So many times, we hold onto things in our homes that we have a sentimental attachment to. Unfortunately, the attachment to these items is not always a positive one. Some items in our homes invoke happiness, pleasure, and good memories. Other things come with sadness, guilt, shame, regret, or anxiety. Decluttering sentimental clutter that causes an adverse emotional reaction is hard work.
What is sentimental clutter?
All kinds of items. It might be a box of wedding photographs from your previous marriage or a gift someone gave you many years ago.
Why is sentimental clutter hard to declutter?
These are all challenging items to declutter because they connect to a story in our past. They come with memories of a past relationship, a lost loved one, or an earlier version of ourselves. Even though we may have kept these things out of love, holding onto them out of obligation or indecision is a burden. So many of us resort to putting them in a box and storing them in the attic or shed. We put them away for another day when we will feel ready to sort through the box and do something about the items.
When we do open the box and start sorting the items, we often get stuck by guilt at the idea of throwing or giving these items away. Photos and letters can be the hardest thing to let go of. Somehow it feels wrong to throw away such personal items. Clearing these items from our homes is a form of saying goodbye to a part of our past. And, that is ok to do. We do not need to carry mementos from past relationships or former versions of ourselves throughout our entire lives.
Why declutter sentimental clutter?
Having a house, or attic, filled with items from our past takes up space. At some point, we must consider if these items are things we want to keep. Are they an effective use of our storage space? Is it worth the emotional rollercoaster they trigger? If something is not bringing you joy and has stayed hidden for years in storage space, it is not serving you or honoring the memory of that person or time. It is time to let it go.
Decluttering these items may temporarily trigger feelings of guilt, anxiety, or regret. But holding onto things from a former version of ourselves simply because we don’t know what else to do with them is not healthy. Holding onto items that remind us of relationships that didn’t work out only holds you back and makes it harder to move on. Discarding things that remind us of a former version of ourselves can free our minds from the constant act of replaying the past and is a great way to free our minds from mindless, needless stress.
I recently opened a box of items I had stored for years. The box was full of letters from friends and former partners to my younger self. I spent hours rereading and remembering a different time of life when we saw the world through younger eyes. I spent an afternoon peering back into the life and loves of a former version of me. As I refolded each letter, I said goodbye and moved on to the next one. I did the same with old photos, tickets, and other memorabilia from my past. These items no longer added to my life; they belonged to a former version of me that no longer exists. Reminding myself of that made it easier to let go of most of the items in the boxes. I kept only a few of the most precious items as special momentoes honoring a former time of life and love.
Is it selfish or wrong to discard old photos and letters?
Sometimes there are a lot of confusing emotions that swirl around particular items. We want to clear the space, but there might be a feeling of guilt or of being selfish, inconsiderate, or wrong to let go of these sentimental items, especially if the things remind us of someone we loved and lost. So there are two opposing problems when we consider decluttering these items.
How do we honor the past? And, How do we let go of the past? When we have lost someone, we might want to hold onto everything connected to them. We want to honor the time and history we had together.
Letting go of sentimental items is about honoring the past while making space for your new life. At first, we keep these items out of love, and then we continue to keep them out of obligation.
Getting rid of items that remind us of a broken relationship is an essential part of closing the chapter. So go through your home and find the things that trigger sadness, shame, guilt, and loneliness.
Memories last a long time after a relationship ends, but you do not need to be haunted by memories every day by items in your home. If something triggers unwelcome memories or emotions, it is time to let it go and make room for new memories. Don’t keep anything in your home out of guilt.
One note before you remove everything. As I mentioned, I kept a few of the most memorable items from my first marriage for my children. These items are part of their history too. Photos of us as a family, items from holidays we all spent together, and a birthday card signed by mum and dad are touchstones they can keep. In addition, we have a memory box that sits on an easy-to-access shelf that the kids can open at any time to look through these special items.
Other questions to ask when decluttering sentimental items:
Does this add to my life or make it better? Unfortunately, having boxes of old items from years ago gathering dust in my attic does not enrich our lives or improve them.
Is there anything left to learn from this item? I spent time with each item, reading over a letter and looking through photos and other items in the boxes. The only thing to learn from these items was that I could let them go.
Will I regret letting this go? This question stumped me for a while. I was holding letters from people I had loved. It was a privilege to walk back through the memories, but at the same time, it was a reminder that the people who wrote those letters are different from the people we are now. We have all grown up and moved on many years ago.
To declutter sentimental clutter, especially items connected to a past relationship, go is another type of goodbye. It might be sad or bitter-sweet, but it is time to say goodbye. Hunt out the items in your home that you have hidden away because you don’t know what to do with them. And, take the plunge, open the boxes, spend a little time in the past, and then let it all go.
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