29 Jan 2018

Are You Paralyzed By Sentiment?

Dealing with sentimental items can be one of the hardest obstacles to overcome when it comes to decluttering and getting organized. Even as a professional organizer this is one of the biggest challenges I personally face. But, are those items overwhelming you and keeping you from having a better organized home? Business and ultimately life? Taking the time and putting forth the effort and decluttering sentimental items can have a huge positive impact on our homes and lives.

We have emotional connections to our sentimental items. It can be hard to decide which items are truly special, and which are adding clutter and burdening you. But, by being selective you elevate those items you keep and make them that much more special.

I often tell clients that being organized doesn’t mean you are a minimalist and certainly you should not take the approach if it serves no purpose or function it shouldn’t be in your home. But you can’t keep everything and if you find yourself overwhelmed and surrounded by too much stuff it’s time to lighten the load and give yourself some breathing room. With that in mind, here are some tips to help you overcome the sentimental paralysis and move forward with your decluttering.

These tips will not only make decluttering sentimental items easier. But they also let you feel good about it during the decluttering process and afterwards as well!

Dive in!

When we know something is going to be hard sometimes we avoid and procrastinate doing it. The project starts to loom over us and can grow into a bigger, scarier job in our minds the longer we put it off.

Sometimes the best way to tackle a big project is just dive right in and get started. If you are like me, once you get going you realize it isn’t as hard as we thought. Taking the first step and starting can be the hardest step. Once you get going you build momentum, motivation and confidence to keep going.

Give yourself time and/or space

You need to be in the right frame of mind for decluttering especially if you are dealing with sentimental items. Don’t procrastinate decluttering sentimental items indefinitely but cut yourself some slack if it isn’t working today. Move on to something else and dive back in again tomorrow.

Most of us can’t declutter our homes in one single swoop of decluttering. It often takes two or three rounds of decluttering. Each time you are willing and able to let go of more and more. And that’s ok too. Declutter as ruthlessly as you feel able to today. In six months you might feel able to be even more ruthless.

For clients who are often struggling I suggest they box up the items they are unsure about. Put a date on the box and put it in the attic or a storage space out of sight. Put a reminder on your calendar to come back and review that box of items. There is no absolute time frame – do what is comfortable for you. It could be a month, six months even a year. If you find you haven’t even thought about those items in that period of time it often makes them easier to let go.

Your memories are in your mind and your heart

Remember, your memories and special moments aren’t contained in the object. They are in your mind and your heart. You’ll always have the memories, no matter if you keep the item or not.

Reminding yourself that the object is just a representation of the memory or special moment, not the memory itself, is enough to help you let.

It’s ok to keep some sentimental items, within reason

Decluttering your home doesn’t mean you have to get rid of every single sentimental item you have. It’s ok to keep the sentimental items that you value and are meaningful to you.

The trick is to keep the number of those items within reason. Remember, if you have too many special items, it diminishes their specialness because they get lost in each other. Choosing the ones that are really special and important allows you to showcase, value and enjoy them more.

Set a limit appropriate for your home and life to help you be more objective while decluttering sentimental items. Limits will help you keep only the most important items. For example, maybe give yourself two plastic tote bins to hold sentimental items. Then only keep what fits in the totes.

Find a way to use or repurpose items

Even better than storing sentimental items is to find ways to use them or repurpose them. Then you can enjoy and appreciate them every day.

Rather than storing sentimental items in a box, display them or use to decorate your home. These items will add your personality and character to your home. You display things that are meaningful to you. Things that share a story about your life and family. Another great way to appreciate your sentimental items is to use them! Instead of storing them away, why not use them and appreciate them every time you do.

Be selective as you choose items to display or repurpose. Only choose the most special items.

Take a picture

If you have sentimental items you want to remember, but don’t necessarily want to keep, take pictures of them. Then let the items go. Often pictures of sentimental items are enough to preserve the memories associated with the items, without keeping the items.

Your home should be a living space for your present life

Reminding yourself to make your home a living space for your present life, not a storage space for your past is a good mantra when decluttering sentimental items. If your home is overwhelmed with sentimental items from your past, it’s hard to have room for living and creating new memories!

Why are you saving it?

Ask yourself why you are saving an item. What is your purpose for keeping it? Is it because it is something you love and holds a lot of meaning for you? Does it remind you of a special moment? Is it for your kids when they’re adults? We all have different reasons for holding on to sentimental items. If you don’t have a clear reason to keep it, you probably don’t need it or value it as much as you thought.

If it’s something you’re saving for your kids, do you think they will actually want it? Would you want it if your parents brought it to you? Sometimes we save things for our kids, but they don’t or won’t want them. Be honest with yourself.

How does the item make you feel?

Think about how each item makes you feel. If it holds negative feelings for you, do you really want to keep it?

Is it really sentimental to you, or are there other reasons you’re keeping it?

Sometimes we keep items and think they are sentimental to us, but it’s actually guilt or a sense of obligation that make us feel like we should keep them.

Do you feel guilty getting rid of it? Maybe it was a gift and you feel guilty getting rid of it, even though you don’t use or love it. Remember, a gift is given to show love. You accept the gift and express your appreciation to the giver. After that, it’s up to you what you decide to do with it. If it’s not something you use or love, don’t let feelings of guilt make you keep it. Maybe it’s a family heirloom or something we feel expected to keep. Remember, if it’s not something you value and holds meaning for you, don’t let it take up your time and space by keeping it. If someone makes you feel obligated to keep an item, tell them you’re decluttering and don’t want to keep it. Let them know they are free to take it if they would like, otherwise you’re getting rid of it.

There are always exceptions

Be ruthless while decluttering, but also give yourself some latitude and don’t be hard on yourself. Decluttering sentimental items is hard work, both emotionally and mentally. You’ll probably be riding an emotional roller coaster at times. Some items will be hard to let go of, even when you know you need to let them go.Keep at it, but take a break when you need to.

Also, remind yourself there might be sentimental items that are exceptions to the above tips and tricks. Maybe it’s something so special you could never bear to get rid of it. Or it’s something associated with a loss that is still too fresh or raw to declutter or be objective about.

Decluttering is a process and a journey to give you more time, space and freedom. Don’t be hard on yourself. Show yourself kindness. And know that every step in this journey, even the small steps, are making progress.