Honour your past, don’t cling to it.

Sentimental clutter can be challenging to let go of.


Sentimental clutter is often the hardest part of decluttering a home.  I would advise anyone paring down their stuff to put special mementos at the end of the queue for decluttering. The work of sifting through items you have a lot of memories attached to is often slow and taxing.

What is sentimental clutter? I define it as mementos that don’t get used in everyday life. Ticket stubs, love letters, photo albums. Maybe even everyday items from a loved one that has passed away. You know it’s sentimental clutter because you never use it and only touch or see it occasionally.  It’s also usually tucked away in a drawer, box in the basement or another unused room in your home.

Moving is often a time when the boxes of old photos and report cards comes out. Instead of packing you take a trip down memory lane. It can be a wonderful and enjoyable way to remember and celebrate the past. But… if you just pack it all up again and carry it on to the next place, and don’t look at it until the next move, you’re relegating those special items to the clutter pile.


Here are some ideas to think about as you ponder how to deal with sentimental clutter.

The item doesn’t hold the memory. You do. 

Often people can’t part with the memento because they think if they do, they will forget about that time. This can be especially true for items attached to loved ones that are gone. But the item doesn’t hold the memory. You hold the memory. Try to think of the items as simply a thing that sparks the memory. And that there are so many ways to spark a memory beyond things.

Too many memory items, or sentimental clutter, can actually prevent us from enjoying what we do have. 

Box after box of loose photos doesn’t always elicit beautiful memories. It can bring panic with the thoughts of, how will I sort all of this? And guilt too: shouldn’t I be treasuring and enjoying all this stuff? It can even be a burden in a small home. When you don’t have a lot of space a few extra boxes really does use up valuable storage.

Useful and enjoyable things should be used and seen. 

The five bankers boxes of who knows what that sit in the garage aren’t being used or seen. In fact, often these boxes of sentimental clutter are stored haphazardly. They become victims of water damage or mold. If it was useful and important in your life shouldn’t it be well taken care of? If the idea of spending days and dollars putting everything in organized protective sleeves and giving it prime storage in your home is unappealing… well, that’s your answer. This ‘stuff’ isn’t that important to you. The memories and people and experiences are. But the stuff you’ve attached the memory to is really just stuff.


Ideas for paring down sentimental clutter.

Display things that you love. This makes it easier to choose those photos and mementos that have a lot of meaning to you. Scan all those old photos and make a coffee table book out of them. Then let them go. Make a display box for the baby items…. and then give the rest of those baby hats and onesies away.

Honour your past and people in a new way. Visit that beach your mother loved once a year. Call up that  friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while and reminisce. Maybe you need to do something bigger to finally let go of those physical items that you attach to memories and people. Make a donation in a loved one’s name.

If it’s your kid’s stuff, and they are out of the house, give it to them to hold on to. Everyone has had that call: come and get your stuff, we don’t want it in the basement anymore. It’s a right of passage to take those yearbooks and soccer trophies from your parent’s home to your own. And while the kids are there, help them reduce those boxes by half.

Outsource photo scanning. Maybe some relatives will share the bill. Many people put off scanning photos because it’s really time consuming.  If you can’t let old photos go because you need to scan them, get it done. Have a scanning party. Ask family to bring laptops and a scanner and spend a Saturday reminiscing and scanning. Turn those scans into a photo book or hire a professional photo organizer to do the work for you.