6 Ways to Deal With Sentimental Items When Decluttering

Start slowly, create categories and seek help if you need it

Organizing, and getting rid of, extra belongings can make it easier to downsize, clean a home and entertain guests.

But what should be done with a stack of boxes containing memorabilia stashed in a closet? Or a basement filled with items that represent the past 30 years? “Clutter is real, and stuff follows us to the end,” says Felice Cohen, author and professional organizer based in New York City who teaches online organization classes to older adults.

“Sentimental clutter is the hardest clutter to part with.”

Sorting through last week’s coupons can be much easier than tackling a bin filled with memories from the past.

“As someone at the beginning of decluttering our large home in preparation for retirement, or at least moving into an apartment, we, like many friends, are dealing with the added, painful issues of what to keep from the home of close relatives who have passed away,” says Joel Poznansky, 61, who lives in Bethesda, Md. “There are questions about items — like overly revealing love letters or divorce papers that raise significant issues — fraught with overwhelming emotions.”

Those emotionally charged items can be tough to evaluate rationally.

“Sentimental clutter is the hardest clutter to part with,” Cohen explains.

Strategies for Successful Decluttering

While not painless, approaching a stash or houseful of sentimental things with the following strategies may make the process manageable: