*This post is an excerpt from our course The Art of Simple Living, an all-encompassing guide to simplifying your heart, home, and wardrobe*
It may be difficult to de-clutter in general, but, in my experience, the most difficult area for most people is the items with special memories attached to them. The boxes of old photos from your childhood that you rarely go through or display. The antiques that aren't really your style, but that you keep around to honor their previous owner. Your old prom dress or jersey, or a stack of letters from an old pen pal. The thought of letting go of even one of these items may be unfathomable.
I know the struggle, really I do. Before I began my minimalism journey, I had boxes full of old birthday cards — not just recent ones either, like fifth birthday party old. I kept everything that my mom had saved for me, and anything that had any kind of sentimental value. An old t-shirt that I wore to my first concert? Check. A hoodie than an old crush once bought me? Kept it for five years. It took me a long time, and lots of moves where I had to haul all of these sentimental items around, to realize that my memories didn't have to be attached to things, and that it didn't mean I wasn't grateful for the special place they had in my heart if I got rid of them.
Letting go of most of those things wasn't an overnight process, and I don't expect it to be for you either.
If you're especially sentimental, or have a large amount of keepsakes, mementos, or "knick-knacks", this section might be the hardest part of simple living. Because, unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all method for learning how to downsize these items. It will look differently for each person.
One very difficult example is if you've lost a parent, grandparent, or loved one and are left with their belongings. I remember watching my mother go through the pain of sorting, purging, and donating my grandmother's things after she died, and thinking that it was a burden that no one should have to bear. Unfortunately, the scenario of being left with a large amount of special items from a loved one isn't uncommon, and the grip those objects have on our hearts can be tight and hard to loosen.
After researching a bit, and combining it with my own experience of letting go, I came up with five steps to help you through the process of learning to let go, a bit at a time.
1. Let go of guilt:
More often than not, the first thing that holds us back from letting go of sentimental clutter is guilt. We feel guilty about moving on, or like we're somehow loosing a piece of the memory or person the thing belonged to. However, that's simply not true. Chances are, the person the item belonged to would never want you to feel that way, and letting go of something doesn't make the memories any less real.
Knowing that you're not a horrible friend/daughter/mother/sister/etc. for wanting to downsize something that may have a great deal of emotional weight is the first step in letting it go.
2. Separate the memory from the "thing"
It may feel like the item is your only way to remember. Whether it's a photo, an article of clothing, or a keepsake, your memories may be so intertwined with it that you forget to separate the two. The trinket/object is nothing more than a thing — objectively speaking. The memory you hold won't be lost just because you choose to get rid of an object.
3. Start small, go slow
You don't have to jump off the deep end and get rid of all of your sentimental items at once. In fact, keeping a few is a great way to compromise and make it easier on you. Start small, maybe choose to get rid of one thing each week, and soon, you'll realize that it gets easier and easier.
4. Keep a few:
Don't feel like the pieces in your home can't hold any sentimental value. A home is supposed to be sentimental. It key is striking a balance between too much and just enough. Keeping one or two photos and uploading the rest, or choosing your favorite of a set of items will help it feel less dramatic.
Donating or selling the items you choose to downsize is a great way to give them a second life, where even more memories can be made.