Saying Goodbye to Sentimental Items {Even ones that Spark Joy}


This is a tricky message to write, but necessary.

When it comes to sentimental items, only the person with sentimental feelings can make the final decision to keep or let go. I’ve taught many clients about how to let go, but I’ve never made a decision for anyone about what to keep. Strange things can be sentimental and who am I to decide?

Sentimental items are as varied as they come – and not all are created equal. What if someone is sentimental about a broken-down vehicle taking over their garage and someone else is sentimental about a few pairs of earrings? Even if it all sparks joy to the owners, I’d give the vehicle-owner much different advice than the earring-owner.


Conditional Rules for Sentimental Items

We can assume that the decision to keep a sentimental item has conditions and depends on the item itself. These rules can help you decide.

Rule #1: It Has To Fit

If you don’t have space for it, or if it is taking all your free space up and leaving you feeling cramped and cluttered: let it go.

Rule #2: Honor It and Give It A Place

If you’re putting out your grandma’s Christmas decorations with joy every year and you have space to store them, then keep and enjoy them!

If you are holding on to your mother’s tablecloths or your Great Aunt’s quilt, honor each by giving it a place to be used and appreciated if you like them. If you don’t want to let it go, but you also don’t want to put it up, letting it go might be the right thing regardless. Many people keep “precious things” up in attics, or in piles in the garage, or in the back of closets, which isn’t treating them as precious things. These items stay there adding clutter, until oftentimes other people, usually grown children, have to come and clean it out. When you push items to these outskirt-locations, you are just procrastinating letting them go. Guilt is probably part of what you’re feeling.

Rule #3: Guilt Has No Place

Guilt is telling you to keep things, even though you don’t want or need it. Guilt is not a good enough reason to be sentimental about something! Our loved ones would not want us to feel trapped like that.

That pair of baby shoes – are you storing it in the attic to ruin over time, or is it in a shadow-box or cedar chest being cherished? How you’re treating an item says a lot about if you should keep it or not.


Choose Items You Can Really Use

If the conditional rules are met, it can still be tricky to decide to what keep from a loved one.

When my husband’s grandmother passed away, his cousins and some siblings were sorting through some of her things deciding what to keep. Many people came away with piles of things, but I asked for a simple lace tablecloth. It is stacked with my other tablecloths, and on Sundays when one of my girls’ chooses a tablecloth for our Sunday dinner, they of frequently chosen it over the years. There isn’t a single time its been used when I haven’t thought lovingly of her. And I’ve been able to tell my girls about their great-grandmother as we use it.

When my grandmother passed away, I gave away my own beautiful set of nice dishes and replaced them with hers. Now on Sundays, her dishes are used and loved.

Just this Christmas, my mom was using several of my grandmother’s Christmas things, including her Christmas apron. As she went through my Gigi’s Christmas stuff, my mom kept and displayed things she liked and gave away the rest. She offered some things to me, and I chose a few special pieces that I knew I could use and would enjoy displaying.

Sorting Through Things When You’ve Lost Someone You Love

If you are in the process of sorting through a loved ones things, consider keeping only the items that you would really use or display, because then you’ll think happy thoughts of them when you use the item. If you already have one of those items, give away the one you already have.

If you keep items out of guilt, you might actually jeopardize the happy sentiments, because their items will not give you thoughts of love and peace, but of clutter and unwanted strings being attached.

Love comes with the freedom to be happy, or it isn’t really love.


Things Attached to Big Moments

Items attached to life’s big moments can be hard to let go. Only you can decide what is a worthy heirloom and what can just be part of your memories. Know that just because something is associated with a big moment, it doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever!


Your wedding album is a very reasonable sentimental item to keep, but what about that punch bowl you received as a wedding gift and have never used? Maybe not.


We may be tempted to keep every sweet little baby item, but keeping a few of your favorite things makes them more valuable. If you keep several bins full, then the truly precious items get lost in the seas of mediocre.


My heart breaks for parents who have lost their children.It is normal in these circumstances to keep more. My recommendation for mothers in these cases is something of a cedar chest or treasure box: a worthy place to hold precious memories. A container like that would honor the items, as well as make them easily accessible. I’m certainly not going to tell any parent what items mean something to them and what shouldn’t.

Losing someone close to you, a parent or close family member, there will be stuff. If available, seek help and support to sort through these very difficult and emotional items.


