Q&A Tuesday: Should I keep or pitch sentimental items?

“How does one balance keeping sentimental items from the past and living a clutter-free, simple lifestyle?” -Emily

As most of you probably well know, I disdain clutter. But even though I can get pretty ruthless in ridding our home of anything we don’t love and use on a very regular basis, I do keep some memorabilia.

Here are some things I consider when deciding whether to keep sentimental items:

1. Ask Yourself: Will I Wish I Had Kept This 25 Years From Now?

When it comes to sentimental items, my rule of thumb is to ask myself, “Will I wish I had kept this 25 years from now?” That really helps me in determining whether or not to hang onto something.

Photographs, letters, and journals are what I hang onto more than actual memorabilia. Sure, it might be fun to show your grandchildren the very first shoes you wore or the very first drawing you made and it’s totally fine to hang onto a few of these things, but if you don’t set some fairly strong ground rules for what you hang onto, you’ll soon have to devote an entire room or storage unit to memorabilia!

2. Ask Yourself: Can I Use It Now?

Just because something has sentimental value, it doesn’t have to be stored away. Some of my favorite sentimental items are things we use on a regular basis–such as my tea set from my grandma. Yes, we run the risk of breaking it if we use it, but it’s so fun to enjoy tea parties with my girls and to tell them about their great grandma whom the set came from.

I also have a set of embroidered dish towels from my grandma that I use almost every day. They are getting worn from use, but I think of her almost every time I pull them out to dry the dishes. To me, it’s much more special to be using her towels in my kitchen than to have them tucked away in a tub in our storage closet.

3. When in Doubt, Hang Onto It

This might seem to fly in the face of point number one, but I’ve been grateful that I’ve followed it over the years–especially with my ruthless clutter-ridding personality! If you’re not sure whether you’ll wish you had hung onto something 25 years from now, don’t get rid of it–yet.

I inherited a KitchenAid from my grandma after she died. I thought I would really love it. Instead, it sat in a closet unused. A couple of times I was seconds away from selling it in our garage sale, but I mentioned this on Facebook and a bunch of you strongly encouraged me to hang onto it. I’m really glad I did because I’ve since fallen in love with it and use it regularly in cooking and baking.

You can always throw something out or pass it on later on, but you can never get something back after you’ve gotten rid of it (well, unless you gave it to someone you know!)

Set Up a Special Memorabilia Storage Space

One thing that has been really helpful to me is to buy two big tubs with lids that I’ve designated specifically for storing mementos. Not only does this provide a place to put special cards or pictures that come in the mail, but it also keeps everything contained and not overflowing into other parts of the house.

We’ve found that two big tubs are currently big enough to house everything we want to hang onto–pictures, childhood memorabilia, letters, and things passed down to us from grandparents that we’re not currently using on a regular basis.

The other beauty of having a designated spot is that it provides boundaries for how much we can keep. When the tubs are getting full, we go through them and pare things down a bit so that we can have more space for new things that might come in.

What about you? How do you balancing hanging onto sentimental items versus having a clutter-free home? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

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  1. Toby says

    By the time you are my age, 56, you will be swimming in sentimental “stuff”. You will face, upon the death of your parents, the unhappy chore of cleaning out their homes loaded with sentimental “stuff”. This is very difficult and you will be tempted to keep many, many things. Then your grandchildren will give you sentimental “stuff” Pretty soon you will think you need a big house and why would this be – since it is only “the two of you.” Because you can’t get rid of your stuff, your parent’s stuff, your children’s stuff and your grandchildren’s stuff. Start early in your life to fight against this.

  2. Holly says

    I take pictures of my kids’ artwork and THEN throw them away. I keep the really special items. I like to do slide shows at their birthday parties and I include pics from the last year. I can include artwork pictures too.

  3. says

    We had several bins of sentimental items that I went through last year – I decided to deal with the stuff then and there and if the items were not important enough to me to put in my home and enjoy everyday they needed to go. Both of our parents passed along huge boxes of things they saved from our childhood and I want to say 99% of it went into the trash, I don’t want to burdon my family with that or clutter my home.
    I took the special projects from my kids and used them to decorate book shelves & my office, important artwork is filed in the order it was made to be made into a book similar to the one described below when my kids are grown.
    I took the box of love letters from my husband and I that we exchanged over our courtship and throughout the beginning years of our marriage scanned them onto a disc and sent them to a publisher that I worked with to create a hardcover book that I gave my husband for Christmas, it was probably the nicest gift I’ve ever given and it will be special to us and future generations of our family.
    I took my wedding dress and dontated it to a local charity that rents dresses to low income brides. This one was hard but I know my daughter will want to have the experience of searching for and finding her perfect dress when the time comes and knowing my dress that brought me such joy will bring that to others makes me feel good.
    I did keep one bin each for my kids and we have seperate bins for special clothing (shirts from my grandmothers travels & race t-shirts) to make into quilts later on. I want to enjoy those special items and if it’s not special enough for me to enjoy everyday then someone else can allow those things to bring joy into their lives.

  4. says

    I went through our sentimental stuff last year:
    Kids projects are now displayed on shelves & in my office.
    The love letters from my husband & I were scanned and put onto a disc, then I worked with a publisher to turn it into a hardcover book that I gave my husband for Christmas, it was expensive ($100) but it is something I know we will treasure and that will be passed along to generations. And now the letters are on the bookshelf and we sometimes sit and look through the book.
    I dontated my wedding dress to a charity that rents them to low income brides, this one was hard but my daughter will want the experience of searching for the “one” perfect dress when it’s time for her to be married and I know my dress will bring joy to the brides that would otherwise have gone without.
    Both our parents gave us huge boxes of sentimental items from our childhood and honestly 99% of the stuff went into the trash.
    I do have 1 bin each for the kids and we have bins for special shirts from my grandmothers travels and my race t-shirts to make into quilts. One day our GG will be gone but the t-shirt quilts will be something that many generations will be able to warm themselves with and remember a wonderful woman.

  5. Emily (the original e-mailer) says

    Thanks for posting this, Crystal! Very helpful tips, and thanks everyone for your suggestions. I’ve been making some serious headway on the spare room!

    Weirdest thing I found in a box that for some reason I held on to… my wisdom teeth(?!?)


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