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How to Get Rid of Sentimental Items
If you are reading this, it’s likely that you already know that holding onto things, physical possessions, etc. isn’t always that good for you. Physical and mental clutter can drag us down in life. It can cause us stress, and in general be a burden that we don’t really want to carry. If you are already on your journey to living a more minimalist lifestyle, perhaps you’ve dealt with areas in your life like your wardrobe, your garage or your paperwork. Perhaps, you are now gearing up to tackle a more difficult area – your sentimental items.
Getting rid of sentimental items, memorabilia and archived ‘stuff’ can be difficult. It is easy to follow guidelines for physical stuff – ‘do I use this or not’. But, deciding whether to get rid of something that inspires memories, feelings and attachment can be much more challenging. But that’s ok! Here are some things to consider and some techniques that will help you apply a minimalist approach to your sentimental belongings.
A refresher on ‘letting go’
Before you start applying a minimalist approach to your sentimental items, it is important to reconnect and affirm your relationship with the minimalist approach in general. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. The goal of minimalism isn’t necessarily to own the fewest possible possessions (although you totally can!), but it is about only owning things that truly add value to your life.
Consider your core values, your goals and the things that influence your life. Your possessions, behaviours, responsibilities and relationships should all be in alignment with your core beliefs. Anything else is only going to detract from your overall happiness. Remembering this is important when trying to detach from sentimental items that may not be adding as much value to your life as you previously thought. Letting go in general is a very freeing thing to do. Especially for things that previously held some kind of emotional or sentimental power over you.
Letting go can be uncomfortable. It’s easy to worry about all the scenarios in which you might regret letting go of something. This is a fair concern to have! But the likelihood of letting go of something that truly brought you meaning and satisfaction is pretty slim. I it truly meant something to you – you’d know about it! Facing the fear of not having something with you is vital.
You have to tackle things head on in order to truly be free from them. When simplifying your life and fully embracing the minimalist approach and all the benefits it can bring, you are likely to be faced with uncomfortable truths. Remember that this is okay, it’s all part of the process.
How do I get in the right mindset?
Getting into the right mindset before dealing with your sentimental items is a good idea. Some questions you can ask yourself to help make a decision are as follows:
1. Why do I feel attached to this item?
What is it about this item that is making you feel like you should keep it? Is it bringing you joy, happiness, good memories? Do you feel obligated to keep it, because everyone else keeps these types of things? What is it about the memory or feeling that this item brings up that you want to hold on to? Is this attachment something that is serving you, or bringing value to you? Afterall, physical items can be damaged, lost and stolen. So, consider how you would feel if the item was taken out of your possession unwillingly. If you wouldn’t feel too bothered (goodbye year 7 school books!) then it’s probably okay to let them go.
2. How often do I engage with this item?
Do you go through and cherish your sentimental items regularly? How often do you get the experience and joy from seeing and remembering these things? Who are you keeping these items for? Is it for yourself or for someone else, and are you happy with this decision?
3. How much space do I want to dedicate to sentimental items?
If you are struggling to make a decision based on the items themselves, can you consider how much physical space you want to dedicate to being sentimental, or holding onto sentimental things. This may help you if you know you don’t want to be the type of person who holds onto a lot of things!
4. How have I acquired these sentimental items?
Are they a result of overconsumption? Is your attachment to physical objects masking something deeper, or filling a void? Are they things you’ve been given by other people that you feel like you are responsible for keeping, but do not really want to?
Remember, it is okay to hold onto items that bring you sentimental value. It is a wonderful experience to be able to look at a physical bit of memorabilia and to find it meaningful because it cues your memory and holds a special place in your life. Having items that bring you joy and take you back to a particular time in your life is fun. You should find great pride and pleasure in your collection, no matter how big or small, as long as each individual item is worth keeping.
What techniques and methods can I use?
So, now you’re in the right mindset and have considered how you want to go about applying a minimalist approach to your sentimental items. It’s finally time to start! Below are some techniques to help make the process as painless as possible.
1. Put it in a box for a defined period of time
This is the classic: close off a box or bag of your sentimental items for a set period of time, e.g., 6 months, and see if you truly ‘use’ or spend time looking at your sentimental items. It might be a wake up call for you, where you actually realise that you don’t look at your sentimental collection half as much as you thought you did. If you don’t go looking for them in the set timeframe, it’s probably okay for you to let them go.
2. Photograph, scan or digitise your collection
By transferring your collection from physical to digital, you free up a lot of physical space for yourself. You also get rid of that feeling of wanting to hold onto something, but being concerned about letting it go. As the joy of digital copies is that they can be stored a lot more easily. Digital copies are also much less likely to be stolen, damaged or lost!
3. Give yourself a physical limit
By limiting yourself to a set amount, you are able to keep your collection as big as you are happy with, and also help yourself prioritise what to keep. You could choose a numerical amount, e.g., 15 items, or confine your collection by space – e.g., as much as you like, but it must all fit in this box. This method is particularly useful as it allows for continuous reflection as you may want to add an item to your collection, and let go of one when it becomes less important to you.
4. Let go of your items meaningfully
Letting go of your sentimental items doesn’t have to be a sad occasion. You can thank them for what they have done for you so far – brought you joy, good memories and made you feel connected to people and places. Be grateful for them! You can send them off in a good way too – donating, selling, or recycling. They have served a purpose in your life up until now, and now it is time to let go.
5. It was never about the item in the first place
The reason we hold onto items that bring us sentimental value is because they make us sentimental. Our attachment to them is not based on anything practical or the utility the item brings us as the value that they bring is by association. It is the memories, the people, the places and experiences that we value that the item simply helps us remember. By letting go of the symbolic representation of what you are holding onto, you aren’t letting go of the memory, the feeling, the person etc.
The reason we are so attached to sentimental items is the feeling of closeness and proximity that those items create to our treasured memory. This is why at the end of the day the item itself doesn’t inherently have value or importance, what it symbolises is why it is important.
Therefore, if you are holding onto something because of a person it reminds you of, maybe this is a sign you should spend more quality time with them, and if you can’t, you can use this as a reminder to appreciate the people you do currently have in your life, and to reflect on the memories of those who you don’t.
If you are holding onto something as it reminds you of a place or time in your life, consider revisiting there, or prioritising making new memories or positive experiences in your current phase of life. You will one day become sentimental about your current season of life, so enjoy it, embrace it and make the most of it while you are still in it.
The Power of Less – Leo Babauta
Minimalism – Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Love People, Use Things – Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus