Woman holding up clothes to put into donate box while a dog sits nearby on couch.

How to Let Go of Sentimental Items Without Guilt

The value of our belongings changes with time, and different generations view perceived valuables differently. The once highly valued and highly sentimental china dinnerware that was passed on through generations is now seen by many as unnecessary clutter. 

In the rise of minimalism and the mindset that less is more, how do we let go of the things that once mattered, stirred emotions, and are tied to memories? There is a process. And for some, it’s not an easy one. At each stage, remember this: memories live on in your heart. Clearing away an object doesn't mean you're clearing out that memory from your life.

Two Questions to Keep in Mind

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No matter what sentimental items you encounter, you need to keep in mind two questions: 

  1. Does this add value to my life?  
  2. Is this something that I will actually use?

Get into the Right Mindset

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Probably one of the most significant steps to letting go of sentimental items is establishing the proper mindset. Remember—and remind yourself—there’s nothing personal about letting go of these items. Initially, you may feel sadness or even a sense of betrayal, but keep in mind the material items are simply a reflection of the love and memories that stay with you throughout time, regardless of circumstance or belongings.

Start Easy

A genuine kitchen junk drawer almost overflowing with genuine kitchen junk.
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Sorting through personal belongings is often tied to major life events, usually the loss of a loved one, but also as a part of your own personal journey. Begin with the space that’s easiest and has the fewest emotional connections, such as a kitchen drawer or dining room decor. There might be a few items you’ll use or that add value to your life, but the rest can be let go.

Eliminate Duplicates

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It’s nearly inevitable to discover duplicate items. Keep in mind that because and item was useful to someone else doesn’t mean it’s helpful to you. Eliminate duplicates to avoid clutter and unnecessary items in your home. You don’t need two blenders taking up space in your kitchen.

Ask Yourself, “Why?”

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Knowing why something is important is vital to the process of letting go. Ask yourself, “Why am I keeping this?” or “Why would this person want me to keep it?” If it’s an item that simply reminds you of a person, you can let it go knowing that your memory of the person will remain. If it’s an item connected to something specific that adds value to your life, consider its role in your home and in your life.

Some Items Bring Joy

Campbell's branded soup cup doubling as a tea cup
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When cleaning out a loved one’s home, you may come across items that simply bring you joy. They may not make any sense to other people, but they bring a smile to your face while adding value to your life. I have an old Campbell’s Soup mug from a time when my grandparents worked in the factory. It brings a memory, a smile, and still holds my coffee.

Use the Item Once More

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Maybe there’s an item you hesitate to let go of. Use the item one more time to bridge the memory. Maybe you’ll find it useful, or maybe more efficient than the one you currently use. In that case, keep it and let go of your own. 

Digitize Memories

Lots of old black and white photos.
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If you’re like most people, especially if you’re cleaning out the home of an older loved one, you’ll come across boxes of old photos. Unless you’re directly and personally connected, you’ll likely have no idea who the people are in the photos or where they were taken. Keep the photos that reflect memories, and let go of the rest. Then, digitize the remaining photos and keep your memories on a hard drive or memory stick.

Take Photos

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You may encounter items that carry meaning and sentimental value, but they are simply too large or non-complimentary to your current decor or lifestyle. Many people find that taking pictures of the items is a great way to hold onto the memories. Once you’ve stored the image, you can let go of the item.

Tell a Story

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Rather than trying to keep everything from a loved one consider details you can pass along instead. For instance, recipe books are a great way to remember someone. I have recipes that my great-grandparents made when I was a child. Savoring the flavors and smells while sharing stories about them with people around the table is a beautiful way to honor their memory. 

Consider Others

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While you may be attached to a possession, there may be someone else in your family circle who could benefit from it more. Always ask around. Keep in mind that someone else outside of your family could also benefit from it, so consider donating items as a means to pass along your loved one's legacy.

What About Pets?

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The loss of a pet brings intense emotions. Our furry and feathered friends hold a special place in our hearts and homes. Pet owners face the challenge of knowing what to do with the toys, dishes, and other accessories that remain after a pet is gone. The same principles apply. Be selective of items that are connected to memories. For example, a leash can be used to make a frame to hold a picture of your pet, or save the collar to use in a memorial shadow box.

Celebrate the Win

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You’ve carefully selected the items that add value, connect to positive memories and experiences, and accomplish something that many people don’t: You’ve celebrated a life with purpose and focus. Celebrate your win! Cherish the memory of walking through history and life filled with experiences.