You know all the questions you’re supposed to ask:
Do I use it? Does it spark joy? Do I find it beautiful?
The answers are all no, but still you can’t let go.
Everyone has those items — things that waste space and bring up anything but good memories but have taken on a life of their own. If you’ve had a lot of transition or have accumulated things from family you may have whole rooms full of things that drag you down.
You can’t have guests in the guest room or let a repair person into the basement. The whole house is a minefield of memories that trip you up when you least expect it.
If this is happening to you, it’s time to break out some key questions you can use to shift your thinking so that you can finally let go. Then, it’s time to act so that your home becomes the oasis of calm and peace it was meant to be.
“I can’t quit you, grandma’s crocheted bedspread masterpiece”
For you it might be family photos or your grandfather’s pocket watch.
For me it’s my grandma’s handiwork. For over thirty years, I’ve held on to the crocheted bedspread my grandma made.
It took her twenty years to make, untold thousands of hours, and it sits on a shelf in my closet. Every time I get dressed I feel guilty that it’s gathering dust.
But I’ve finally learned how to let go of grandma’s bedspread and all the other sentimental things that need to be let go in order to live in a peaceful and calm space.
Where to even begin?
For most people, the issue starts in our heads, so begin there.
Practice a shift in your thinking so that the sentimental hooks can be loosened. To do this, pick one item that is easier to think about, not the item that carries the most emotional weight.
My practice item is one of the dozens of afghans that my grandmother crocheted. Every afghan is meaningful but it’s not as hard to think about paring down.
What is a good practice item that would stretch your declutter muscles in an attainable way?
The one question to give yourself a reality check
When you’ve picked the item to consider, the first thing to do is to check your thinking.
Why is the item so difficult to declutter? Ask yourself if the thoughts that lead to the bad feelings are true.
I asked myself “Why do I feel so bad when I think about letting go of this afghan I don’t use and don’t like?” “Because if I don’t keep grandma’s work then I didn’t love my grandma”.
Asking “Is that true?” I know the answer is no, which makes it possible to let it go.
You may need to keep asking “Why” questions and “Is it true” multiple times to get to the root of the problem. When you do this and find the underlying thinking is distorted, then you have something to work with.
What if it were on the cover of the New York Times?
Once you recognize that your thinking can be different, it’s time to look to ethics.
A question from ethics is “How would I feel if what I did was on the cover of the New York Times?” What if there was a headline that said “Woman drops off grandma’s masterpiece at the thrift store”?
That’s ridiculous, but if my cousin Stephanie saw it, I would feel terrible. If you have people in your life who would care if you got rid of a sentimental item, contact them to see if they want it.
Sure you can but you won’t
It’s tempting to think that you will repurpose your sentimental items.
This may be true if you honestly have a practice you already do. But if you would have to dust off the sewing machine and relearn how to sew before turning that afghan into a teddy bear, don’t fall for the temptation.
If you haven’t done it yet you are unlikely to do it now. Let it go and reclaim your space for the way you live today.
Show me the money
If the item has monetary value you might be able to feel better about a separation if it comes with some dolla dolla bills.
A bedspread just like the one my grandma made is on Ebay for $275. Family gets first dibs, but if no one wants it, an online consignment service is the next stop .
There are lots of sellers who will sell your items for you for a fee.
One person’s hideous roses, another person’s Millennial Pink.
If you can’t pawn the item off on relatives and it’s not worth selling, it’s still easier to let go if the item will be appreciated.
My grandma’s bedspread has dozens of pink crocheted roses in an intricate white field; it’s not my style and doesn’t fit my cat-encrusted lifestyle.
It turns out the roses are a color called “Millennial Pink”, which has apparently taken over the world. A person cooler than me could absolutely make it work as a vintage handmade touch in a boho room.
Craigslist and Freecycle are your friends to find people who would love your cast-offs when you can’t.
Say yes-within limits
Perhaps some of your sentimental items give you good feelings and memories but you have too many of them.
My linen closet is stuffed with grandma’s afghans, so I am keeping my favorite three. This is a good option to pare down collections of things that used to be important (hello snow globe collection) to keep only the most significant.
Where can you let go of multiples as long as you keep a subset of the best?
Throw some salt at it
A final goodbye ritual can help you let go with satisfaction.
Decluttering guru Marie Kondo suggests the Japanese custom of throwing salt at an object to purify the memories, or taking a moment to say thank you for having the item in your life. Other ideas are to journal about the object, take a photo of it or to use it with intention one last time.
What would work for you to honor the memories associated with the item and let you let go without regret?
A rolling stone won’t become a hoarder
Once you’ve done the mental and emotional work to let go of your sentimental items and decide what to do with them, keep the momentum rolling.
Either take the item to its new forever home immediately after your decluttering session or schedule the errand on your calendar.
It isn’t enough to put it in a garage or closet to take “when I have a chance”; movement is key.
Decluttering sentimental items is hard work. To make it easier, make like Hansel and Gretel and leave “breadcrumbs”; little triggers that help you know the next steps to take.
Keep a visible list of the next steps you need to take where you can see it, including easy actions such as researching where to take things, dropping off items when you’re out, and harder tasks such as decision-making that you can schedule for when you’re fresh.
My list is on my to-do phone app with reminders. Yours might be a physical list or post-its next to the mirror. Be sure you will see your list and know what you will do next so the actions don’t get lost in “someday”.
Grandma would be happy for you
The emotional weight of all these items drags down your space and your mind and keeps you from living the life you want.
It isn’t easy, but going through the questions and the actions in manageable chunks will slowly and surely clear out the minefield.
Schedule some time to consider one weighty memory item, decide what to do with it and take action. It isn’t easy to start but it gets easier with practice.
Before you know it, you’ll build momentum and soon every item you own will be there because you want it there.
Imagine how clear, how calm and freeing your home will feel when you’re surrounded by memories you love. That’s a peaceful way to live.