How to Actually Get Rid of Things With Sentimental Value: Step-By-Step

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The things we collect and keep throughout our lifetime carry meaning. They can bring us comfort, remind us of happy memories, and even spark real joy. That being said, there comes a time when you might need to part with things that have this sentimental value. 

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Often called sentimental clutter, parting with these things gives you space for new pieces and memories. However, overcoming that emotional attachment to things is easier said than done. Parting with sentimental clutter can leave you intimidated and even anxious. 

So how do you actually get rid of things with sentimental value? From family heirlooms to personal gifts, here are step-by-step tips for downsizing sentimental clutter to make room for the new. 

Why Get Rid of Sentimental Items?

Why should you get rid of sentimental items or sentimental clutter in the first place? If these things evoke emotions and memories, why not hold onto them forever? In a perfect world, we would hold onto all of our favorite things for our entire lives. In reality, it’s not that simple. 

People get rid of sentimental items for a number of reasons:

  • Death of a loved one: After losing a loved one, you might be tasked with allocating personal items after a death. This means you have to go through their things to determine what to keep, give away, and throw away. 
  • Space: Sometimes you need to downsize, and there simply isn’t enough space to keep all of your sentimental things. 
  • Emotional burden: As hard as it is to admit, sometimes these sentimental items carry a large emotional burden that can weigh us down. There’s a lot of guilt and worry associated with the feeling of letting things go. 

If your sentimental things are beginning to evoke feelings of anxiety and stress, it might be time to let them go. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is no longer needed in your life. These are all just material things, and sometimes they come in and out of our lives. 

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How to Decide if You Should Get Rid of Sentimental Items

When do you know if it’s time to get rid of a sentimental item? Here are some questions to ask yourself about the item to understand your reason for keeping it vs. getting rid of it. 

Note that there are no right and wrong answers, and you might find value in something that another person doesn’t. This is a very personal process, so proceed with care. 

Is this a gift or a burden?

Receiving a gift from someone you love is always a special occasion. Even if the gift wasn’t exactly what you wanted, you likely appreciate that they thought of you. However, gifts can start to cross the line into being a burden if you’re not careful. 

Do you worry that this person will want to see this item every time they visit? Are you afraid that giving it away might hurt their feelings? In reality, our gift-givers don’t usually hold us to these standards, and we place too much pressure on ourselves. If this is the case, it might be time to get rid of this sentimental item. 

Why are you holding onto this item?

We hold onto things for a variety of reasons, but only two are actually worth paying attention to. Either it’s practical, or it brings joy. If the item is a practical thing that you use regularly, it fits well into your life and should be held on to. If it’s something that brings you real joy and happiness, then it’s also worthwhile. 

However, if you’re holding onto something because it makes you feel guilty getting rid of it, this is a negative emotion. Indulging in these feelings of guilt and holding onto things that you no longer need or enjoy will only cause you stress.

Can it be passed on?

Sometimes we no longer need to hold onto things that have brought us joy. Sometimes we’re ready to pass these things on to other people in our lives. For example, if you have a family heirloom that you no longer have space for, it could help you to gift this to a younger relative who can appreciate it. 

You shouldn’t feel obligated to keep family heirlooms or sentimental items just for the sake of it. If you no longer like it or have a need for it, ask around to see if it’s something someone else wants. You might be surprised. 

How to Dispose of or Donate Sentimental Items

If you’ve asked the questions above and decided you’re ready to get rid of a sentimental item, there are some ways to simplify this process. Sometimes those feelings of guilt and worry creep in when we least expect it, but we can help put them to rest with some planning. 

Step 1: Take your memories digital

If there are things you’re ready to get rid of, but you don’t want to forget them completely, consider going digital. It’s easy to take photos of images, documents, and even things. If you’re parting with children’s toys, for example, taking photos of your favorites might help you let them go. 

Not only do digital versions free up physical space, but they help you keep the memory alive. Knowing that you can look back on these digital photos or files whenever you need to is a way to heal and move on. 

Step 2: Curate your memories

Odds are you won’t want to get rid of everything that carries some sentimental value. There are a lot of unique ways to curate your memories so you can highlight the things that bring you the most happiness. 

  • Make a memory box: A memory box is a box that stores things that matter to you. Since it’s smaller, you have to think about what matters most and what you want to hold onto. Having these sentimental items in a single space is much more organized. 
  • Keep one of a bunch: If you have a large collection of sentimental things, challenge yourself to keep only one of a bunch. Taking one item is more reasonable, and it still reminds you of the other.s 
  • Put together a scrapbook: For photos, mementos, and notes, put them together in an organized scrapbook that you can look back on again and again. 
  • Remake or repurpose: Lastly, you can hold onto things you’re connected to by remaking them or repurposing them into something new. 

Curating your memories with any of the ideas above helps you keep them organized. This makes them easier to appreciate, and it also identifies what matters the most to you. 

Step 3: Say goodbye

When it’s time to get rid of sentimental clutter, it’s okay to say goodbye. Be grateful for how these items might have helped you in the past. For example, if you’re parting with a childhood toy, thank it for the good memories you share together. 

It’s okay to literally say “goodbye” out loud. Parting with things, even sentimental items you no longer need, can be a painful process. Taking time to hold, look at, and recognize the history you share with each thing before parting with it can help you get closure. 

Step 4: Ask for help from a trusted loved one

Decluttering your sentimental items alone isn’t easy. You might need help from someone you love and trust. Talking over the process with someone can help you see things clearly. 

For example, talking to a friend about your video collection to determine what’s worth keeping and what should go is an enlightening experience. When you work solo, you’re stuck in your own sentimentality. A third party is a neutral voice helping you see more clearly. 

Step 5: Organize into boxes

When going through your things, create a designated space for things you want to keep, throw away, and donate. You can use boxes, containers, bins, or even just parts of your space. This helps you move quickly and avoid creating more clutter in the process. 

Once you’ve put things into their designated boxes and said goodbye, avoid going through them again. You’ve already made your final farewell, and now it’s time to focus on the present and what comes next. 

Step 6: Find the right donation place

Last but not least, find the right place to donate the things you’re not keeping or throwing away. Find where to donate old clothes and belongings in your area. Most cities and suburbs have a variety of donation drop-off centers, but you can also mail things away to specific organizations. 

Finding a cause that you’re passionate about is a great way to feel good about parting with sentimental things. Donating old cooking supplies to a family in need, for instance, can help ease any guilt you might have about parting with something sentimental. Better yet, you’re doing good for someone in need. 

Say Goodbye to Things You No Longer Need

As a child, you hold your teddy bears and toys close. When you enter adulthood, you might not have a teddy bear anymore, but it’s still common to hold onto sentimental things. Though you might not actually need old ticket stubs, piles of photographs, and specific family heirlooms, these things brought us comfort at one time or another. 

That being said, these comfort items aren’t usually what we’re really seeking. We just want to feel closer to the memories that matter to us. Letting go of sentimental items that no longer bring joy or comfort is a form of healing, and it lets us truly value what matters the most. 

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