How long do you keep the graduation tinsel or cap? The decision is yours, but if you are keeping it “just because you should,” consider letting it go.


Trophies are experiences, and the experiences don’t go away just because we decide to let trophies go! Trophies are heavy and take up a lot of room. I went through my husband’s and mine a while back … I took pictures for “the history books” and let it go.

The memories, the influences that affected your formative years, you get to keep those even if you decide to let go of the trophies that represent them.

Other Life Events

Items we gain during BIG Life Events are some of the hardest to let go, and we don’t have to let them go, but if they are wasting away at the back of a closet or in the attic … we don’t have to keep them either. If you’re trying to take back your home that is over-run with clutter, you may need to make tough decisions.


Some Things Are Hard To Let Go … Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t

It is tough to let go of some things. When you’re letting go of sentimental things, keep reminding yourself that you still get to keep the memories!

But, I get it, you might be worried you won’t remember! In that case, get a notebook and write a brief description, then place a picture on the page. In this way, you’ll actually get to look through the memories much more easily!

If you don’t have room or it’s just going to dry-rot in the attic, or if it is a painful reminder but guilt is forcing you to hold on … it is okay to say goodbye to sentimental items. If you’ve been waiting for permission, I’m giving it to you now.



Join the Facebook Group HERE and Like Mary ORGANIZES on Facebook HERE.

If you’re joining the Declutter Challenge, be sure to get ready!


14 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Sentimental Items {Even ones that Spark Joy}

  1. I am an only child and my mother kept everything! She has now been gone 7 years and I did manage to get rid of the things that didnt have sentimental value to me when I was going thru her things just after she passed away…Over the years and a couple of moves I have slimmed down what I kept but still have more than I should have…I gave away her china cabinet to someone I knew who wanted one and were not able to buy their own so it was going to be well used and loved which helped me part with it…The other thing I have done is taken pictures of things (decor items and newspaper clippings) that had a family memory attached but I wasnt able to keep due to space constraints…I have those things on a CD in my collection of photo CD’s…I have also used this method with my adult kids school work…they dont want the items but the memories are too good to throw away so pictures were taken and I have them on a USB stick and they can have that instead at some point when they are ready!

  2. Thanks for the suggestions! My husband and I have been working on the first of four bins of “memories” the last couple of evenings. Cards and letters from over 45 years marriage! Many people are no longer with us, or we’ve lost touch. Forgotten stories. This is an important part of our clutter, stored in the garage. Bless you for your thoughtful insights!

  3. Great idea about taking pictures of the stuff and then putting them in a scrapbook. Within the last 6 years my husband and I have lost all our parents and have cleaned out two houses. That will sure cure you of keeping a lot of stuff. (How many foil pie pans does a person need)?

    Sally, I hear you on the keeping of grown children s items. I keep trying to give them their leftover things and their answer is pitch it! Why can’t I?

    1. Are you able to give it to them and ask them to take care of disposing of it, or is it that you can’t bear the thought of it being gone? I suffer more from the latter and less from the first. My kids know they need to take their stuff to donate or trash because they know I won’t.

      1. Linda, I guess it is more from my senior citizen wisdom; haha, that I think someday they will wish they had their high school yearbooks etc. In reality they will probably never want it.

        Decision made. I’ll ask them one more time and if they say “Mom, I already told you to pitch it” then out it goes.

        2017 IS THE YEAR!

        The topic of the sentimental items really hit home for me because I have a lot of “treasures” here that were my mother’s, grandmother’s, mother-in-laws, where in reality I personally think they are hideous. I think I will be dealing with that asap.

        Thank you so much Mary for giving me the little nudge.

  4. I needed to see this today!! This is what I have been struggling with for years and have been looking at the past few days. What do I get rid of and why am I holding onto it anyway! Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Deaest Mary, This is my first comment ever but your Blog has inspired and excited a 59 yr old Geandmother! I hardly know how to THANK you, or where to start, but may I just comment about parting with sentimental items… I’ve had things sitting in my hope chest for more than 50 years (and spilling over all over the house) that I’ve not once looked at!! I finally feel motivated to part with them by taking a photo of the item, accompanied by a written memory of why it was important (my father’s favorite sweater for example!). Hugsss to you!

  6. This was one of the most beautifully written articles I’ve ever read on sentimental items. Thank you for your gentleness on this subject. You speak as if you truly understand the difficulty many of us face in letting go of those types of items. Thank you.

Leave a comment! I love to hear what you think!