Tips for Releasing Sentimental Items

Apply the Spontaneous Combustion rule of #TheMinimalists:

Ask yourself, “How would I feel if this item spontaneously combusted?" If you feel relief, let it go. If you feel pain, keep it for now.

Take a Sensory approach:

What about the item evokes memories? The way it looks? Sounds? Smells? Feels? A combination? What memories does it evoke? You have the capacity to recall sensory experiences without the thing itself.

Record the memories and let go of the objects:

  • Share stories and memories with loved ones
  • Digitally record them (e.g. Thingealogy)

Find closure:

  • Use the item or wearing the clothing one last time
  • Express gratitude for the objects and how they’ve served you.
  • Make a ceremony, possibly culminating with a ceremonial hand-off

Give it a new life 

Get help: a friend, a relative, a coach or personal organizer (like me!)

Set aside time to recognize items that are truly meaningful. Don't rush.

Start Small: one small area or category of items, such as a single drawer or closet.

Positive Perspective: Focus on gratitude, on the meaning and value of the things you cherish. This perspective can help you let go of less meaningful and positive possessions. Consider what you will gain if you part with the item.

Categorize items: Label boxes or bins: Keep, Toss, Donate/Sell, Give (to a specific person), Repair, Relocate (to another part of the dwelling)

Establish criteria by the questions that matter to you, for example:

  • Why am I keeping this?
  • Does the item bring me joy?
  • Do I love this?
  • When have I used this? Was it a positive experience?
  • Have I read it? Do I want to?
  • What would I wear it with?

Create limits:

  • Confine the space - for example, designate one shelf or container and keep no more than fits there. Use containers, not piles.
  • From loved ones who have passed, consider keeping just a few things that represent the best of the person and relationship. Keep only what's most meaningful to you.
  • Notice feelings of obligation and allow yourself to gently let go of those feelings. You are not obligated to keep it all.
  • Consider that loved ones likely wanted you to enjoy living in a space free of clutter.
  • Consider what you will leave behind. Ask your offspring what they want. Don’t pass on your burdens.
  • Where you have multiples, consider selecting one representative to keep.
  • Set a time limit for handling each item, not to rush your feelings, but to help move forward.
  • Remind yourself that by distinguishing and selecting your favorites,and letting the rest go, your enjoyed items and memories will stand out more.They’ll have more space and be more visible.

Remake or Repurpose an Item, e.g. reset a stone from an old ring into a new band, turn a collection of T-shirts into a quilt. (Hire someone to make a memory quilt.)

Make a Scrapbook of pictures, letters, maps, and other papers. Add notes to explain their significance.

These articles offer even more tips and perspectives:

I’d love to hear how these tips work for you!