Decluttering sentimental items

Once you get into a routine, decluttering some things is easy.

Junk drawer? Easy.

Kitchen? No sweat.

Clothing? Check.

But once you get past the easy stuff to the sentimental items, you may find yourself stuck.

Tips for decluttering the more difficult sentimental items in your home.

Different people will get stuck on different things.

For instance, I have no problem recycling 98% of the endless stream of school papers that come home. But I have friends who have kept every single paper their children ever brought home.

For me, the hardest things to declutter have been:

  • homeschooling materials and books

  • handmade baby blankets and other baby things

  • books in general

  • building toys (K’nex and such)

These things are still in my possession even though I know most of them could (and should) go.

Why do I hang on? Emotions.

Here’s the thought process I went through for each category.

Decluttering homeschool books

We homeschooled for 9 years. It was a huge part of our identities. I spent hours and hours selecting and using curriculum. Although all 4 of my kids are now in school, I still had a stack of my favorite homeschooling books.

I know I didn’t need those Math-u-See books or that phonics manual, but I really loved them. And so they were still on my shelf.

Does part of me think that someday I might homeschool again? Maybe. But after some consideration, I’ve decided to part with all of these books. You can hold me to it!

Tips for decluttering the more difficult sentimental items in your home.

If I ever do find myself a homeschooler once again, I can always buy new books. By holding on to these books, in a way, I’m still holding myself in the past. It’s time to let go and bless someone else.

Decluttering baby items

Handmade baby things as well as other baby items are particularly hard to part with.

First, there’s the legacy factor. Shouldn’t I save these for my eventual grandchildren? Yes, I should โ€“ I’ve picked out 2 blankets that are my favorites to put aside for future generations.

But the other ones?ย Some of these things won’t age too well. They need to be enjoyed right now! They’re going to the local crisis pregnancy center. I imagine some new mother will be thrilled to have something special for her baby. Ditto for that pack and play that’s gathering dust in the basement.

Finding a good home for things makes it much easier to let go.

Decluttering books

Do you have any books on your shelves that you don’t even like? I sure did. Little by little, I’ve been going through our bookshelves. I kept old favorites but books that we didn’t love are going in a box to donate to the library book sale.

When you really think about it, it doesn’t make sense to keep books that you don’t love even if they cost good money or are in great condition. That’s one of those mistakes that are easy to make when you declutter.

Decluttering building toys

We have quite a collection of building block type toys (Legos and K’nex mostly). I know that most kids adore this kind of thing, but my kids never got into them. (Oh, the frustration over unused Christmas presents!)

I’m going to offer them up to my Facebook friends. I’ll bet someone’s child will be excited to have a great big box of K’nex to play with!


Here are some tips for decluttering sentimental items

  1. Is there someone else who wants it?Someone else in the family may adore that painting that you just want to hide in the basement. Ask around and see if anyone else wants to take that special item off your hands.
  2. Remember that tossing (or keeping) something doesn’t change how you remember a person.
  3. Keep only the treasures. Instead of keeping every spelling test from 3rd grade, why not pick 3 or 4 of your favorite papers from each grade and recycle the rest. You could even scan them and create a beautiful photo book of the results (or just keep them in a special box and enjoy looking through them with the grandchildren from time to time). If you treat these things like treasures, you’ll enjoy them a lot more and they’ll take up less room. Find a special way to really enjoy the important things you decide to keep.
  4. Repurpose. Make a piece of your wedding dress into a pillow; turn old baby clothes into a handmade teddy bear. Scan kids artwork and have it reprinted in miniature to hang on the wall or turn into a photo book. Check Pinterest for ideas to give new life to older things. This might make it easier to get rid of the rest of those things.
  5. Make a transitional move. If you think you may part with something but it’s just too hard to make a complete break, consider moving it to the basement or garage and see how you do for a few weeks. (But don’t forget about it or allow this to become a new permanent home.) You might find it easier to take the next step if you have a step in between.
  6. Do you have the space? If you’re downsizing or your home is just bursting at the seams, you might find it easier to make some of theseย tough choices.

Facebook is one of my favorite ways to pass on items I’m decluttering.

I posted 2 things on my personal Facebook feed this week and had takers for both of them in under 10 minutes! It was really fun to see how God’s timing worked out. Both of the people who asked for my items mentioned that they had just been looking for exactly what I offered.

So don’t underestimate what a blessing you can be to someone else just by passing on something you don’t need.

Have done any difficult decluttering lately? How did you handle it?


Keep Reading

If you have questions related to your purchase(s), please do not leave a comment on the blog. Contact our customer success team for assistance.

29 thoughts on “Decluttering sentimental items”

    • So funny! I wonder the same thing sometimes. I actually have to stop myself and make a fuss over a nice paper so my kids know I’m paying attention.

  1. Hi Sarah, I too have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve got rid of so much stuff. I’m planning on sorting through my photos and sentimental pieces from baby and homeschooling years over the Winter months and completing albums. I’ve really got the bug. By having the time then to hold each item and think about it, I know I can make the right choices about what to throw out. I’ve put aside part of an afternoon each week to work on the decluttering since I read the book and it is going well. I’m still within my six months of permitted time! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to share your article on my Facebook page.

  2. Having spent time in the children’s hospital recently with my daughter. I noticed a lack of craft supplies, books, Legos, mega blocks, and oddly Fischer Price Little People. The nurse explained that they tend to run out the door. Since then I have been happily free of guilt in dropping off boxes of my baby/toddler/preschooler treasures.

