Sentimental Stuff: 4 Tips to Declutter and Let Go Guilt-Free

Holiday cards. Your grandparents’ flatware. Your great aunt’s brooches. That T-shirt from your first 5K or great family vacation. We’ve all collected sentimental items over the years—some of which hold so much emotional significance, you’ll never give them away.

But others, like that rose paisley tablecloth that’s been passed down from relative to relative or the china that is not your style (and no longer practical), might weigh on you. They take up space in your home, adding to the clutter. And you might feel somewhat guilty just throwing them away.

Whether from a baby boomer relative who’s downsizing or a beloved grandparent who’s passed away—it can feel difficult to give up keepsakes and heirlooms that you’ve been given.

Here are some tips on what to do with sentimental stuff.


china cabinet note songs antique with dishes decluttered


Figure out what to keep

If your sentimental items are beginning to clutter up your house, whether it’s your dining room or your basement, it may be time to evaluate everything. Review each item and consider a few questions:

  • Why is the item sentimental? Is it because a particular person gave it to you? If so, can you remember the memory and the person without the item?
  • Is it an item you may use in the future?
  • Would someone else get use out of it?

As you review everything, separate items into a few piles. We suggest one pile for items you’d like to keep, one pile for items that you can give away to a friend or relative and one pile for items that can be donated to charity.

Importantly, you may come across an item that you’re not ready to part with, but that you’re not currently using. That’s okay. There can be a lot of emotion tied to certain items, which means it might be best to decide what to do with something later.

2 friends holding one white blouse and decluttering


Take pictures to preserve memories

Some physical keepsakes you have might be best kept as a digital photo instead of an item that takes up space. Research shows that taking a picture of something with sentimental value can help you preserve the memory and make it easier to give it up.

Rather than keeping the outfit your now-grown child wore on her way home from the hospital, take a picture of the outfit, and then donate the clothing. You can still hold onto the memory and the nostalgia associated with something without keeping the physical item.

Give items away (but keep it in the family)

While it may be difficult to get rid of some sentimental items you’ve kept for a long time, it should be reassuring that they’re better off in the hands of someone who can make use of them.

Giving items away to other family members means that your cousin can get use of that old mixing bowl set and your sister might benefit from free flatware. These items will be useful for relatives, which means you can keep sentimental items or “heirlooms” in the family for several more years without holding onto them yourself.

If you feel comfortable, you can also reach out to close friends who may make use of these items.

Give things new life by donating them

If you can’t give something away, there’s an excellent chance you can donate it to someone in need. Clothing, furniture, décor, dinnerware, kitchen accessories and many household items can be donated to various charitable organizations.

Asian girl holding a box of clothes ready for donation

Check out our guide to decluttering and donating items to begin the process. You’ll help someone who can benefit from the items you’ve decided to part with.

Reviewing sentimental items isn’t just a one-time activity. To keep your home clutter-free, you should plan to go through new cards, letters and items you’re holding on to at least once a year. If you’re looking to take organization to the next level, reach out to us about custom solutions.

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