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  • Writer's pictureCathy Borg

Is Sentimental Clutter Messing with your Serenity? How to Keep the Best & Let Go of the Rest!

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

"Sentimental clutter is emotionally significant to us but is not used, wanted, or liked. It takes up space and doesn't belong."

Sentimental clutter is like a well worn slipper so comfortable you barely notice it.

You're serene. Oblivious. None of it intrudes in your day-to-day operations.

Then comes the day when you get tripped up.

Perhaps you're making serious progress decluttering your home or you're downsizing for a move. You open up the linen closet and there it is.

  • dad's collection of single reflex cameras and lenses.

  • 50 of your mom's beautiful china tea cups.

  • 5 legal size boxes full of your child's art from kindergarten to grade 8.

Suddenly, you find yourself unable to make decisions when it comes to certain mementoes, heirlooms or nostalgic items.

You're fidgety, indecisive, confused.

You know you have too much. You know you want and need more space. You know you want to move on but you're brain has just stopped working. Does the indecision stem from guilt, fear, nostalgia, loss. OR all of the above. And that's when realization dawns.

Sentimental clutter is messing with my serenity.

Well, you are not alone. Most of us have the typical impulse to save things that remind us of meaningful moments and people and there's nothing wrong with it!

"Sentimental attachment is normal and can benefit people."

It is normal to preserve emotional objects. One's that have deep emotional ties.

They serve as a reminder of a particular period in your life, a love one from the past. Or

as a reminder of significant achievements or life lessons.

In the 1980's, psychologist Russell Belk pioneered research on the hypothesis that possessions become an extension of ourselves.

He documented how victims of natural disasters feel injured by the loss of their things.

We can see this when watching the news on the latest hurricane or wildfire. Our hearts break as we see victims sobbing over the loss of cherished possessions. - A clay vase made by their child, their mother's worn sewing basket.

Each of us has things that mark our past, our family, and ourselves. It hurts to lose them.

"The issue arises when you gather too many treasures so that you feel burdened by them."

Like eating too many sweets. The first one or two you savour and think are amazing. But after you've polished off the whole box you get a stomach ache.

woman eating a box of chocolates

Too much of anything can put you off.

Too many mementoes with too much emotional resonance can keep you stuck.

In this guide you'll find help to keep the best and right number of mementoes and some strategies for dealing with the rest.

Emotional Attachment

When emotions are involved, we frequently follow our hearts.

To change or challenge our emotions we need to change what or how we are thinking about things.

We must realize that the thing is not the person or the emotion we want to remember. It is just a reminder of something. Like tying a piece of string around your finger as a reminder.

 piece of string tied to pointer finger as a reminder

Your mementos are your reminders of past experiences. However, you can set up other reminders that allow you to keep the memories and let go of excess stuff.

But first you've got to deal with your feelings.

  • The prospect of confronting our emotional attachments can be both illuminating and frightening. However, most difficulties, including emotional ones, are conquerable.

  • Acknowledging our feelings is the first step toward managing them.

  • The next step is how to confront them.

Let's go on the offensive today.

Different Sorts of Sentimental Clutter

A few of the Sentimental clutter categories are attachment, inherited and aspirational.

We'll look at why they may be holding you up, as well as a starting point for dealing with them.

Attachment clutter

Attachment clutter includes letters, books, photographs, presents, mementos, and clothes from deceased loved ones.

love letters

This is significant to you because it connects you to loved ones. They link you to your history. It reminds you of brighter or possibly more difficult times.

You may feel nostalgic, pleased, guilty, deceived, or heartbroken when you gaze at them. You may believe that this is your sole link, and that letting go of the thing will cause you to forget or ruin the memories.

The initial step toward a solution

Consider the good.

How would you feel if you had less of this stuff cluttering up your home? Consider how relieved you are to be able to move on. You feel liberated, happier, and lighter.

How to Say Goodbye

  • Strategies for letting go. Photograph each treasure. Put the photo and a description of why it is significant in an album.

  • Scan and digitize letters.

  • Create memory boxes for each family member to save emotional material such as treasured cards (anniversary, wedding, child's handcrafted cards, and so on). The box's size limits the amount of space available. Select two or three best most meaningful items to keep. Shred and give away the rest.

Inherited Clutter

Inherited clutter includes china, silver, furniture, photos, art, bibles and so on.

Brass antique mantel clock

This is significant to you because it connects you to loved ones. They also link you to your family history.

You feel responsible for keeping the family history alive. You may feel angry that this responsibility has been thrust on you. You may feel guilty, resentful, or ashamed when you look at them.

