Do you feel burdened with sentimental clutter? If so, these practical solutions will show you how to use and enjoy your sentimental items… and give you permission to let go of the rest.
What would I find if I looked in the back of your storage closet? What about on the top shelf in the garage? Or shoved behind a bunch of boxes in the basement or attic?
Maybe things like…
- baby clothing you no longer use or need but can’t part with
- special handmade quilts or blankets you’ve never used for their intended purpose
- decades worth of kids’ artwork and school projects
- photos and videos (or maybe negatives and slides)
- old letters and cards from relatives you don’t even remember
- your wedding dress and other special-occasion outfits you will never wear again
- family heirlooms and memorabilia you think your kids might want someday
- antique furniture that no one else is willing to store
I realize I’m not the most sentimental woman around, but I DO think these sentimental items have a place and purpose in our homes.
For the record, that place is not in a box or bin shoved in the back of a closet (only to be unearthed when we move).
My favorite sentimental items serve as daily reminders of special people, places, and times in my life… so if I’m going to keep them, I want to see them and use them and enjoy them in and around my home each day.
I want my kids to know who these treasures came from and why we have them.
I want them to ask questions about my relatives and about Dave and my pasts. I want to pass down stories about “way back when”, before they were born.
I want to smile when I use my great-grandma’s sugar bowl, or when the kids snuggle up with a book while wrapped in my old t-shirt quilt.
I want to smell my grandma’s house EVERY time I open the drawer of my nightstand (her old sewing cabinet).
I want to see my kids’ eyes sparkle when they pass by their artwork on display throughout our home (instead of just stored in a box).
Truly, I feel like I am honoring my past and my family by using and enjoying these sentimental items in my home and in my life each day.
Let’s stop storing our sentimental items in the back of the basement storage closet.
And let’s stop struggling to find more storage space because we feel too guilty to admit we really don’t want to keep something.
Instead, let’s look for practical solutions to USE and ENJOY these items… and then willingly part with the things we don’t love as much.
Need some help getting started? Keep reading!
My Personal “Rules” for Sentimental Items:
- I will not make rash decisions (think about it for a bit before deciding).
- I will not pay to store something just because it’s sentimental (a.k.a. no storage units).
- I will not be guilted into storing something because other family members don’t want to store it or because I happen to have the most available storage space.
- I will not hang onto anything because I think there’s a small chance my children might want it someday (most likely, they won’t).
- I will be selective with what I save and take pictures of items I let go.
- I will only keep sentimental items with positive memories.
- I will remind myself that my memories are not tied to the physical item, and removing the item will not erase the memories.
- I will consciously weigh the “costs” of hanging onto sentimental items (space in my home, mental tension, emotional stress, etc.)
- I will try my best to repurpose sentimental items into pieces I can use, display, and/or enjoy in my everyday life.
- I will not get upset if these items break because I’m using and enjoying them.
- I will make a point to enjoy the extra space in my home (and my brain) once I finally allow myself to let go of the sentimental items I no longer want or need.
Here are a few examples of how we do this in our home… hopefully it will spark some out-of-the-(storage)-box ideas for you! ☺️
Furniture & Other Bulky Items
One of the biggest factors that determines if I will keep a sentimental item or not is how much storage space it requires — often, big bulky furniture does not make the cut for me (unless I can use it in my home).
Storing large pieces of sentimental furniture can be a huge burden on your home, your family, and your life… ask yourself, is it really worth the “cost”.
Like I mentioned above, your memories are NOT tied to the physical item — a picture could serve as a space-saving way to stir up your memories.
Or, get creative and figure out a way to use the furniture item (or part of it) in your everyday life.
How we use sentimental furniture in our home:
- I repainted my grandma’s sewing cabinet and now use it as the nightstand in our master bedroom.
- I use my grandma’s sewing machine as my personal sewing machine on a weekly basis.
- I repainted my grandma’s high chair and now use it as a decorative element in our dining room (or a handy toddler chair when guests eat over!)
- We used wood from the old barn on our property to build our mock-outhouse shed.
- We used wood from my grandpa’s barn to make the wood countertops in our outbuilding.
- We used some of the OLD wood taken from the walls of our house to create fun signs and decorative shelves in our home.
- I made a slipcover for my grandma’s living room chair and now use it in our den.
- We use an old wringer washer in our landscape to hold a big “washtub” full of flowers.
There are countless ways you can give new life (and usefulness) to a sentimental item.
HOWEVER, there’s also no shame in letting bulky furniture items go.
When my grandma died, I took pictures before selling most of her furniture on Craigslist because none of the other grandkids wanted anything, and I didn’t want to continue storing it.
I made a few thousand bucks (which was A LOT back when we were newly married) and I still have a handful of really meaningful items that we use every day.
Raise your hand if you still have your wedding dress stored in a box somewhere in your home?
There’s no shame… but you might consider what benefits you’ve gotten from keeping it in your house after all these years — moving it, organizing and cleaning around it, having 582 mental debates about if you should or should not continue to store it, etc.
Similarly, do you have bins of old baby clothes, t-shirts, or special sentimental outfits? And what about that stack of quilts, cross-stitch, embroidery, and doilies from various friends and relatives?
I get it — these items don’t take up nearly as much space as furniture, so you might as well keep them.
But do you really want it all?
Do you have a use for it?
