How to let go of sentimental items?

I get asked this question often. How do I let go of sentimental items and why is this so hard for me? It can feel like there really is no easy answer.  We have strong attachments to our stuff whether they bring up memories of happier times or maybe even some not so happy times.

I might ask myself “what are the reasons behind keeping the items” “Why am I keeping them”

Quite awhile back I went through some old photos from my wedding album.  I am no longer with this person and our marriage ended in 2007. While that was really a happy time, I don’t need those photos around to remind me. They have nothing to do with my life now and who I am today.  I kept a few of the photos, took some of the family pics over to my parents home for everyone to look at and got rid of the rest of them. The lovely wedding album that I made went to the donation centre.   

Sometimes we just know when it is the right time to let go!

The good news though is that you never “have” to let go of anything that you don’t want to. You get to choose what to keep and what to let go of. It only becomes a problem when you have too much, its interfering with your quality of life, you are not respecting the items (because they are everywhere) or things are falling over because there is just no room to store it all.  

Letting go is a process that takes time.  We need to honour and feel our emotions.  Our items often feel like they are attached to a memory of a person or a specific time in our lives. Our memories are really inside of us. This can be hard work and sometimes we need to make difficult decisions. Remember to be kind and gentle on ourselves.

Other sentimental items that might be hard to let go of are gifts that have been given to us by well meaning friends or family, baby clothes and other things that were well used by our children when they were little, books that are like old friends and papers that may have been associated with work that you once did.  The list goes on……… I have trouble letting go of greeting cards, some art supplies, photos (which are hard to look at especially when they were of happier times), old journals and year books – oh my! I am sure there is more. Hey, it is a process that I am working on!

Some helpful ideas……

  • Take a picture of the item to remember it.  A group member from the Closed Facebook Group   talked about a car that was once gifted to her.  She said the car is now gone but she has a picture of it and she treasures the memory of the car and the person who gifted this to her. 
  • Any collectors out there? Is it a collection or is it clutter?  Sometimes having so much of one thing can look like nothing is important or precious.  Keep the best of the best and let go of the rest.  The ones you keep can represent all the others.
  • Find closure by using the item one last time like I did with my Grandma’s Tea Set.
  • Let go of the things that you are keeping out of a feeling of guilt or responsibility. You are not the keeper of things. It’s okay to let go of these items that you truly are not enjoying or do not love.

Let’s give ourselves permission to let go of the things that are truly not bringing value to our lives and really are just taking up valuable space.

Need more help? Lets talk

About Kim

I’m Kim, your go-to Professional Organizer and Virtual Coach! I’m beyond excited to embark on this clutter-free adventure with you. With a background in mental health and a passion for transforming spaces, I bring a holistic approach to decluttering. It’s not just about neatening up physical spaces; it’s about fostering a mindset shift that radiates throughout your life. I founded Space For You Clear the Clutter, Heal Your Life and have been working with individuals and groups for about 15 years. I've also trained with Professional Organizers of Canada and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.
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11 Responses to How to let go of sentimental items?

  1. This is definitely a challenge for me, though I have gradually been letting things go for the last several years.

    I have very few photos from my first marriage (he only passed on the ones I or my family are in) and that makes me sad. Even though it didn’t work out, we had some good times together and when I see the few photos I have that he’s in, I remember him fondly (though it probably helps that we’ve had no contact whatsoever in over 30 years).

    • Kim says:

      Hi Janet,
      Letting go of course can be challenging and can take years for sure as it is a process that takes time. I am glad you could relate to my photo example. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Beautiful advice for managing these especially emotional items. Our connections can be complex and deep. I’ve run into that question about wedding photos after a divorce. As you so lovingly point out, there are no right or wrong answers. You are allowed to get rid of things that aren’t bringing you joy, even if they may have brought you joy in the past. I love all of your suggestions. We live life forward, so we should feel the freedom to carry with us what is serving us in the life ahead.

    • Kim says:

      Thank you Seana for your kind words. I love your last sentence. “We live life forward, so we should feel the freedom to carry with us what is serving us in the life ahead”

  3. I love the gentle way you talk about attachments with sentimental belongings. Letting go is part of life. It’s not reserved only for our stuff, but also for people, relationships, thoughts, and more. It takes practice and sometimes outside support. You keyed into some essentials:

    • Letting go is a process.
    • You don’t have to let go of everything and can curate the most meaningful to keep.
    • There are ways to honor what you are letting go of- taking photos, giving them to others, donating…

    I love how sensitively you wrote about this.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Linda,
      Thank you for your kind words. It really helps to hear this as we never know how it is landing for others. Thanks so much.

  4. There’s so much empathy and warmth in the way you approached this. I think almost everyone struggles with letting go of things that represent their past, whether it’s a happy or unhappy one. They key is understanding that if you face it now, you can have complete control over when and how the items leave your possession, and to where the items go. It’s also important to remember that the things, themselves, have no feelings. They’ll be fine without living with you.

    Great piece!

    • Kim says:

      Oh my Julie, Thank you so much. I think you are so right that everyone struggles with letting go to some degree. Thank you for your very kind words.

  5. You described it very well. Letting go is harder for some than others. And If you don’t want to let go than don’t. But focus on the things you love that bring you joy even if it’s a simple picture.
    Great piece of advise.

  6. Really good advice, Kim. No matter when you do it, letting go is difficult when the item tugs at your heart.

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