8 Tips for Conquering Sentimental Clutter

Do you keep ticket stubs after you see a movie? Do you display gifts you don't like out of a sense of obligation to the gift-giver? Sentimental clutter can be the hardest type to conquer. But with these tips from Erin Rooney Doland, author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, you can learn how to remember the past without literally living in it.

Tips for Handling Sentimental Clutter

  • Picture Perfect. An image of an object can be as powerful as the object itself. Take digital photographs of the items before you get rid of them. When you upload the image to your computer, type in the memory you have associated with the object into the file's "Notes" field. (For example, I had my picture taken wearing my grandfather's overalls in an alfalfa field on his farm before I repurposed the fabric.) Be sure to back up your computer's hard drive so that you don't have to worry about losing the images.
  • Simply the Best. If you inherit a set of something like your grandmother's china, you don't have to keep all of it. Display one place setting or even just a teacup and saucer.
  • Digital Revolution. Scan papers and pictures and turn them into digital files. It's a lot easier to store a computer hard drive than it is to keep boxes of memorabilia. Feel like you have no time to do this on your own? Hire a company for this task, like ScanMyPhotos (scanmyphotos.com) for pictures or Pixily (pixily.com) for documents.
  • Share the Wealth. After scanning papers and pictures, give the originals away to friends and family. This is what I did with my collection of notes. Once I scanned them, I sent a few of the gems off to their original authors. My childhood friends read the notes, laughed, and then shredded the evidence. You also could throw a party where guests are instructed to take any of your old pictures they want -- this is especially nice to do with family photographs at reunions.
  • Repurpose. If your dresser is filled with T-shirts from college, cut them up and make them into a quilt. You can enjoy the warmth of the blanket all winter long and also make room in your clothes drawer.
  • Buddy Up. Researchers at Ohio State University found that touching an item (even something as ordinary as a coffee mug) creates an emotional connection to that item, and the longer you hold it, the stronger the bond. Enlist the help of a buddy to hold up items for you in order to keep the duration of exposure to a minimum and make parting with items significantly easier.
  • Pass It On. When someone gives you a gift, it's because they want to make a connection with you and bring you happiness. Unfortunately, not all gifts are things we want. If someone gives you a gift that doesn't work with your space, say thank you and feel no guilt regifting or donating the unused object to charity. The gift giver (if he or she has any tact) won't ever ask you what you chose to do with the item. If the person does ask, respond that you don't currently have the item out on display. The person will get the hint and drop the subject, and life will continue.
  • Make It Speedy. If the sentimental clutter is best suited for recycling or the trash, get it out of your sight as quickly as possible. Repeatedly walking past the clutter in a trash can or recycling bin will make it even harder to say good-bye. Whatever sentimental objects you wish to keep you should display and/or use in your home. Nothing sentimental should be stuffed in a box in your basement or attic gathering dust. Why keep something that doesn't reflect the remarkable life you want to live?

Whatever sentimental objects you wish to keep you should display and/or use in your home. Nothing sentimental should be stuffed in a box in your basement or attic gathering dust. Why keep something that doesn't reflect the remarkable life you want to live?

Learn how to simplify your surroundings with Unclutter Your Life in One Week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Rooney Doland, author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week: A 7-Day Plan to Organize Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life! (Copyright © 2009 by Erin Doland), is an organization consultant and the Editor-in-Chief of Unclutterer.com, a popular website that has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, House Beautiful, Lifehacker.com, and on the BBC and HGTV. She is a twice-weekly columnist for Real Simple online, and has written for Ready Made, Women's Day, and CNN.com, among others. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband.

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