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How to Let Go of Sentimental Items While Downsizing

January 24, 2023 | Downsizing, Household Moves

Letting go of sentimental items can be a challenge. Your heartstrings tie themselves to objects and images from special times in your life. It’s important (but not easy) to keep in mind that getting rid of things is not the same as getting rid of the memories associated with them.

When it’s time to move, it may also be time to move on. If you’re ready to downsize, learning how to declutter sentimental items may be trickier than you anticipated. With that in mind, your friendly moving experts at Wheaton created this post to soften the nostalgia blow. Below are our tips for decluttering sentimental items from your move while holding onto the things that matter. 

Will You Really Miss It?

These prompts are designed to shed light on what’s truly important. To help you differentiate between items you want to keep and items you can part with, ask yourself the following questions:

Does it spark joy in my heart?

You’ll inevitably ask yourself if a particular item still brings you happiness but renowned organizational guru Marie Kondo goes one step further.  She recommends that you hold each item and ask if it still sparks joy. If you feel a tingle of excitement, you know that your connection is genuine. If not, you’re ready to pass it on.

Am I holding onto this because of guilt?

Over time, we collect gifts from people and often we hold onto those gifts for fear of offending the giver. If you’ve held onto an item out of sheer guilt, it’s time to let it go.

Is a photo sufficient?

As you downsize, an easy way to retain the memory of objects is to take photos of them. With digital cameras and cloud storage, you can easily preserve your archive for anyone to enjoy. Ask yourself if you need to keep an item or if simply having a photo of it is enough.

Would someone else benefit from having this?

Knowing that someone else might enjoy an item more than you might make parting with it easier. As you take inventory, think about who you know that might like to have certain items. If it’s a close friend or trusted family member, you’ll know the item will be well cared for.

7 Tips for Organizing Sentimental Items

An elderly couple hugging, with moving boxes nearby.

Asking the above questions is a great way to start saying goodbye to those items you’ve held for a long time. Before you get started with your items, you might watch a few episodes of Legacy List with Matt Paxton on Public Television to get an idea of how to keep the memories but lose the stuff. 

When you feel ready to tackle your own items, here are seven ideas for how to navigate the process of downsizing those sentimental items.

1. Don’t dive in until you’re sure you’re ready

Downsizing can be exhausting. Don’t go in begrudgingly or half-heartedly. This is important work that takes focus and grace.

2. Find your downsizing style

Do you need to proceed slow and cautiously or do you like to dive in and get it over with? There’s nothing wrong with spending some time with sentimental items before you say goodbye, if that’s your style. Likewise, if you’re ready to move on mentally and emotionally, start loading the truck and don’t look back.

3. Start with the easiest items first

Ease into things with items you feel less attachment to and work your way up to the more difficult items. Marie Kondo recommends a very specific order starting with clothes, books, papers and then sentimental items. Newton’s law may work in your favor, and your momentum will help ease those difficult judgment calls.

4. Focus on what to keep

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what you need to jettison, focus on the core, precious items that you know you want to keep. Once you’ve decided on the keepers, the rest will fall in line.

5. Say goodbye to items

Sorting important items that have been with you for a long time is more than just tossing them in a discard pile. Take time to say goodbye to those keepsakes that still hold meaning. Wear a favorite outfit one last time, display a prized award, read a program or magazine again. Giving belongings a proper send off can ease the uncertainty around getting rid of them.

6. Sort by type, not geography

Going room to room may seem like a good plan, but when it comes to sentiment, it may be the wrong strategy. Marie Kondo recommends sorting by items – books, ornaments, photos, etc – so you can weigh the value of similar items. This saves you from overlooking things later on or second guessing your decisions.

7. Involve your family

Go through things with family members. Sharing sentimental items with family is a good way to gauge their value. It opens up the opportunity to share the stories behind the items and pass on the family history. This is especially true of photos. Family members may want certain items, saving you the trouble of getting rid of them and, whether you like it or not, they may encourage you to get rid of things they think you clearly no longer need. A little outside pressure may be a blessing.

Where to Donate Items You No Longer Need

Elderly couple packing boxes in their kitchen.

Whew! You’ve done the hard, emotionally draining work. Now it’s time to figure out what to do with all those items you’ve decided to let go. You have the obvious choices such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Green Drop, but do you want to take a more creative approach to honor the legacy of these items?

Pass them on to a family members

Some items may have great significance to your family history. You’ve done your part in preserving their story; now it’s time to pass them and their stories on to a new custodian.

Have an estate sale/fundraiser 

Whether the proceeds go to you, toward moving expenses or to a cause you cherish, having a sale can be a fun way to liquidate inventory that has overstayed its usefulness.

Donate to local archives or a history museum

You never know what people may find important or significant. Even an old pair of eyeglasses could be a treasure to someone else. Check in with local historical organizations to see what they may be interested in.

Give it to someone who needs it

Neighborhood bulletin boards are like a digital swap meet. Chances are, once you start posting items you no longer want, someone else will express interest in them. You can also check with local charities to find out what kind of items they’re in need of.

Get Help Downsizing

Elderly woman and her child hugging and holding a jewelry box.

Letting go of things that hold that past might free up more space to enjoy the present. If you’re moving to a new location, you’ll need that energy and enthusiasm for your next big adventure. Need help getting moving? That’s what Bekins does. We’re a silver certified moving company that specializes in helping our older clients reduce and relocate.

Contact your local Bekins agent today to get started on your next phase of life. 

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