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It’s so hard to let go of sentimental things! These are the things that are nearest and dearest to us.
Sentimental stuff is something we’ve attached some significance to. Some meaning. A small window into our past that we think we need to hold on to so that we can go back there whenever necessary or desired.
We allow these possessions to define us, a part of us, or someone from our past. Instead of holding on to the memories, we find it necessary to hold on to something tangible. Fearing that if we let go, we’re essentially letting go of that memory, or feeling, or person.
When my mom died in May, I held on to all the stuff she had gotten me and my children. I felt that if I got rid of it, I wasn’t honoring her. That, if I added any of those items to the donation pile, I’d forget about her.
Sentimentality is dangerous, though. It takes us away from the present moment. From being mindful and intentional. And puts us somewhere else, in the past. It allows us to dwell there and disables us from being present.
Sentimental things are heavy. Oh so heavy. And we do not realize how much they are weighing us down until we begin to let them go.
While letting them go is probably one of the most difficult parts of minimalism. It’s also necessary. And completely possible as long as you take your time so you’re not overwhelmed.
How to Easily Let Go of Sentimental Things Without Overwhelm
1. Identify your why.
I know, you’re sitting there saying you don’t even want to let it go. There is no why. You feel obligated to keep it. But you’re here, so you really do want to. So why is letting go of this important?
I don’t know about you, but for me, I want to be remembered for who I was. How I lived. The experiences I created. Not a pile of things in a box. Because, let’s face it, no one really wants to be defined by their things. Our existence is much bigger than that.
Related: 117 Things to Declutter Right Now
2. Take your time.
Don’t go all crazy and think you need to just toss it all out with last weeks leftovers. Take your time. Letting go of this stuff is hard. It’s emotionally draining. It’s challenging and affects us in ways that throwing out a broken hair dryer never will.
You need to take your time. Do an item or two at a time and make the time in between long. Say, one or two items a week, or even every two weeks. You don’t want to try to get rid of a bunch of emotionally charged items all at once. So go slow.
3. Fully embrace the item.
Allow yourself to feel everything that item means to you. Don’t hold back. Laugh, cry. Whatever you feel, allow it. Be in the moment with the item and let the sentimentality flood over you.
Moving forward, do this when the item crosses your path. Say, when you lose a loved one and have to sort through their belongings. Feeling how it makes you feel is important. Validate those feelings. Just don’t let them rule you. Release them.
4. Does it bring you joy?
Each of my daughters has a small box with things from their birth in it. Recently, I pulled it out and started going through it. Their little hospital blanket. Their footprints. Their hospital bracelet. And their caps are all put up in a box. Are they doing any good closed up in a box? Nope.
So, I took each item and held on to it for a minute. I allowed myself to feel what the item meant to me. Each of those little items brought me joy. So, I made small shadow boxes of the items. Now, they’re not hiding in a box somewhere to never be seen again. They’re out for all of us to enjoy right now.
Ask yourself if an item brings you joy. If it does, maybe you should hold on to it. But not packed away in a box in the attic somewhere. Display it, so it can invoke that feeling on the every day.
5. Photograph it instead.
It’s hard to think of, but everything you hold on to has a chance of being destroyed or lost. A rodent could get into the box and chew it up. It could get wet from a leak or flooding. It could simply be broken from moving, falling, or even changes in temperature.
So instead of holding on to something that’s tucked away in a box somewhere and may, at some point, be destroyed. Take a picture. Upload it and now that item is forever there to look upon whenever you want without it taking up a bunch of space.
6. Put it in a box.
And display the box. Don’t put it in the attic! It’s doing no one any good there. If you’re shoving it in the attic, I’m going to guess the item doesn’t really bring you joy. You’re just attached and afraid to let go. I know, I’ve been there to. We had a box of stuff from when we went to New York City for New Years Eve in 2008. I kept holding on to all of it, putting it back in a tote and shoving it back in the attic. It served no purpose. I have photos. I have the memories. My girls hear about it every year. I’m good. But… I kept a few small momentos.
I placed these things in a pre-designated decorative box that fits on a shelf. Not much will fit in it. It’s smaller than a children’s sized shoe box. But, it’s there. I held on to some pointless paper scraps, sure. However, they’re right there in a box for me to open up and reminisce on any time I would like to. And eventually, maybe I’ll get rid of the box!
7. Say goodbye.
It’s time to bid farewell. If it helps, tell it goodbye. It sounds silly, I know, but it works. It helps you cope with releasing the item if you just tell it bye.
Just like when my older kids were smaller, we would tell the toys at another place goodbye. And when it was bed time, we would tell our things goodnight. It helped them transition to the next step. And it will help you, too.
It’s difficult to let go of sentimental things. I know. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. But, I did. And here we are, clutter free. And I still have those amazing memories that I had attached to the tangible. Just no tangible stuff taking up residence all over the place!
It is possible, though. Just take your time, baby step your way through the process so as to not get overwhelmed and you’ll be able to let go of the impossible, too.