Would you rather enjoy some of it than let it sit in the back of your storage closet?
Do you benefit from it in any way?
I encourage you to consider ways you might be able to utilize these fabric items in your home and life, then choose a small handful of favorites, and donate the rest (take a few pictures if you’d like).
How we use and display sentimental fabric items.
- I framed a handful of my grandma’s embroidery projects to use as decorations throughout the house.
- I used my old high-school and college sports t-shirts to make a t-shirt quilt that we use daily.
- I turned my wedding dress into a baptism outfit for our boys.
- Nora wore my baptism dress and Clara wore Dave’s grandpa’s baptism dress (who she is named after).
- Nora and Clara actually wore the red winter coat my mom, my sisters, and I wore as a toddler.
- I used some old baby items to create doll quilts for the girls and Dave’s baby blanket now lives with our doll things.
- I actually use some of my grandma’s old tablecloths.
- I have a pair of my grandpa’s leather baby booties on display upstairs.
- The kids use an old apron from my grandma when they play dressup.
- I created a simple, inexpensive collage of various handiwork projects from Dave and my grandmas, great-grandmas, great-aunts, and family friends for Clara’s nursery (and now our master bedroom).
Truly, there are SO many ways you can use, display, and enjoy old fabric items — and it’s so much more fulfilling than keeping them in a box in the back of your storage closet because you feel guilty getting rid of anything!
Paper Items (Pictures, Books, Artwork, etc.)
Sentimental paper items are often the sources of much anxiety and stress in many housholds.
But they don’t have to be!
I promise, your children will not resent you if you don’t keep every single paper they bring home from school. And I’m confident your relatives will not be upset if you toss a few old photos.
How we use and display sentimental paper items.
- I make digital photo books for each child as well as one for our family every year.
- We digitized all my parents’ and Dave’s parents’ photos so we can always reprint them or look back on them if we want to.
- We proudly display all our family photo books and the kids’ photo books on an easily-accessible shelf so the kids can look through all our photos at any time.
- I’ve intentionally hung various old family portraits throughout our home so the kids can see (and ask about) old relatives.
- I’ve displayed some of my childhood artwork in the girls’ bedroom and some of Dave’s in the boys’ bedroom.
- I bundle old letters with twine and use them as decorations throughout the house.
- I installed huge magnet boards in my office and on the side of the fridge for photos and artwork.
- I created a big collage of various family pictures on a shelf in our office… and I’ve arranged all our old books by color on the shelf above. It’s always a gathering spot for new visitors!
- Each child has a thin box to store some of their “most important paperwork” items in. When the box gets full, they purge some of it.
- I regularly take pictures of their art projects and add them to their digital photo books.
- We created a simple gallery wall upstairs for all the kids’ artwork. We rotate new items in regularly (and trash the old pieces).
Don’t let yourself be a prisoner in a sea of sentimental paper… figure out a way to display your favorites, create a plan to digitize some, and purge the rest.
And what about everything else?
Honestly, there’s no way I could possibly give examples of every sentimental item that might be taking up storage space in your home… but I can continue to encourage you to intentionally sift through it (little by little) and make forward progress.
Also, feel free to leave a question in the comments if you have a specific item you’d like advice on — it’s very likely that someone will have helpful advice!
How we use and display misc. sentimental items.
- I had my grandma’s diamond ring made into a necklace that I actually enjoy wearing (versus a ring I’d never wear).
- I use a handful of my grandma’s vintage blue canning jars for vases and other decorative containers throughout the house.
- I have clay handprints of the kids hanging on hooks in our den (they LOVE looking at how small their hands used to be!)
- We installed the brass door knocker from Dave’s grandparent’s house on our master bedroom door (it’s engraved with “DEKKER”)
- I have a few plates and vintage cake tins from our grandmas on display throughout the kitchen and dining area.
- I actually USE my grandma’s rolling pin on a regular basis.
- I planted several Peace Lillies from my grandparent’s old farm, and enjoy them every spring.
- I display a variety of antique pillboxes and soap holders in our bathroom (we found them in my Grandma’s sewing kit).
Still Stuck? Store it Decoratively!
If you don’t have a garage, basement, or attic and you don’t know how to use or display the item, but you really really want to keep it, my practical suggestion is to store it decoratively.
Find a stack of cute trunks or a bench or ottoman with storage inside and use that space to store family photo albums, kids’ art projects, or even old quilts. The trunk, bench, and ottoman will look nice, it will serve as useful furniture in your home, and your sentimental items will be easily accessible if you ever want to look through them.
In full disclosure, I do have one clear plastic tub with some of Dave and my old yearbooks and various memorabilia from our childhood (see picture above), and then another smaller tub with a few fabric items from our grandmas.
There’s no one “right way” to do this…
All I’m suggesting is that we take a more intentional approach to our sentimental treasures.
- Honestly assess why you’re keeping the items (guilt is not a valid reason).
- Consider if there is a way to use or display your sentimental treasures.
- Be proactive about removing sentimental items that no longer have a purpose or a place in your home and life.
ONE MORE TIP: ask a friend to help.
Often, a friend will offer an outside perspective and give you the little nudges you might need to part with items that have been taking up too much space in your home for too long.
You’ll get so much joy from using and displaying more of your sentimental items… and you’ll gain so much space from letting other items go.
How to USE and ENJOY your sentimental clutter?
I’d love to read about it in the comments!