    My children’s school has happily accepted our books, not to sell, but to add to their collection, a huge load of my daughters mind to know she can change her mind and borrow them all back if she wishes!

  3. Lovely post! I’m about to move next month and decluttering is a must for me this time. It’s tough and I’m not sure what to leave and what to get rid of. Thank you for your post. I think it’s time for me to read this book of Marie Kondo’s. Greets!

  4. I have a lot of holiday decorations that were made by loved ones who have passed away. I have a hard time decluttering these items. I feel guilty, don’t want to offend others who might discover what I’ve done, feel like I’d hurt the feelings of the person who made it – even though they’re deceased…
    My family will all have similar pieces. If I can’t donate them, how can I deal with the guilt?

    • This is a really hard one – you’ve got a double-whammy – handmade items plus decorations which probably have lots of fond memories. If you really can’t bear to just part with them, why not cover your bases with a note to other family members. “I just don’t have the room to store Aunt Beth’s decorations any more. Before I find a new home for them, does anyone want them?”

      That way you’ve given a reason (never mind if you have the space or not – you get to decide how you use your home’s storage space) and they can’t complain later. You don’t have to explain exactly what you do with them.

      I hope that helps a bit. In the end, you have to decide if you’re going to let other people guilt you into something you don’t want to do. I wrote a post that might help you make a decision. It’s about procrastination, but also about dealing with fear – it’s here: https://declutteringschool.com/2015/11/beat-procrastination/

      • Are you concerned about your family seeing it at the place you donated the decorations? This might sound bad but donate them in an area where you don’t have family if you don’t want to tell anyone. It’s no ones business what you do with “your” stuff. I’m sure that no one wants you to have clutter because of them making stuff for you. My mom makes me stuff all the time for fun but doesn’t expect me to keep it. It’s just fun for her to make & she doesn’t want the clutter either. Lol!

  5. I’ve been donating like crazy to our local women’s abuse shelter. It makes it extra easy to get rid of stuff because I know it’ll go to ppl who truly need it more than I do. Before I found out about this place I struggled to get rid of good stuff I didn’t use or couldn’t wear anymore, especially if it cost a lot.

  6. The best part I enjoy about passing on sentimental items to friends and family is that I continue to enjoy my memories by seeing them on display when I visit them. And I don’t have to dust them โ˜บ

  7. Hi Sarah! What a timely post! Just finalized my divorce in December, now going through 32 years of pictures from my marriage and all the pics I have from my family. My whole life story in boxes. Setting up a work space for it now. We were homeschoolers, too but my kids were all graduated, so it was easy to let that go. Had to.move and downsize or store most of my stuff. Storage lockers are next to declutter, going to let the kids take their pick and donate the rest. Thanks for all the encouragement.

  8. Take a photo of anything sentimental before you donate it. Make an album of the photos with a little story of why the item was important to you.

    It will be a lovely book to share with your children and/or grandchildren.

  9. Once I was in our local library, browsing their used book room, when I saw a thin gift book of dogs. It looked familiar, I opened it, and there was my dedication to my mom when I was a kid, “To mom, in honor of Nikki and Coco. Love, Sue” I told the librarian about it…I know my mom wasn’t very sentimental, so I wasn’t really upset, but the librarian insisted I take it as a gift. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t remember what my mom said when I told her, but I still have it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Love this story! I went to a girlfriend’s yard sale once and found a cookbook I had given her. It was expensive but I paid a small amount for it and got it back! She never remembered where she got it I’m sure.

  10. Iโ€™ve been trying to figure out what to do with 3 sets of china left by our parent and grandmothers. Iโ€™ve been stressed.

    • Check the website Replacements to see their value. Call a local Historical society that has a house to see if they need anything for their house. Go on Pinterest and see if you can make something small that you would use to remember the sets (only if you are really sentimental about them).

  11. Hi! We have been cleaning out our house to sell & move, and getting rid of a lot! Hopefully my kids will take the Christmas stuff I’m not taking. My husband has the most stuff by far, so he’ll have to deal with it either here or in the new place. What I have the most of to deal with is photos! Some are in albums, some in frames, & some loose. What can I do with old photos – memories! All new ones are strictly digital. I suppose we can end up digitizing them, but I’ve ended up with 2 bins full! I also know I won’t want them filling up shelves in the new house. Any ideas?

  12. I have about 60 porcelain dolls , Dept 56 buildings and accessories. Plus other little collections.I had two curios of Snow Babies that I am just gifting to a friend.My daughter and DaughterInLaw do not want any of these things and I am not sure if anyone would buy ! I have already given away about 15cof the dolls. We are downsizing in the next few months and there just will be no room ! Help !!!!????

  13. I am am an only “child,” 74 years old. No relatives of any kind. No kids. Divorced. What do I do with family photos, scrapbooks, documents like my father’s Army discharge papers? It feels so disloyal to throw them out. No historical society wants them (I’ve checked. )

    • Try contacting the regiment because they are usually looking for things like that or veterans organizations

  14. hi,
    I donated baby furninture to family members having babies/grandbabies.
    lots of toys were donated to preschools in the area. I just hate throwing things away since I know someone else can get some use from them.

  15. We relocated over a year ago. I have boxes of books, knick-knacks, clothes, etc. I have no children and only one niece that I know doesn’t want my belongings. I had decided to donate clothes, very nice, name-brand, some never worn. However now with this virus I’m pretty sure places will not accept these items! Any suggestions? Thanks


Leave a Comment

Welcome. I’m Sarah!


Iโ€™m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

Search Articles

ยฉ 2023 Mueller Creative Inc. All rights Reserved.                             Disclaimer