The Best Way to Say Goodbye to Sentimental Items

The Best Way to Say Goodbye to Sentimental Items

A lot of decluttering methods are intimidatingly objective, prompting you to make split-second decisions about what stays and what goes and not allowing yourself to get too sentimental about anything, but to focus on each item’s usefulness in your life. Some methods, like KonMari, leave a little space for things that only bring you joy, but for the most part, you’re just supposed to part with things that don’t serve you.

The problem is, it’s hard to quantify how a sentimental or emotionally meaningful item serves you at all. Letting go of your kids’ old art projects or mementos, for instance, is pretty emotional, even though you’re probably never really going to use (or even look at) that macaroni art from 1997 again. In my family, we tackle this problem by holding “remembrance nights” before parting with these sorts of items. Giving them a formal sendoff recognizes the value they hold, and gives you a chance to reflect before you part with them. Here’s how it works.

How to hold a remembrance night for sentimental objects you need to get rid of

The last time I was home visiting my mother, she greeted me with a tower of storage boxes full of items from my childhood: old school assignments and art projects, tons of photos, and trophies and plaques of all kinds. She told me she wanted to get them out of the house, but wanted to give me one more chance to look at them and take a little trip down memory lane before she nuked them. She said I could hold on to anything really important, but for the most part, all of it would be tossed or donated the next day.

We sat for hours on the living room floor, digging through yarn-bound construction-paper journals from first grade, pictures of our family in front of Mount Rushmore and at Disney World, and the school assignments and mementos that provided physical proof that I have always been a huge nerd.

In the end, I held on to very little from those boxes—a trophy I won when I beat a specific rival in an extracurricular event in 11th grade, two cards from my late father, and a few pictures I wanted to frame. I took pictures of a few funny things (like a childhood journal entry where I opined that it should be illegal to hurt someone’s feelings) in case I wanted to revisit them later. We also set aside some photos to digitize, with the mutual vow to throw them away once they were safely in the cloud.

Beyond that, the simple act of seeing everything one last time was fulfilling—a finite way to revisit my memories without burdening myself with a storage unit’s worth of stuff that would look like old junk to anyone but me. I found it eased the pain of parting with this symbolic representations of the past, and it can help you too.

Why this works

As sad as it was to get rid of the tangible evidence of my childhood, in my heart I understood that I don’t really need it anymore, and neither does my mom. It’s all just stuff. It doesn’t bring my childhood back. It just takes up space. And, as my mom says, “What’s the point of holding onto the past?”

Keeping items closed away in boxes isn’t meaningful. Looking through those boxes together was fun. We laughed and cried, revisited our memories, rediscovered ones we’d forgotten, and made new ones, and to say goodbye. We were also able to do a final sweep for anything we might not be ready to part with, like rare photographs. It all made untethering ourselves from the junk a lot easier.

How to prepare yourself to get rid of sentimental items

If you’re having a hard time letting go of old, sentimental stuff, start by putting all of it into a box and leaving it alone for a while. (If it has all been sitting in boxes for years already, congratulations: You’re halfway there.) Next, gather your friends or family (or go it solo) and hold your remembrance night. Take the time you need to go through, touch, read, look at, laugh at, or cry over every item in the box, one by one. As you do, sort each thing into one of three boxes: one for things to throw away, one for things to donate, and one for the few items you still want to keep.

Donating is especially helpful in a sentimental situation like this: It’s nice to know the things that you valued are going to be valued by someone else too. My mom took all my trophies and plaques to a memorial shop in town, for instance, where they will be turned into new trophies and plaques for other little nerds (or, perhaps, athletes). I don’t know who will get them, but I do hope they’ll be as excited about them as I was in the 11th grade.


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