How to Tackle Sentimental Clutter: A Comprehensive Guide
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How to Tackle Sentimental Clutter: A Comprehensive Guide

What Is Sentimental Clutter

Sentimental clutter refers to items that you hold onto because of the memories or emotions they evoke, rather than their practical value or function in day-to-day life. 

These items are deeply personal, they remind you of certain periods of your life, people, or experiences that are significant.

Sentimental Clutter Includes:

  • Old photographs

  • Letters and cards

  • Children’s artwork

  • Heirlooms and family antiques

  • Mementos from trips and events

  • Gifts from loved ones

  • Items belonging to a deceased loved one

  • Old diaries and journals

  • Clothing, such as wedding dresses or old uniforms

But here’s where it gets a bit tangled…

While these items are the keepers of our memories, they can sometimes overwhelm our spaces, creating a clutter that tugs at our heartstrings every time we attempt to organize our homes. It’s like walking through a gallery of your life’s moments, each item pulling you into a reverie, making it a Herculean task to decide what stays and what goes.

Now, that’s not to say that everything that is sentimental is clutter. It’s actually quite the opposite. Everything that is sentimental but has no specific place in your home is sentimental clutter. 

Creating a home that’s meaningful where when you look around you’re lifted up to become the best version of yourself is this dance between the joy of nostalgia and the desire for a home with everything you need + nothing more®. 

It’s about holding onto those pieces that truly resonate with your soul while graciously letting go of the ones that have served their purpose.

And here’s the truth, no one gets to tell you what is sentimental clutter. A friend, a family member nor a professional organizer. 

Our responsibility at Elegant Simplicity® as your professional organizing BFF is to help you see what we know is possible. With the right approach, you can honor your most cherished memories from the past without sacrificing the tranquility and organization of your space. 

Where Do You Begin With Sentimental Clutter

It doesn’t matter what we do together at Elegant Simplicity® or if you never work with Elegant Simplicity as a client at all, you always should begin by assessing.


Assessing what you want from this space. 

Assessing why this is important to you.

Assessing how you’re going to get there (i.e. creating a gameplan)

Because somewhere along this meandering journey — of paring down, simplifying + creating a better way of life — you’re going to stumble across a stack of old pictures, granddaddies’ pocket watch, a well-loved + worn-out teddy bear, your kids’ artwork… whatever sentimental looks like for you, it doesn’t matter. 

And this my friend, is when making decisions becomes difficult!

When it comes to tackling sentimental clutter in our lives, there’s no telling what emotions we’ll experience (sometimes all at once), especially when we touch an object that reminds us of what once was. 

Think about it (for example) if John + Sherri were to sit down with a box that’s brimming with random objects they’ve collected from their past…

At first glance, an item that may otherwise seem discardable or insignificant to John actually holds an extremely special + enduring meaning to Sherri. And no matter how silly that thing is (a movie ticket, a hotel key card, a scrap of ribbon, an election pin…) we may feel a deep connection. 

Create An Actionable Gameplan

And that’s where it’s so important to have outlined for yourself (+ we recommend writing it down) a gameplan that feels actionable. 

It helps to be able to take a break and come back to it. Maybe that break is even a few weeks or months but knowing you’ve outlined not only what to do but why it’s important is such an asset to you in continuing.

Intentionally Curate

So — now that we’re able to identify what sentimental clutter looks (or rather feels) like, the even bigger question is, how do you get rid of sentimental clutter? 

And really this is more about becoming a conscious keeper of what matters and has meaning to you than it is about “getting rid of things.”  

What is the best way to fight that relentless urge to keep it?

How To Declutter Sentimental Items

Even if you’ve tried + were unsuccessful, here are 6 powerful ways to help you part ways with the roller coaster of emotions, the emotional attachments to stuff aka our sentimental clutter:

Remove The Guilt Attached To Keeping It

From y-e-a-r-s of hands-on experience, something I’ve learned is that people generally hold onto things out of guilt *gasp!* or in fear of hurting someone else’s feelings.

For instance, have you ever inherited something (like a piece of furniture) that doesn’t exactly vibe with your current style but it’s been in the family for who knows how long?

Or how about when someone gives you a gift that — for whatever reason, reminded them of you? For instance, like the time someone bought you a random piece of wall decor or a pair of coffee mugs. While the gesture is extremely thoughtful, it would probably look awesome in someone else’s space because quite frankly… you never would’ve bought it for yourself? 

Luckily, you’re not alone, friend! 

We actually worked with clients, who didn’t realize (until we started organizing their kitchen) that they had somehow accumulated a museum size collection of coffee mugs.

We’re talking upwards of 60 hodge-podge, no mug the same, kind of coffee mug collection! 

Yet, despite the fact that they only used 4 maybe 5 of them on a regular basis; for whatever reason, one partner really struggled with the idea of paring down. Through a process of assessing what was important, what the coffee cups actually represented on a deeper level to them we discovered the emotional fear-based trigger that was driving this silly coffee cup crazy train. 

Any guesses?

YEP! GUILT! And the fear of offending the person who gave them the mug if they got rid of even one because their natural response was, “What if the next time that person comes over + we have coffee? They’re going wonder why we’re not using the coffee mugs they gave us last year for our birthday.”

Let me tell ya…the what-if game is not your friend.

Sentimental clutter is like the adult version of the stuffie, we’ve all had it but we don’t need to keep it.

No matter how thoughtful something was, or how much you appreciated their kindness — the harsh reality is that this guilt-based decision making is hindering your ability to make decisions. Instead of keeping only the items you use or want to display in your home, the feeling of guilt + the what-if way of thinking about sentimental clutter is actually controlling what to keep vs what to let go of. 

In this instance, sentimental items are doing more harm than good and it’s adding massive amounts of unnecessary + emotional stress to you.  

So now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room…

The first piece of sentimental clutter is always guilt. So, I want you to rid yourself of that nagging wave of guilt that comes washing over you when you begin the decision making process of trying to get rid of something from your past. Promise?