Sentimental Clutter: 5 Tips To Learn To Let It Go

*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.

Sentimental clutter is one of the biggest things keeping people from simplifying their lives. With these five tips in mind, you'll be able to determine what pieces can go and learn how to let go of things without letting go of the memories attached to them.

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. 

5. Donate:

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. 

Want more tips for simplifying your whole life? Sign up for The Art of Simple Living for all our best tips, lessons and more in one place. 

7 Simple Tips To Keep Your Home De-Cluttered When You're Busy


Whether you're a small space dweller or live in a three story home, clutter happens. Luckily, if you're on a mission to simplify your life, you probably have less "stuff" to clutter up your space. But clutter can happen nonetheless. Whether you have littles whose toys always seem to creep their way out of their playroom, or dishes that tend to stack themselves up everywhere except the cupboard, it can be frustrating to deal with life's clutter when you're busy going to and from work, errands and having a life outside of cleaning up messes. 

One of my favorite things about simple living is how much it lessens my cleaning routine. I (generally) try to stick to a nightly routine that will ensure that the house isn't cluttered when we wake up, because nothing says "good morning, have a stress free day!" like waking up to a house that's still a mess from the night before. #sarcasm.

Here are my favorite ways to keep my house *mostly* looking picked up in the midst of daily chaos.

1. Make Sure Everything Has A Home

Most obviously and most importantly— every single item in your house should have a "home". This makes cleaning up so much easier and ensures that you don't just add to the clutter problem by moving the same clutter to a different part of the house. 

2. Spend 20 Minutes Before Bed Doing A Quick Pick Up

If you have a bigger house, it may take a little longer, but spending a few dedicated minutes picking up before you turn on Netflix or jump in to bed will help tomorrow be a clean slate. 

3. Minimize What You Don't Need

I've found that most of the clutter in our house is caused by random items we don't actually need. While some items may not take up a lot of space, when you have a room with 14 misplaced knick-knacks (that's what the cool kids call them these days, right?) or random toys from your child's toy box that get thrown everywhere more than played with- it may be time to let go. 

4. Make Your Bed

There's something about a freshly made bed that encourages me to continue the productivity. It's an instant way to make a room look neat.

5. Keep Doors Shut

Since our house is on the bigger side and since my children are both walking (crawling) tornadoes, I've gotten into the habit of shutting the doors to rooms that we aren't in. It keeps the mess contained in one area, and keeps the other rooms clean. 

6. Make Sure You Have Enough Storage Space

Similar to number one, everything must have a place to live. If you are running low on storage space, buy a few cute baskets to store blankets, toys or shoes in. Install some open shelving on one of your walls to keep books, dishes, toys or really anything at all. And never underestimate the power of a few good under-the-bed totes. 

7. Give Yourself Grace

Here's a secret- no one's house is perfect all of the time. And if it is, I would dare to say that it's because there isn't enough "life" happening inside. Our homes are meant to be lived in, and yes, keeping them clutter-free can help with stress and freedom to do things other than clean, it's important not to make it the "ultimate" thing. 

6 Tips For Keeping Your Home Clean And Clutter-Free All The Time

Keeping a clean home in your daily life can be quite exhausting. Even to those who are stay-at-home parents or work from home, cleaning can be low on the priority list. However, in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle both in and out of the home, it's essential. You don't have to deep clean everyday, instead choose small steps each day to make the burden lighter. These six practices are simple enough that you can put them to use right now. 


1. Pick Up As You Go

This is key when it come to keeping your home clutter-free. Yes, it can be irritating (especially when you feel like you're constantly nagging others to do it!) but its a great way to keep everyone responsible. Use this method throughout the day so that by nighttime your work is practically complete. 

2. Use A Chore Chart

Whether you purchase a pre-made chart or create your own, utilizing one is a handy way to keep yourself and everyone else informed about chores around the house. Assign names to each chore or order them based on priority; daily, weekly, monthly. Either way, you'll create a routine for housekeeping that will make it easier, more efficient, and less stressful.

3. Designate Areas For Specific Functions

Has that dresser in your front hallway become a messy catch-all and the OCD in you just can't stand it? Try this: put a bowl there and embrace what its already become. Does your mail always end up cluttering the dining room table? Then put a basket there and name it just that: the mail box! By giving in to seemingly negative tendencies, you can transform them into an opportunity for cleanliness and organization. 

4. Keep The Number Of Items In Sight To A Minimum 

This may sound like an obvious tip, but I assure you that it not only creates a more welcoming home environment, it also gives you mental peace. Of course items that are functional and necessary should be displayed and used. But other items such as unused toys or books, seasonal items, holiday decor, etc. should be kept in storage (in whatever form that may be). Ask yourself, "does this have a use in my daily life?" Limiting the number of items in the open forces your to separate what is extra from what is necessary. 

5. Rearrange Rooms 

Your couch isn't screwed to the floor, so don't be afraid of rearranging the setup every now and then. You may discover an arrangement you like better. My husband and I rearrange our living room and dining room every few months and each time we think, "why didn't we have it set up like this before?". Plus it's an opportunity to minimize and create new white space. You may also find long lost items that you either don't want or items that you love and want to display. 

6. Donate Often 

Donating clothing and other items is a great way to give while decluttering your own space. Through donating, you may be creating more jobs, giving to those who cannot afford. How often and what you donate will vary, but some realistic goals would be once a month, during spring cleaning, or clothing drives at a local church. You can donate items that are no longer useful, clothes or accessories no longer consistent with your style, or anything that fails to make you happy.

May these tips inspire and motivate you to keep a clean and stress-free home always. Remember, it's all about the mindset: when you stop thinking of cleaning as another thing to do on your life and start embracing it as a value, it becomes a natural extension of your daily life. And don't forget the whole family, household, apartment, or dorm is involved.