Sentimental Clutter: What to Do When You Can’t Let Go of Stuff

a filled up garage
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Decluttering is never easy. Sure, it makes for a good TV show, but in real life, it’s hard — awfully hard to clear things away. Not only because they tire you out, but because some have memories attached to them. You become nostalgic revisiting old love letters or your late aunt’s hand-woven rugs in your garage that you can’t bear to throw them away. But then, you also know that they have no practical use anymore. In fact, they’re just adding clutter to your space. Worse, they’re becoming a burden on your plan to move to your new home.

If you’re in this emotional tug-of-war, struggling between holding on to keepsakes and making your home (or next home) livable, here’s what you should do:

Search your emotions.

One mistake people make when dealing with sentimental stuff is to dismiss their feelings. They think it would hurt less when they sweep these under the rug. But for sure, you know that’s not true. When the time comes that you need to go back to those items, say, when you’re moving or selling the house, the emotions come back up. The better approach is to acknowledge those feelings. Face them head on. Not only to resolve them once and for all, but also to weigh if the emotions you feel are healthy or not.

Often, people keep stuff only because they feel like they’re going to offend the person who gave that to them. Here’s the truth: One, what you’re feeling isn’t a good emotion to nurture and two, you can do whatever you want with whatever’s given to you — it’s a gift, remember.

Do a goodbye ritual.

clutter at home

It sounds weird, but this can help a lot in letting go and being at peace with your decision. What do you do in a “goodbye ritual”? Simple. Hold the items you can’t get rid of. Think about what they mean to you, what their stories are, or who they remind you of. Share it with your spouse or kids. If you’re moving homes, maybe in your send-off dinner party, you can bring out those items, tell neighbors and friends about it, and give away some that could still be used. Rather than a feeling of regret and guilt, you’ll experience a sense of pride when you honor those items and memories that way. Plus, you get to pass them on to people who you trust and cherish. The object now becomes purposeful again, not rotting away at your garage. The principle is, take time for a goodbye ritual.

Get the help that you need.

Sometimes, you just have to ask for help. Unfortunately, not a lot of people can readily say this. They’ll say, “I’m fine.” or “I can handle it.” when on the inside, they’re already falling apart thinking about passing on their long-unused bridal gown or baby’s clothes. Be humble and ask for help. With someone by your side helping you sort through items and emotions, you might find the whole thing a little less overwhelming. Speaking of help, ask for professional assistance from cross-country moving and storage experts as well when you’re relocating. In this emotional transition, the last thing you want is worrying over some fine china or delicate items getting damaged in transit.

It’s a simple fact of life that we can be so attached to things. We ascribe many memories to objects we can touch and hold. That’s why it’s dreadfully hard to let go of them when it’s time. All the same, you just have to do it. Keep in mind these things as you declutter.