Defining Sentimental Clutter

Taking into consideration the theme of yesterday’s mini missions I thought that I would write a post today about defining sentimental clutter. One would be forgiven for thinking that if the item has sentimental value then it isn’t clutter and on the face of it I would agree. When I refer to sentimental clutter though I am really talking about items with a personal history element to them that we keep even though we don’t like them enough to use them or even go out of our way to look at them. In some cases we may have lost all interest in these items some time ago but keep them because we feel it is the done thing to preserve that history. Worse still sometimes we keep them because we feel duty bound to do so simply because someone else gave them to us.

There is no limit to the type of items that can fit into this category people keep all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Locks of hair, books, clothes, furniture, trinkets, jewellery, tools, toys, china, cutlery, shoes, kidney stone yes that’s right I said kidney stone. Check out this post from Day 341 and especially take time to read the comments and you will find out what truly bazaar stuff some of my reader have lurking in their homes.

Quite often the longer we hang on to this stuff the harder it is to part with afraid of some future regret of wishing we had it back. Even more often we wish we had never kept it in the first place because now we feel we are stuck with it.  I kid you not I have come across plenty of people wanting to declutter their homes who wish the place would just catch fire when the family is out so they don’t have to deal with making the decision to divorce themselves from these “sentimental” items.

The thing to remember is that you will always have your memories and stuff really doesn’t matter. Sometimes we place far too much importance on stuff. We tie our memories, our achievements and  our losses to this stuff and that makes it very hard to part with. The stuff merely jogs our memories it doesn’t contain them. It is not disrespectful to anyone to pass on items that you no longer want. It is your home and you and only you should decide how you want to live in it. If your desire to live a life with less is stronger than your desire to keep things you no longer need, want or use then you are free to do what you want with those things. And if our memories do fade the stuff won’t mean anything to us anyway.

Today’s Declutter Item

Sentimental clutter can exist in the form of vacation souvenirs. This cute little Harrods bear really lends no special meaning to our lives so we have no need to keep it. It would be easy to cling on to this for years to come as a reminder of a wonderful holiday but we have plenty of memories without the clutter so out it goes.

I am grateful from anything that brings me joy.

  • Finding the enthusiasm to do a couple of odd jobs about the house that I have been ignoring.
  • Having coffee with my friend Amber – This has become a Monday ritual.
  • Knowing what I am cooking for dinner – having all the ingredients in the pantry to make it with. I love being organised for dinner.
  • A early morning phone call from my girl – It is nice to just chat sometimes without any reason.
  • Good Friends that help me out when I need it.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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Continue reading with these posts:

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  • Transient Stuff Much of what comes into my home these days is transient. Aside from groceries much of what does come in is free, secondhand, or both. And I have to say it makes it a whole lot easier to […]
  • Coming full circle ~ By Nicole V He awoke with a start, his heart pounding from the strange dreams that he’d had. He had no idea how long he’d slept. The inky darkness stretched all around him … and the silence, the […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Okay, I have a weird one. My BIL had their 6th child and on one hand this little cutie had 6 fingers and on one foot YES 6 toes. They were removed and yes, he has them in a jar in a solution to preserve them.

    • Hi Heather,
      Ok that is strange on more than one count. And on that note I would like to say welcome to 365lessthings and thank you for dropping in and leaving a comment. Oh goodness! Now I realise there is a 666 implication there as well. I think you have just surpassed everyone else when it comes to the strangest clutter. Did you read the post that I linked to back on Day 341, there was some pretty strange stuff there as well.

  2. Mini mission Monday and this post got me thinking about a vase. It’s a cheap vase, really ugly (as in really, really ugly) so I keep it hidden, but it belonged to my grandmother who passed away in 2005 and whom I loved very much. I thougrouly dislike that vase, but whenever I get my hands on it to get hid of it, I remember my grandmother, and lots of memories come back, and I end up putting the vase right where it was hidden. How can I make myself get this vase out of my house? I think it’s sentimental clutter, but although my mind knows it, I can’t get it away from me because of the guilt.

    • Hi Andreia,
      there is no need for there to be any guilt. You clearly loved your grandmother and you have her memory stored away in your mind there is no need to store an ugly vase as well. I have gotten rid of every piece of sentimental clutter from my grandmother that I don’t love or use and I have no problems with that.
      Maybe the vase is valuable and you could sell it and buy something you actually like to remind you of her. If not here are a couple of ways to look at it…
      1. If you moved house and somehow the vase got broken and you had to throw it out how happy would you be. If the answer is VERY then get rid of it.
      2. Imagine your grandmother looking down on you and thinking – “Of all the things to keep to remind her of me. That is the ugliest thing I ever owned and now it is tormenting her as well.”
      3. If you have something else to remind you of your grandmother even if it is just a photo then display that and get rid of the vase.
      4. If you look at this vase and the first thing you think of is how ugly it is then perhaps it is tainting her memory rather than enhancing it.

