Does this sound familiar? The kids are grown and on their own…yet their childhood stuff is still stashed in your guest room/rumpus room/basement. Mom’s Lenox china and silverware for 16 are stowed in your dining room hutch. Dad’s beer steins and National Geographic magazines (from the last 20 years) are boxed in your attic. What’s wrong with this scenario? If you love all these things and cannot imagine your life without them, then absolutely nothing! But if thinking about these examples makes you uneasy or tense, perhaps there are similar sentimental items jockeying for real estate in your own home.
Today, let’s consider a four-step approach to releasing sentimental stuff from your loved ones… so your space contains what really matters on your own journey!
Step 1: Begin with Why
Kids in Transition
Always start at the beginning! Ask yourself why you have the things you do. If it’s a “temporary” situation, put a time limit on how long the items will be tenants in your home. In particular, it’s universal that our kids leave stuff in our homes when they depart the nest. And it’s easy to hang on to the remnants of their youth. The memories are deep and heart-filled. We have the space to store their sentimental mementoes…or do we? Is it possible their things are occupying space you could use for your next act? Or, on a larger scale, is this holding you back from making an actual physical move? In other words, determine if other people’s things are preventing you from moving ahead.
If you don’t want to function as a storage facility, then now is the time to have the convo. Understand that there is benefit for both sides. Your adult children can adopt the lifelong habit of identifying what matters most to them, too! Most Millennials are living in smaller spaces and seeking to travel lightly with their possessions. So the timing for this dialogue is spot on! It can be a session of recalling happy times which, in turn, leads to deliberate choices of what items to keep and what items to let go.
Things that came to stay
Now on to the “permanent” guests in your home: these would be inherited items or gifts from family members or friends. You know logically their things have an “expiration date” with hanging around. Either they aren’t to your own taste or or they are not useful or necessary for your lifestyle. They may be something you do appreciate, but you truly don’t have the physical space now or where you may be heading next. Even harder, they may evoke bittersweet or difficult memories of a particular time in your life. In all cases, take time to reflect practically because this will facilitate the release process.
Step 2: Group sentimental items by donor
Next up is staging the items so that you can see exactly what you have from whom. For example, everything from your Mom should be gathered in the spare room. You can then see at a glance what you have from one person. This may be challenging if your entire house has things from Mom in every room! If that’s the case, then just segregate her things in each respective room and take a picture. In this way, you can review the entire collection at once or within a few images.
The purpose of this activity is to understand exactly what we all have from Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc. Often we balk at releasing something simply because it belonged to someone in particular (and I get that, really). But we get bogged down when we assign high value to each and every item. Is this realistic? I think about it this way: “How do I want my own son to remember me?” I am passionate about 3-4 things and so he’s welcome to keep just a few items that define those interests. He doesn’t need to curate a Mom shrine with everything of mine! In summary, be selective with how you decide to honor your beloved family member.
Step 3: Select the items to keep
Since we all have limited space, now you can make deliberate choices based on what truly epitomizes your dear family member. If your Grandma was a tea drinker, a gardener or a deeply religious person, then keep her favorite tea cup, her cut glass flower vase or her rosary beads. This makes it easier to let go of her ceramic knickknacks or crocheted afghans. You get the idea! Certainly, you can up the number of items if they take up less physical space, like pictures in a photo album or a digital picture frame. But consider truly narrowing down to the essence of that person… because you want to leave space in your home for you!
Once you have your choices defined, you can have fun with how you’re going to display the items. They won’t need to be hidden out of view any longer. Perhaps you’ll create a gallery of framed photos. You might use some glassed shadow boxes to showcase costume jewelry or prized medals. In other words, incorporate the treasures into your present decor. Paring them down to a select few will truly let them stand out as a testament to your family.
Step 4: Release all other items with love
Lastly, figure out the highest and best use of the things you will not retain. Start with your own family, in the event your children or siblings would appreciate and welcome any of those items. From there, it’s entirely up to you if you would prefer to realize a monetary return. Yet know that any selling activity will take time and effort, depending upon the demand for that item. Of course, antiques and collectibles can bring in significant cash. But start with some homework: research what items are in high demand now. Review the selling options as some are more suitable than others for certain things. By investing a little time up front, you’ll realize if going this route is worth your while.
If you decide to bypass the resale step, there are so many local charities that can deftly route your donations to the highest needs in your community. I tend to favor the small groups who allocate items freely but certainly, large secondhand stores such as Goodwill also serve a role. So you choose!
Please don’t overlook the value of donating. It in no way means you are throwing money away or dishonoring your family member! The money has already been spent when the item was first acquired by your relative. There was joy and use of the item until it was passed along to you. Now, you’re simply “paying it forward” when someone less financially fortunate eagerly and gladly accepts the item for their own use. Isn’t that a better outcome than having it collect dust on a shelf or hide in a cabinet?
Are you ready to dig in? Remember, always work at your own pace. This is not a race! You are in control of the process and no one is judging you. Even 15 minutes a day will have you ahead of where you were before you started. Sentimental clutter is the hardest stuff to deal with…but it provides the biggest emotional release when it’s moved out so you can move on!
For more ideas and support, check out these additional resources:
- A reminder on the overall benefits of decluttering: https://downsize365.com/decluttering-resolution-life-change/
- A recap of common reasons we get cluttered: https://downsize365.com/three-clutter-triggers/
- A 5 minute video on releasing sentimental stuff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfDMAqobZrs
Let us know what’s going on in your place! What’s your sentimental clutter status?
- Who’s stuff is going to be your biggest challenge to sort through?
- Are you using any of those items or are they behind closed doors?
- Have you already started? How’s that going? Any tips for us?
Drop your thoughts below…and thanks for stopping by!