Can I, or should I, unclutter the sentimental items?

A recent story on my beloved National Public Radio (NPR) has grabbed my attention. The news article discusses the victims’ feelings when thieves steal items that have sentimental value. I quote from the article:

“When something sentimental is stolen,” says Kelley Richardson, who lost a necklace that was in a box her father had brought back from Vietnam, “it’s not that they stole a possession, but more like they’ve stolen this tiny piece of your heart.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I continue on my quest to unclutter my house and my life. I’m finding it easier and easier to give things away, even expensive items, to someone who will use and enjoy them more than I do. But I’m having much more difficulty with the sentimental items.

Again, from NPR’s article:

People connect with certain objects. That’s how we hold on to memories. What victims of theft seem to miss the most are the things they associate with irretrievable moments and people in their lives.

That’s exactly how I feel. I greatly enjoy using my grandmother’s piano, my grandfather’s screwdriver, and the crystal goblets that my (other) grandmother gave my mother and which she has now passed on to me. I have a piece of needlework which my mother started, my grandmother finished, and my grandfather mounted. I am so glad that I have these items. Of  course, I would remember my grandparents without them, but I get much pleasure from using them.

It goes without saying that the photographs of my kids as they have grown are too precious for words. (And no, I’m not at all biased. Why do you ask? :-))

But I simply do not have room for everything. And I do not want my home to be in any way museum-like. (Um, considering the mess, there’s no need to worry!) Clear and open space in my home makes me feel calmer and more relaxed. I’d like to have more relaxed feelings and less Stuff.

So what do I do with these lovely items? For example, my grandfather’s chess set. It’s beautiful, but no one in the household plays chess. Or the small red rock I picked up while on a trip to Sedona with two of my best friends. Or the statue of a horse that my favorite (older, idolized) cousin won for me at a fair, when I was about 10. Do I keep these items, stored in a box somewhere? Deep down, I’m afraid that if I let them go, the memories they contain will be gone as well.

What would you do? Do you have sentimental items that you don’t know where to keep but with which you don’t want to part?

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7 Responses to Can I, or should I, unclutter the sentimental items?

  1. psmflowerlady/Tammy says:

    My Mom died 13 years ago. During her life, she painted NUMEROUS ceramic bric-a-brac (mostly holiday things). I have fond memories of them throughout our house growing up but I by no means wanted to display them in my own home (I can hardly get the Christmas tree down before Valentine’s Day – so I set low holiday decorating standards). I let each of my kids pick one for each holiday that they would like to keep for when they have their own homes (and stored these in marked storage tub in the basement). The remainder, I gave to the kids/grandkids of my Mom’s friends. They too remember how my Mom decorated for every holiday and can now enjoy having a “thing” to remember her by. What was leftover I gave to misc. appropriate charities or donated for fundraising yardsales, etc. Did your Grandfather have someone with whom he played chess that might still be alive and enjoy it or have a family member who might remember playing with him that still plays? If it’s too hard to let go of, could you take a picture of it and then give it away? Pictures take up so much less room and if you’re a scrapbooking type, you could even journal a page with the picture of your memories of it in use. That’s too much effort for me, but I know some people who would really enjoy that. Recently, my grandparents went to assisted living and MUCH of their sentimental stuff was distributed. While doing so, my aunt distributed OLD pictures of cousins to the cousins’ children who had never even seen the pictures. They got together for lunch and walked down memory lane themselves and really appreciated the chance afforded by my Aunt sending the pictures that to us were pretty meaningless. Essentially, seriously consider the concept of re-gifting to people who would appreciate whatever the “thing” is or could also attach sentiment to the “thing” – I personally feel better if I know that whatever the “thing” is that it is being used and loved – even if not by me.

  2. Laura says:

    I agree with Tammy; I have less of a problem getting rid of sentimental items if I know they will be going to someone who will either appreciate them and their history, or will receive a lot of enjoyment from the items. I’d much rather they go to someone who will use them than have them collecting dust in my home just for sentimental reasons.

    I am finding too that I am less and less sentimental about things as I get older, that I prefer photos and my own memories over items (with some exceptions, of course).

  3. i also agree with the other comments regarding pictures. i don’t have too much sentimental stuff in my house, except for a few baby items from my daughter (her first pair of sneakers, her come home from the hospital outfit, that kind of stuff) but i much prefer pictures to the actual items. pictures trigger very vivid memories for me so i like to surround myself with them. they don’t take up much space and those multi-picture frames rock!

    right now, i’m struggling what to do with all of the ceramics my grandma likes to paint. she’s almost 84 and one of her hobbies is painting ceramics. more specifically, she likes to paint personalized ceramics so there’s almost zero chance of getting rid of it. i have my “wall of grandma” where i display her “art” but the wall is getting pretty full. talk about clutter!

  4. Ugh! This is my problem. I have stacks and boxes and albums full of photos. I have some framed but even that seems to get to much at times.
    I have a friend who is in her 60’s and moving. She has spent weeks going through photos that she has held onto forever. She told me, if she doesn’t recognize anyone in the photo it gets tossed. We both wonder why we can hold on to something for so long and then one day just throw it away.
    I like Tammy’s suggestion of finding someone who would get a lot of use from a sentimental item. Knowing that it is being used and appreciated it gratifying.

  5. Readers have emailed me a few links [Thanks!] that you might find interesting:

    • I like to unclutter too but, I like your idea of a box for sentimentals such as those.

    • CJ says:

      This post has come at a very opportune time for me. I’m planning to make October my month for major decluttering, and I’ve been trying to psyche myself up. As I think about what to keep and what not to keep, I’m trying to keep in mind a story my friend shared. She’s in her mid-30’s, and her mother just handed over to her boxes and boxes of projects, papers, and artwork, virtually every item my friend had made since she was four years old. They don’t mean anything to my friend; she doesn’t even have any memories of the items, so she’s getting rid of all of it. When I go through sentimental items, I try to think about what value the items will have to those who will eventually get to deal with all of my stuff. I really like the idea of scrapbooking or in some other way attaching the emotion and memory to the item. As I put together my family tree, it’s the stories I’d really like to have.

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