I was asked recently about how to handle mementos and sentimental items. She asked for some tips on going through them, some tried and true methods or guiding questions for walking through these kinds of possessions. 

Let’s have a chat about that today.

To be clear, these sentimental things can range from boxes of letters or photos to household items to clothing and furniture. They can include a car or a whole house. They may be family treasures, passed down from generations past, or a gift you received just today. They may be valuable or junky, beautiful or less than. 

In trying to whittle down our possessions, we may be rockstars and getting rid of clothes that don’t fit or stacks of papers. Maybe we have easily gone through kid toys or didn’t blink an eye when it came to purging stuff in the fridge. But I would bet most people have a bit of a struggle when it comes to sentimental things.

No doubt, letting go can be hard. Let’s just put that out there. 

Let’s back up the train a bit here. The purpose of minimizing is to bring more freedom to our lives. When we choose to keep only the things we love and use, we free ourselves from maintaining a bunch of stuff that we could not care less about. We are then free to pursue what has the most value in our lives, giving us more control over how we spend our time and who we spend it with. When we keep too much stuff, we have to care for it and they can distract us from the important things.

The same is true for sentimental items. They can be clutter, too.

Let’s remember a few very important truths:

  • Possessions are not the memories. 
  • Possessions are not the relationships we cherish.
  • Possessions can become burdens, even if they are sentimental.
  • Hanging on to things can keep us from moving forward.
  • Keeping less is not the same as getting rid of everything.

Removing sentimental clutter is a little different than purging general clutter. It takes a little more emotional energy and thought beyond, “Do I love this? Do I use this?” But I’ve got some tips to help with this. 

Ready to give it a go? Here are they are, in no particular order:

  • Instead of thinking, “What should I get rid of?” try this question instead, “What do I want to keep?” It’s a little change in perspective that can make a big difference. As you recognize the things that are the best, it will be easier to let the rest go. 
  • Digitize photos, letters, certificates, kid artwork, etc. Getting these stored in this way makes it easier to protect and share. A note here – It may not be necessary to keep every one. Save only the best photos of an event, the most representative of a child’s art phase, the truly special certificates. Be thoughtful as to what you will want to have in the future.
  • Display your sentimental best. Use frames, shadow boxes, etc. I have one end of a set of bookends that belonged to my grandad. I don’t have it in storage, it’s on my mantle (holding up books) where I can see it and enjoy it. That one item brings so many memories of him and our time together. 
  • Don’t be afraid to use them. Yes, they may get damaged but it’s better to use them and create more memories than to keep them in storage. Every time you use an item, you’ll have old memories while creating new ones.
  • Thoughtfully store your sentimental items. Meaning, set boundaries. Doing so will help you to choose and keep the best. Use appropriate containers to help you set a limit on what to keep. It may take a few tries to get your possessions to that limit you set, so be patient. The point of keeping these things is to enjoy them, right? If there are so many things to go through that you never pull them out, it might indicate there is too much. 
  • Share or sell things. Are there other family members that would love some of these things? Or maybe they can be donated or sold. I inherited some things that were pretty valuable, but I just didn’t want them and I sold them to others who would love and cherish them. It doesn’t mean I don’t love those they were passed down from. And I’m pretty sure they would not want me to keep something that was a burden.

When my mom died, I inherited her possessions. I donated and sold quite a few things and brought home boxes of stuff. I have since digitized photos, keeping only the best. I’ve given many things to her sisters, and passed a few things on to my children. I’m using some of the household items that I love, and making new memories with them. I’ve gone through the rest, asking myself what I want to keep and designated two old suitcases to store them and they are not so big that I am overwhelmed about ever looking through them.

It’s so important to remember that this is your journey. It doesn’t matter what others keep. Don’t feel guilt for setting yourself free from the burden of sentimental possessions that you don’t love and that aren’t the best.

Keeping the most special makes them all the more special. What a terrific way to better honor our loved ones and our memories.


  1. Katherine Payne says:

    This is an excellent article Teresa! The hardest things for me to get rid of are 1..old clothes (seems like I always need them right after donating them! 🤦🏼‍♀️) and 2. The sentimental stuff.
    I’ll follow your lead on this!!

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