhaps you kept it out of a sense of obligation. It may be time to let go of your guilt and give the item to someone who would appreciate it. This person may even be someone who is not in your family.

5. Keep one item out of a collection

Did your great-grandma make dozens of doilies? Did your grandpa collect Coke bottles? Keeping an entire collection of items may be overwhelming to you. If no one in the family wants to keep the collection intact, consider passing them out so each family member can have one piece. Or if the collection is yours, keep one piece and give away or sell the rest.  

6. Create something useful out of sentimental items

Do you have the decorative water glasses from your grandma’s kitchen cabinet? Donate all but one, and store buttons or pens in the one that you keep.

Instead of storing your grandmother’s quilt in a box in your attic, why not put it on the bed in your guest room?

The time is now to use the good china. Drink your orange juice out of a crystal flute. What are you waiting for?

7. Repurpose outdated items

Your grandmother’s costume jewelry may not be your style, but you might be able to repurpose some of the stones into a piece that you would wear. Think of other items that may be repurposed. Can you reupholster your dad’s favorite easy chair and use it in your living room? 

Keeping an item that you think is ugly just because it belonged to someone in your family may be fine for a while, but if you are downsizing, it may be time to make another plan.

8. Display the items you choose to keep

The figurine you received for your high school graduation from your aunt isn’t doing anyone good sitting in your storage unit. Either display it or get rid of it. If you can’t imagine it sitting on your mantle, your kids probably have no interest in it either.

Tips for Selling Sentimental Items

Perhaps some of the items that you are ready to say goodbye to have both sentimental and monetary value. This may complicate the process of gifting the items to your friends and extended family members. 

If you have sentimental items that may be worth money, here are some tips for selling them.

9. Determine if the money you would receive is greater than the sentimentality of the item

Many of us have items that we wouldn’t sell for any amount of money—well, almost any amount. Get a clear picture of what the item might be worth, and then consider it when determining if you keep or get rid of it.

10. Remember that the memories of your deceased loved one are more important than their stuff

Your memories of your mom would still exist without her cookie jar collection. You would always look back fondly at your grandfather even if you no longer have his rocking chair. The feelings that you had about those individuals will remain the same, whether you sell their things or not.

11. Take photos of the items before selling them

If it’s time to get rid of your dad’s Model T, have photos taken with the car before you sell it. You might even want to drive it in one last parade. Set yourself a deadline, and place the vehicle on an auction site after you’ve had an ample amount of time to say goodbye.

12. Do something special with the money you earn from the sale

Take the entire family out for a nice dinner or go on a weekend trip and visit a winery. Do something with the money you receive to make memories with your loved ones. 

13. Remember that the buyer does not have a sentimental attachment to the item

Your family home may be a special place for you and your siblings, but the place is only worth what it will get on the open market. Try not to be offended when your treasured items don’t receive the interest you think they should.

14. Remember that it’s ok to be sad when getting rid of your stuff

It’s normal to be attached to your things. Some of the items you own may have been in your house for decades. It may feel strange to watch someone carry it out your front door. It’s ok to feel sad when you get rid of your things, but try to put as positive a spin on it as you can. Envision a new generation of people enjoying or using the item.

15. Take your time

When the decluttering bug bites, you may feel a strong compulsion to get rid of everything but the kitchen sink. You may read countless articles on how to downsize and watch videos of Marie Kondo on repeat.

Take a deep breath and take your time. You don’t want to sit in an empty house for twenty years. People feel comfortable being surrounded by items that are important to them. Allow the things around you to bring back happy memories of the people you love.

How to Help a Loved One Get Rid of Sentimental Items

Helping someone get rid of sentimental items can be a challenge (to say the least). It is even more difficult if your loved one has a hoarding disorder. If you feel that your loved one's drive to keep "sentimental items" may be the result of a compulsive disorder, consider getting professional help

If your loved one doesn't show any characteristics of compulsive behavior, here are some general guidelines on how to motivate them to get rid of some of the "stuff of life."

16. Consider your reasoning

Did your loved one ask for your help to get rid of sentimental items? Then consider sharing this article with them about finding new homes for things they no longer want. Help them follow through with the steps by selling, rehoming, or recycling their stuff.

If they didn't ask for help, consider why you find it necessary to offer assistance. 

Is it a safety issue? If your grandfather's old scientific journals have become tripping hazards, you may want to step in to ensure his safety.  

Otherwise, there may be little you can do to adjust the situation. If your loved one's lifestyle is severely affecting your relationship, consider getting professional counseling. Otherwise, you might just have to learn to live with your loved one's packrat tendencies. 

17. Have straightforward (but gentle) conversations about the "stuff."

If your parents are well into their retirement years and haven't downsized or purged their homes of unnecessary items, you might consider having a gentle conversation with them about getting rid of some of their stuff. 

As you begin the conversation, try to discover their mindset. Your loved one may want to get rid of things, but they might feel overwhelmed by the task. They may think that they are burdening you with a job that you are happy to complete. 

If they seem somewhat resistant to discussing their stuff, you might want to gently remind them of these truths:

Having too many items in your home leaves you to worry about storage. Sometimes those storage spaces are challenging to get to, and your elderly loved ones may become injured retrieving items from those hard-to-reach places. 

Discuss how having too much stuff makes it hard to maintain a clean and tidy house. Every item on the shelf collects dust and needs to be cleaned periodically. Stacks of boxes are ideal hiding spaces for spiders and rodents. 

As we age, the likelihood of having a medical emergency increases. If your loved one becomes quickly incapacitated due to a fall or other health complication, they won't be able to get rid of their things the way they would have wanted.

18. Try to put yourself in their shoes

Many people attach emotions to their belongings. Perhaps that old bottle of cologne that has been sitting in the medicine cabinet for years reminds your mom of her dad's scent. Maybe that lamp that no longer works was a wedding gift from a favorite aunt who died of cancer. Perhaps that old camera was the first big purchase your grandma made when she got her first paycheck. 

One man's trash is another man's treasure, so consider these things before asking your loved ones to get rid of their "junk."

Other Things You Can Do to Make Things Easier on Your Kids

Some people want to get rid of clutter because they want to simplify their lives, especially in their golden years. Other people do it because they don’t want to burden the kids by leaving behind a house full of stuff that needs emptying.

If you are concerned about making your life easier on your children after you pass, make sure you create an end-of-life plan. Write your will or trust. Place all your insurance documents and other essential papers in an easy-to-find file cabinet. Also, pre-pay for your funeral. 

Take an afternoon to visit your local funeral home. Pick out a casket or urn. Purchase a spot in a mausoleum. That evening, over a glass of wine, choose the music to be played at your funeral and what flowers you would like to have draped over your casket. You may even consider writing your own obituary. Pre-planning your funeral would be a wonderful way to tell your children that you care for them. 

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