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How to sort through sentimental items

As I declutter, this has been one of the hardest things to sort through. Sentimental items are tough because, well, they are sentimental! They bring a certain emotion along with them. If you’re on a path to pair-down to what you really want to take along with you in this life, at some point or another you need to decide what to do with your sentimental items. I'm not sure if you’ve heard this before… but clutter is just delayed decisions. At some point or another, we have to get rid of our stuff.

Here are some tips to help sort through your sentimental items:

1) Ask yourself, “Can I take a picture of this item and hold the same emotion?”

There are some items that really do carry a bunch of memories. One trick we’ve tried is to take a picture of the item. So, if you ever worry you want to revisit that item you can return to the picture. I know, it might not seem quite the same, but it still helps to give a sense that you’re letting go of an item, not the memory.

The other day I caught my husband taking a picture of his watches. We are each getting rid of a handful of watches. To me, it was laugh-worthy. But to him, each watch carries a story. He pointed to one and said, “Remember, this is the one I wore on our wedding day.” I had to admit that I did not remember…and I’m typically over sentimental about everything! For Alan it was a way to let go of his watches, but not the memories they hold.

2) Ask yourself, “Can I keep one, rather than all?”

Sometimes keeping one of a collection of things is better than keeping them all. This can be helpful when you lose a loved one, but it takes time to feel “ok” letting go of items because in a way it might feel like you’re letting go of the person.

An example of something I held onto was 1 (maybe 2) books from my doctoral school program. I’m cheating a little bit, because truth be told I am not overly sentimental about that school program. No bad feelings, it just isn’t a nostalgic memory. So in full honesty I’m just keeping the book I think will be useful in my field. I made the mistake of buying so many of them thinking I’d revisit them…and I haven’t…so I am now handing them off to a current student in the program.

3) Ask yourself, “Is this something I actually want to remember?”

I just had to put this in, because sometimes we keep things out of obligation. Yet, we have to ask ourselves if it’s a memory we want to be evoked when we see the object. If not, then it’s a clear “it’s got to go.” I want to give you an example, but I’m going to do so in number 5 because it connects to that one as well.

4) Ask yourself, “Do I feel an obligation to keep this?”

I feel this…and often hear this…when it comes to keeping loved one’s belongings that have been passed down. I feel it when I look at Christmas decorations passed to me from my aunt, or the deviled-eggs platter given to me from my grandmother. I even asked my mom about the deviled-eggs platter and she said, “Oh, you have to keep that.” If you don’t know what the big deal is about a deviled-eggs platter, well, it’s something we have at every extended-family picnic. Yet, that picnic happens once a year. AND, I’ve never been the one to make deviled-eggs. So, my suggestion…don’t ask family members their opinion. Decide for yourself what you want to keep!

5) Ask yourself, “Is there something I need to do before letting this go?”

Sometimes we need to take a picture, sometimes we need to show it to someone. See if there’s anything you need to do before releasing the item. Maybe for you it is to wear that letterman jacket one last time! So here is my example…I’m an avid journaler. I’ve kept all of my journals since childhood. Why? Because they seemed sacred to me. Throwing out journals almost feels like throwing out a Bible. I’ve gone back and forth on what to do about my journals. I even asked a group I’m in what to do about them. I should have known this, but I got many different answers, SO I must decide for myself. And right now I found that I want to do something with them.

I hope to write down the lessons I learned from each journal. I still feel a bit egocentric thinking this way, but I wanted them to be lessons I passed onto my daughter. So I hope to write a mini-book. I even have a title planned. We’ll see…I am hoping to get the guts to do it. For now, I hold onto them until I can sort through them and find a main lesson in each. Why have I decided to go about things this way? Partly because I don’t want anyone to read them after I’m gone (just being honest!), partly because I can’t seem to even recognize the person who wrote some of the entries (how awesome that life can mold us into new versions of ourselves), and also partly because I have a passion for learning lessons and then talking to others about what I’ve learned. Who knows, maybe others could relate to the process of learning to let go of self-hatred and fear amidst a depression? Or maybe others can learn from when I tried to play it safe...only after much time taking a risk to love again after heartbreak. Some of the themes seem to be things I often discuss with clients of mine, so why not just get them down on paper?

Anyway, I hope this list has been helpful as you continue to sort through your items! One thing as you sort through sentimental items I strongly suggest is to be gentle with yourself. Don’t get rid of stuff you’re not ready to process emotionally. Let yourself be just where you are. Happy rooting, everyone!

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