A friend recently reached out to me for advice. She has a dining room that has never been used for its intended purpose and never will. It’s completely nonfunctional. Her question—could she get rid of the furniture in it and use that room for other things? But here’s the catch—the furniture was gifted to her, so it has sentimental value. She has a lot of guilt just thinking about it. What should she do?
This is such a common problem. Yes, even for me. I experienced the same agony and decision paralysis when my Mom passed and I had to clean out her condo. What do I keep? What do I get rid of? Everything had sentimental value to me—what should I do?
As I thought about my response, I realized this was the perfect subject for a blog because so many people suffer from this emotional pain and anxiety every day. Below are some tips that helped me, family, friends, and clients over the years. I hope they help you as well.
I start with guidelines to help you go through the items you have and how to decide what to keep and what to pass along to others. Then, I help you with tips on what to do with the items you keep, how to prepare yourself for passing your items to others, and how to find new homes for your sentimental treasures.
Guidelines to remember:
- You inherited someone else’s items. Is it because:
- you requested them?
- you’re the last living relative?
- someone else assumed you would want them without asking you?
- your loved one didn’t know what to do with them so passed them along to you?
- Don’t let gifts become burdens.
- Be selective; you don’t have to keep everything that has sentimental value.
- Your home should be a living space for your present life, not a storage place for your past life.
- Set a physical boundary or goal for sentimental items you will keep—only one box, not two, for example. Or the boundary could be in terms of square footage if items are too large to fit in a box (furniture, etc.).
- If you decide to get rid of something, remember that you’re getting rid of the item, not the memory or person.
- Focus not on what to get rid of, but what to keep instead.
- If you decide to get rid of something, focus on the numerous ways it will benefit the person who acquires it.
- If you truly cherish your sentimental items, they should not be shoved someplace (attic, garage, storage unit, back of a closet, etc.) where you can’t see and enjoy them.
- Enjoy and respect the things you decide to keep.
Questions to ask yourself while sorting through sentimental items:
- Why am I saving it?
- How does it make me feel?
- What’s worth keeping?
- Is the item truly sentimental, or are there other reasons I’m keeping it (guilt, etc.)?
- What am I sentimental about—the item, or the association with a person?
- Can I use or display the item? Do I want to?
- Am I only keeping it because I think I should?
- Does it spark joy in my heart?
- What does it remind me of? What memories does it bring up?
- Do I use, need, or love it?
- What other mementos do I have that remind me of this person even more significantly?
- Does this item BEST represent how I feel about his person, place, or time, or is there another item that has more meaning?
- Would a photo of this item help me preserve these memories, allowing me to physically let it go?
- Is there a loved one who would like to have this item?
Items you decide to keep in their original form:
- Highlight the sentimental items you’re keeping by displaying them so you can enjoy them every day.
Things you can do with sentimental items you choose TO KEEP—just NOT their original form):
- Upcycle them: According to this article, upcycling is defined as the process of enhancing a product. The functionality of the item remains the same, however it looks and serves a better purpose. The ‘up’ in upcycling means that the product has moved up the chain into something better. An example would be upcycling an empty mason jar typically used for storage into a vase for beautiful flowers.
- Repurpose them: According to the same article, repurposing is using a product to serve another purpose. The author’s example is transforming an old shoe into a pot for plants
Things you can do with sentimental items before purging them if you choose NOT TO KEEP them:
- Take a photo of the item instead of keeping it. You could frame it or create a physical or digital scrapbook, etc.
- Take a photo: write a description of the item and the memory it invokes.
- Find closure by using it one last time before parting with it.
What you can do with the items you’re not keeping:
- Gift to a family member or friend who wants it.
- Donate it to a nonprofit so it will go to a person in need at no cost to them.
- Donate to a thrift store where it will be sold.
- Donate to a museum.
- Donate to an association the item has ties to (military, school, etc.).
- Donate to a charitable organization to use in a silent auction/fundraiser or to benefit them or their constituents in another way.
- Sell locally (facebook.com, nextdoor.com, yard sale, etc.).
- Sell online for greater audience reach (ebay.com, etc.).
- Sell at a store where they give you cash on the spot.
- Consign it.
- Sell via auction/estate sale.
- Sell to an antique dealer.
Now that you’ve read the blog, what do you think? Do you still have decision paralysis, or have I provided you with enough information to take that first step?
Decide to decide. Don’t just hang onto sentimental items to avoid dealing with them. Keeping something you’re not sure if you really want is simply delaying a decision that you have to ask yourself over and over again in the future every time you come across it. And once you take that first step, take the second, and then the third. Make a final decision that you’re comfortable with and everyone benefits.
As I tell my clients, deciding what to do with your “stuff” is like getting started with exercising. The first session is the hardest because making initial decisions may be painful—I won’t lie to you. But if you do that and choose to continue the process within a short amount of time, the decisions should be a little bit easier. The third step? Yes, even easier. You need to exercise your decision-making muscle often to keep it sharp and in shape.
I know you’ve got this but if you feel as though you don’t, please reach out to me. I don’t want anyone to live in a world weighed down by clutter, guilt, anxiety, or pain. Instead, I want you to be pleasantly surprised by the weight that is lifted from your shoulders and the relief and happiness you’ll feel when you enable others to benefit from your treasures.