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Reclaiming Your Space: Why it’s OK to Let Aunt Sally’s Chair Go

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When it comes to decluttering your home, some things are easy to get rid of. That huge, clunky blender you used once before the Vitamix was invented. The pirate outfit you bought for a costume party ten years ago that no longer fits. Those Tupperware containers that have inexplicably lost their lids. You’ll never think about these items again once they’re gone, so getting rid of them is no big deal.

However, sentimental clutter is a completely different ballgame. While sometimes,  they can be our own things that hold special significance — those mixtapes you made in high school or that handbag you bought yourself when you got your first big paycheck. But more often than not, they’re things that other people have bestowed upon us— a painting a friend bought you as a wedding gift or that gaudy armchair you inherited from your Aunt Sally. For many people, parting ways with these sentimental ‘treasure’  is the most difficult part of the decluttering process. So, we hold on to them for far longer than we should.

Sometimes, we fear throwing out something means we’re disrespecting the person that gave it to us (or the memories we have with them). There’s also the guilt factor. You know the person has invested time, effort and money into picking out or passing on this item to you, because they thought you’d love it. And hey, maybe at some point, you did love it. But now, it’s no longer serving you, doesn’t fit into the vision you have for your home or as the decluttering queen Marie Kondo would say, it doesn’t spark joy. And that’s completely fine! Your home should be your sanctuary, a place filled with items that YOU love and use — not objects you keep out of obligation.

Here’s a great quote from decluttering expert Kerri Richardson “Whoever gave you that item never intended to wrap up guilt and obligation with it. If you are no longer enjoying it, for whatever reason, the respectful thing to do for your relationship with that person or the memory of that person is to let it go.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting you ruthlessly throw all your family heirlooms into a garbage bag and dump them on the street. But if you’re ready to reclaim your space, here are 3 tips for eliminating sentimental keepsakes in a respectful way.

3 tips for reducing sentimental clutter and reclaiming your space

Express gratitude and say goodbye

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Here’s one Ms. Kondo swears by. Before you throw out any meaningful items, be sure to give them a proper farewell by expressing your gratitude. This means thanking it for the contribution and service it has had in your family’s life. Sure, it may feel strange to thank an object, but it will help tremendously with your mindset.  “Giving sincere thanks to an item will significantly reduce or even eliminate any guilt you may feel when you decide that you will no longer have it in your home,” Marie told The Guardian. “Keeping an item beyond the time it sparks joy for you will only diminish the care and appreciation you have for the other items in your life.”

Create a digital memory

You can easily digitize things like old photographs, cards and scrapbooks by scanning them in or using an app like PhotoScan by Google. Immortalising them in a virtual record is actually much safer than relying on the physical version anyway, as they’ll last longer! You can also do the same by taking photos of other sentimental items like furniture, clothing and trinkets before you discard them.

Pass it on

Don’t forget, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. So, one great way to do these items justice is to ensure they go to a good cause. Rather than throwing them out in your next street clean-up or taking them to the dump, consider donating them to your local charity shop. That old couch could be the perfect finishing touch in a young couple’s first apartment, or that ugly jacket your dad bought you could help somebody warm tonight. Upcycling (when unwanted items are transformed into new materials or product) is another great option, and stones from old jewellery can be transformed into pieces that are more your style. If the items are still in good condition, you could also consider selling them and donating the money towards a charity your loved one supports, or their next birthday or Christmas present. They don’t need to know!

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