Myth-Busting Minimalism: Radical Simplicity for Sentimental Folks

When it comes to streamlining their life, my clients have expressed, “I’m too sentimental”. They want to simplify, but they get stuck trying to de-clutter their homes because they’re sentimentally attached to many of their belongings.

To this, I respond, “You just need to be sentimentally smart!” Below, I offer 3 dilemmas and solutions to those of us who get stuck while trying to let go of things because we’re sentimentally attached. The problem is not that you’re sentimental. If anything, you can use this to your advantage to meaningfully share and enjoy your treasures.

I’ve observed that most of us who like to hold on to things for sentimental reasons store those things somewhere inconspicuously in their home without much thought to how they’re being stored – even though one main reason they hold on to things is to share the stories behind them with loved ones. With this in mind…

Sentimental Folks Dilemma #1: Childhood Memorabilia:
Solution: Consolidate for Sanity.

Bring all of your children’s art and school work into one place. Then instead of focusing on what you want to let go, try instead to select the absolute treasures, that you know without a doubt you want to keep. Then shop (first in your home!) for an air-tight bin to store these items and label the container. Decide where it will be stored. You may find that you have a quite a few pieces that you want to ask your son/daughter about – namely if they want to keep it or not. In my experience, I’ve found that most of the time the kids do not want to keep it, so just a heads up on that 🙂 For all the non-treasure pieces, consider taking a photo of them, and then recycling/disposing of them. Consolidating your childhood memorabilia into one bin and the digital realm will create sweet closure for your past and fresh new space (internally and externally) for your present.

*Bonus* If you’re an empty nester, my beloved colleague Melissa has written some excellent posts on this subject that include help for sentimental folks. Here’s one to get started.

Sentimental Folks Dilemma #2: Gifts
Solution: Improve your Perspective.

I recommend thinking “big picture” with gifts. Once a gift has been given, it has served its purpose. The exchange between giver and receiver has happened, and what’s left is a thing that you either want to keep/use, or you don’t. Give yourself permission to donate or throw away the thing, because when you let go of something, you’re not throwing away the wonderful memory of the exchange or the bonding that happened from the gift exchange – that can never be thrown out.
Do you think your mother would really want you to keep a coat in your closet for years, invoking feelings of guilt every time you see it because you know you’re never going to wear it? Of course, she wouldn’t! When you get honest about what gifts you like and don’t like, don’t be surprised if more gifts you like end up being given!

Sentimental Folks Dilemma #3: Belongings of Those Who Have Passed
Solution: Create a Shrine.

If you’re sentimental with belongings of someone who has passed away, identify the treasures with which to display joyously. Create something like a shrine. You can select a few things of his or hers, have them framed well and hang it up in your home. Or, if you set up a dedicated surface, like an open shelf you see every day, just for your favorite photos of the passed loved one, it may help you feel ready to let more of his/her stuff go. One of my favorite ideas is to select the treasures of the person’s clothes and get a quilt made out of them. Once you’ve got this heirloom, the rest of the person’s clothes may loosen their hold on you and you become ready to let them go. (Just a note for those of us who have lost a lifetime partner: This is a big transition requiring support, including with the partner’s stuff. So make sure you get support from friends, family, or an organizer.)

So in summary, if you’re sentimental but yearn to simplify, let your tendencies work for you. Show off your beloved treasures in your home – on display both for family and friends, but also for you. And everything that you wouldn’t call a treasure, take a photo of them if you wish, and then let them go – to give both the treasures and good vibrations room to shine and flow in your home.

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