      Just remember memories are not about stuff and the person that is passed would only want you to be happy and live your life the way you wish.

      • Thanks Colleen! I have many wonderful, beautiful and very useful things that my grandmother left me. I am getting rid of that vase this minute! She probably is looking down at me and thinking: “Why is she keeping that thing?”. Thanks for making me laugh.

        • Hi Andreia,
          good for you! Take a photo of it first and tag it with the line “I am sure you even thought is was ugly Grandma so I have gotten rid of it”.

      • Haha! I love this way of looking at it. I’m thinking of a vase of my own at the moment! This will definitely help.

      • Thank you Colleen, the second example got me laughing and thinking. I have saved a pair of beautiful white shoes that belonged to my mother. They looked great on her and she loved them. Yesterday, I tried on those shoes and I realised that they don’t look good on me. They looked awful. So awful that I could hear my mom’s voice going “oh my goodness…no no no…honey, please get rid of those shoes”. Yes, mom. They are already in the donations box.

        • Hi Anne,
          it is amazing how we can release ourselves from things just with the benefit of a different way to look at the situation. It just proves that our attachment is really just a state of mind. I am glad you have found a way to let go and at the same time enjoyed a laugh with someone (your Mom) who is still strong in your memory. Hopefully now every time you see a white pair of shoes you will think of her and laugh.

  3. My Mom has a number of items of sentimental clutter. Thankfully, we have a huge built-in hutch at the end of our dining room with the two sides being glass doored, glass shelving units. For the most part, her sentimental items are in there where they are out of the way, look nice and don’t have to be dusted often. They still bug me though. Mostly because they have never been used. They just sit there.

    I have learned something in the last few years. Pictures are just as good as the item. For one thing you can either put them in a scrapbook or album with journaling about them or write on the back. This way not only you know the story but so does anyone else (like your decendents). I don’t know how many times now I have helped pack up a relative’s or friend’s relative’s home after a death and no one knows the stories behind most items they have saved. There are also usually a huge box of photos with no notations so others can know who they are. I think that is sad. So I suggest that people take more pictures of places and people they want to remember, save few things unless they are really special (the quilt your great-great-grandmother made, the glass cookie jar your great-grandfather made, etc) and get more pictures of the people with the things. My mother has kept things her mother had. I don’t remember ever seeing them out on display before grandma died. I think they were packed away. Mom doesn’t know much in the way of how grandma got them. They are things like teacups, vases, and other “dishes”. They have never been used as far as I know. I’d much rather have pictures of the family using the items or pictures of the people that treasured the items.

    • Hi Deb J,
      you are so right here. My parents have lots of photos at their house of relatives long gone and I keep promising myself to spend some time getting Dad to help me identify them for future reference but it never happens. One day he will be gone and the photos will mean nothing.

      As for documenting the meaning behind stuff, it sure would make it that much more special. The other side of that coin is that it would then add another layer of sentiment that makes it harder to get rid of. Sometimes I think it would be good to photograph and document the items and then donate them to a local museum where they can be appreciated by more than just a handful of people.

  4. I totally agree with taking a photo of the object – that really works for me. I still get the memory without the clutter. Having a little note attached would be even better!

  5. I need “things” to jog certain memories of the past, like events, trips, etc. (not people, I’m fine there). But the comments today have helped me realize that a picture can provide the same cue, and take up a lot less space.

    Isn’t it strange how, like Colleen said recently, you can read the same thing over and over but one day it finally clicks.

    • Hi Jo,
      i repeat myself an awful lot here at 365lessthings but there is more than one reason behind that. Firstly, the subject of clutter has very few subtitles and second, there are many ways you can say the same thing before you say it just right for a reader so it is worth repeating.

  6. Ah, “the fear of the regret in the future”. That is such a powerful one I find. And intellectually I know that the memory is suffcient, I don’t need the object but if I am honest, when I get rid of some stuff, I feel in physical pain in my stomach for several days and horrible anguish. I know myself well enough now that I just have to ride it out and it fades after a few days, and later comes the relief and freedom. So I put myself through this more and more because I’m loving the release of fewer things. But going through the pain barrier and heightened anxiety is horrible. And I can feel this over such ridiculous things too.
    I also confess, that I never think “do I love this enough to keep dusting it?” because I don’t really dust very much. It’s the one cleaning job I’ve never really embraced outside of the bathroom and kitchen.