The initial step toward a solution

Consider the good.

How would you feel if you had less of this stuff cluttering up your home? Consider how relieved you are to be able to move on. You feel lighter, not guilty, less distracted and contented with your decision.

How to Say Goodbye

  • Take a photo. Put the photo and a description of why it is significant in an album.

  • You may want to do a video explaining the provenance and importance of each piece.

  • If you don't know who the people in the picture album are and nobody in your family does - let it go.

  • Use tea cups as centrepieces or fill with wrapped candy and give as hostess gifts.

  • Keep just the stuff you want not out of guilt. Select two or three best, most meaningful items to keep.

  • Ask relatives if they wish to have any of the things you don't want. Shred and give away or sell the rest.

Aspirational Clutter

Aspirational clutter includes trophies, awards, collections, designer clothing, designer shoes, jewellery, gadgets, accessories and so on.

Bag of unused, expensive golf clubs

This is significant to you because you may feel it defines who you are. You may be trying to "keep up with the Joneses" - to impress, to show social status.

Remember when you compare you lose.

You may feel like an imposter. In your heart of hearts you know this is not who you really are. You may feel upset and guilty for wasting money.

The initial step toward a solution

Consider the good.

How would you feel if you had less of this stuff cluttering up your home? Consider that you don't need stuff to prove that you're a valuable person. You feel empowered because you're not comparing your stuff to others' stuff. You only compare yourself to how far you've come.

How to Say Goodbye

  • Take pictures of the trophies and put in your memory box.

  • Scan your award certificates or frame and hang in your home office.

  • Photograph large collections. Save a few unique objects from a bigger collection. Sell the rest.

  • In terms of luxury goods - be open and receptive.

  • Be aware of your reasons for purchasing it.

  • Consider if you need it, use it, or enjoy it. Would you purchase it again? Ask yourself if spending your hard-earned money was worthwhile.

  • Remind yourself that it is only a thing.

  • It can be donated, sold, or given to a friend or family member.

"If everything if special then nothing is special."

Each of us has cherished items that hold special meaning for us and that we want to keep forever. Holding on to too much dilutes their specialness. Choosing QUALITY OVER QANTITY is the key to enjoying your sentimental belongings rather than becoming overburdened by them.

And there are advantages to being picky about your keepsakes. You get to select the memories that you want, need, and love without the guilt, resentment, indecision. You also create space in your life as well as your home.

Here are a few additional suggestions for focusing on what you especially want to keep.

1. Hold your treasure in your hands and consider whether it makes you feel heavy or light. The treasure you want to keep will energize you rather than deplete you.

2. Pose yourself some questions:

i) Does this motivate me?

ii) Will it be physically or emotionally beneficial to me?

iii) Do I really need to keep this forever?

iv) Who will be burdened after my death?

A last word

You want your sentimental items to help you be your most authentic self.

Your keepsakes should bring happiness not negative memories.

Choose those that are the best reminder of an event, relationship, or period in your life.

They could represent life lessons that help you become a better person. Or, support your future vision or theme.

So if sentimental items are messing with your serenity. Consider whether the memento supports or hinders you.

It'll take some vigilance. But you're worth it.


Could you use some gentle support to sort through your mementoes? We'll help you make decisions that won't disrupt your serenity. Learn more.

Love to hear your thoughts about this post. Please leave a comment below.

106 views4 comments


Pam Holland
Pam Holland
Apr 20, 2023

So many great ideas, but my fave is "aspirational clutter!" I imagine we all have it in some form, from the photos waiting to be put in a scrapbook, to the tennis racket in the guest room closet :-)


Jana Arevalo
Jana Arevalo
Oct 24, 2022

This is such a hard category for all people. I love the tips and the mindset prompts that you gave as examples, both as an organizer and as a person who has more than enough sentimental items 🙃. Thank you so much for this article! I will save it for when I am working with clients.


Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
Oct 24, 2022

What a beautifully and sensitively explained topic. Letting go of things, especially those we have emotional attachments to, can be challenging. It's possible to do the work on your own, but if you're struggling and can't get going, reaching out to a friend, family member, or professional can make all the difference.

One of the hardest challenges I have faced so far was when I had to clear out and sell my parents' home of almost 60 years. It was the home I grew up in. There was so much stuff- books, art, music, collectibles, furniture, papers. You name it! I did it in layers. My first sort was letting go of the obvious things- expired food, junk mail, worn…

Cathy Borg
Cathy Borg
Apr 20, 2023
Replying to

Yes. Thankyou. Processing it makes all the difference.

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