Sentimental Clutter is a real thing.
I want to be clear that I haven’t yet had to deal with it in the way so many of you have. My parents and in-laws are all still living and I haven’t been called upon personally to find a place for huge amounts of stuff.
But as I’ve gone through the large amounts of clutter in my own home, I’ve run across so many things that have tugged at my heart and caused physical pain as I’ve placed them in a Donate Box. So I’m going to share what I’ve learned and I hope you’ll share your own experiences in the comments. I loved the encouragement given in the comments on this recent post (which totally inspired this post!).
1. Don’t start with the sentimental stuff.
One of my most important and life-changing decluttering strategies is to do the easy stuff first. This means the obvious stuff. The non-emotional stuff. The DUH stuff.
Here’s the problem. Knowing I’m sentimental can make me doubt my own decluttering abilities before I even begin. They can make me look at that closet full of boxes full of baby clothes and not even try.
And somehow, while I’m fixated on that closet full of baby clothes, I’m ignoring the fact that I have broken toys in the playroom or piles of newspapers in the garage or an entire set of dishes that we never use and I don’t even like.
Walk away from the heart-wrenching stuff and work on the stuff that’s easy. Declutter things you don’t actually care about that have become invisible to you. Experiencing empty space and re-gaining lost square footage in your home will start to give you decluttering momentum.
Decluttering momentum will eventually bring you to a point where you’re ready to tackle the baby-clothes-closet.
2. Keep one.
When I found out that our most-likely-last child was a girl, I put ALL our boy clothes on eBay. Every last wearable piece. This was pre-blog, and I was in such a Stuff Overload phase that I thought it was what I had to do. I told myself it was the only way to get past my irrational attachment to stuff. The day after I started those auctions, I visited my Mother in Law in the hospital and my own mother came along. I was telling them about getting rid of the stuff and they both assured me it was okay to keep one thing.
It made so much sense, but had never occurred to me before. ONE thing. I almost hyperventilated as I drove home, desperate to cancel the auction for a certain little outfit I wanted to keep. I ended up keeping one or two outfits per child that held special memories, and I’m so glad I did.
The one thing allows me to have ALL those memories come rushing back. See the cowboy boots in the picture above? Every time I dust around them, I recall each child’s once-tiny little feet. I don’t need every pair of socks or sandals or tennis shoes to experience those memories.
And it’s way more fun to run across one little baby outfit in my closet than it is to trip over boxes marked “Baby Clothes” piled in the garage.
I know that one baby outfit (with the cutest little hat you ever did see) doesn’t compare to large pieces of furniture, but it always helps me to reverse my thinking and choose my favorite thing first. Then I start looking at everything else differently.
3. Use it.
If it’s your great-grandmother’s chair, can you sit on it? If it’s fine china, can you display it? Or . . . eat off it???
This has helped me through many painful decluttering moments. No. I have no need for burp cloths anymore. But I do need dusting cloths and cloth-diaper-burp-cloths make good ones.
My sister-in-law recovered a chair that was purchased by her parents in their first year of marriage. Recovered, it looked gorgeous with her decor in her home. She had the memories AND it was useful.
Of course, with this, it’s important to follow the one-in-one-out rule. (Sorry.) But really, if you only have room for one couch and you’re not willing to give up yours for the sentimental one, the sentimental one probably needs to go.
Same goes with cups and saucers and lamps and such.
Grab a tissue, wear some waterproof mascara, and boo hoo your eyes out while you go through the bag of baby onesies or the box filled with grandma’s doilies.
It’s okay to feel sad.
Holding onto sentimental clutter can be my way of procrastinating in the grief process. But the stages of grief are a very real thing and the people who make it to the other side are the ones who go through each stage. Allowing myself to fully experience the feelings of pain and loss allows me to let go of things.
Honestly, it’s not the single left shoe that makes me cry, it is the acknowledgement of a forever-gone stage of life.
But acknowledging and honoring the reality of grief has a magical way of helping me move past grief.
And honestly, you might need counseling. If professional counseling is cost-prohibitive, look for grief support groups at local hospitals, community centers or churches. Look for various types of groups here.
Past posts I’ve written about sentimental clutter:
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