    • Hi Katharine,
      good for you pushing through that pain barrier. It can be hard sometimes but if you are drowning in the clutter it is worth the struggle.

  7. No more souvernirs for me. I always regret them after coming home.

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      I couldn’t agree more. Buying stuff with instant sentiment attached is just asking for trouble later on.

    • I agree with this. I don’t buy souvenirs at all (unless I can eat them). I’d rather chronicle my travels in a diary that I can reread in the future. One thing I’ll never declutter are the diaries and journals I’ve made during my life.

  8. I looked at other comments and as Jo said “Isn’t it strange how, like Colleen said recently, you can read the same thing over and over but one day it finally clicks.” Well, after reading this post and Colleen’s answer to my question I got hid of that UGLY VASE! It was just ONE OBJECT, but I feel relieved.

    • Fantastic!Well done you… and hurray for Colleen’s wise words.

      I’ve definitely moved on now to stuff it never occured to me before to even consider getting rid of. The more you do this, the more your eyes are opened I think.

      • Hi Katherine,
        that is what I found too once I got started. The things I thought I would never get rid of are long gone and I have never looked back. That is why I like doing the decluttering slowly and deliberately. I have learned so much over the last fourteen months and it feels good to share that knowledge with others and help them let go.

  9. I love your Harrods Teddy – cause it sparks the other side of this decluttering coin for me. I don’t buy as much now days – and namely souvenirs. I’ve created ‘traditions’ with travel (which I do a lot of). A new silver charm for each country (or city in my country of residence). And postcards, which accompany photos in a travel journal I write as travelling, so when I return I’m only a few days behind, and family and friends have something to enjoy. It works for me, but it does make lots of my holiday have an internal dialogue of ‘what will you do with it? will it collect dust, how will you use it’ etc etc etc. Sometimes, that feels a bit sad.

    • Hi Snosie,
      I know exactly what you are saying here. My husband and I usually come up with something funny that was said in our travels and just out of the blue sometimes he will say that something and we will both have a good laugh. Last holiday it was – pocking fun at travellers who don’t pack light – Every time I travel I pack heavier. Now when we see someone with a large suitcase all he says is “every time” and we look at each other and laugh. I know we are mean but they don’t realise we are laughing at them. Also food will trigger memories and photos so we don’t need anything else.
      i wouldn’t worry about that internal dialogue it is better than the one that goes “why the hell did I buy this crap”. 😆

    • Hi Snosie,

      You could write the postcards as you go & mail them to yourself. Then you would have a “journal” of what you did, when (postmark). 🙂


  10. I’ve been debating just such a thing today. It’s a toy pig that I made with my mom when I was four 🙂 It used to be pink cotton flannel, now it’s disgustingly stained and discolored (yellow) and there is absolutely none of the fluffy flannel left. It is currently living in my daughter’s toybox and and it’s name is Cotton. DD doesn’t play with it… so I’ve been thinking it should go live in the memorabilia box (which is VERY tiny!) OR I should get rid of it :/ (A photo would definitely be taken.) I am feeling very sentimental about it and it will feel bad getting rid of it. But if it will just get shoved in a box… then why keep it? I keep thinking that ANY sentimental stuff I keep will one day become a burden that my DD has to go through and agonize over. Like, “oh but this was mommy’s Cotton Piggy that she made together with Grandma, I and I used to suck his little red nose when I was a baby..” Aaaagh!!!

    • Hi Cat’sMeow,
      that is a tricky one. You know all the when, where, who and what details of this sentimental object but like you say it is getting a bit disgusting. You really have two choices one is to take a photo and record the history of the object with the photo (even better if you have other old photos of you with it when you were young) and part with it or tuck it away in the keepsake box. I know that you have minimised your possessions down to the bare bones so it is not as if you can overlook it for now and deal with something else. But since you are so organised you could just put it aside for now until you are ready to make the decision. The idea of decluttering is to remove the unused, unloved objects not to devoid your home of everything dear to you and with some things it is just best to wait until you are ready.

      • Yes.. I’m still procrastinating on this a little bit. I know it has been hard for me to get rid of things that have memories of my mom since she passed away, and this is among one of the most sentimental there is.. But I have her hand knitted cardigan, beautiful black and white photographs of her, and a diary she wrote about me when I was a child and an old desk that she used too as a teen… So I will still have things. (Okay there is a house full of stuff still to be dealt with when my dad decides to sell the house.. It’s not like I don’t have anything to remember her by.) I’m leaning towards getting rid of it because it does look gross (though I have washed it in the machine, the stains are permanent however) and DD doesn’t play with it. Ah well. I don’t have to decide right now. Thanks Colleen 🙂


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