Disassociation Part 5 ~ Sentimental Clutter

Sentimental clutter, the final post in the Disassociation Series. Last but not least that is, because this one can be the most insidious of all of the categories of clutter. It sneaks up on you and binds itself to you like a barnacle to a rock. It can be a beautiful thing and a ball and chain all at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that all sentimental items are clutter. I own sentimental items that I have no intentions of ever parting with and I don’t consider them clutter. I have also decluttered many items that had sentimental value that I wasn’t compelled to keep once I decided what was more important to me, the item or the space. There were also sentimental items that never saw the light of day and under those conditions one has to ask the question ~ How much sentimental value does it have if…

  • I never look at it.
  • I don’t care to put it out on display.
  • I still recall the event, person or place without ever viewing the item.
  • it is more trouble to care for it than I care about it.

Sometimes, I think, we feel obliged to keep these items simply because we went to the trouble of collecting them in the first place and have had them for so long. But as *pol put it so eloquently in a comment this week ~ …this living for today lifestyle is so much EASIER than living with the memorabilia and what-ifs! Everything can breathe. I can breathe. If you feel you are being suffocated by your stuff then why not sort the wheat from the chaff, decide what pieces really mean the most to you and eliminate the rest.

The slow and steady approach to decluttering is a good way to weed out the sentimental items that really don’t hold that much importance to you. To declutter one a day or even one a week is less of a wretch than trying to declutter several at once. Ease in it! Pick an item that you really could live without and send it on its way. Once you feel OK about that move on to another item and do the same. Before long you start to realise that this exercise isn’t so bad after all and you are feeling no residual effect in the way of regret. Choose wisely though and only eliminate when you are sure and ready.

Just to clarify what I mean when I say sentimental item. This is an item that you hold some sort of emotional attachement to. It could be anything form the beautiful china from a passed loved one to a piece of driftwood you collected on a vacation years ago or even a kitchen utensil that you no longer use but was once so helpful to you. We hold allegiances to these items for what they represent while at the same time realise that we want to live a life with less clutter. That trick is to determine which way the scales fall for each individual item and make your choice.

I just read this statement by Peter Walsh which is so relavant to this post that I just had to add it. ~ Holding onto important items from the past is not a bad thing – unless remembering the past becomes more important than living your life today.

Tip: If you are on the fence, so to speak, about letting go of items that brings memories? Why not take photos of them, frame the photos together to enjoy and part with the clutter. You can also scan paper clutter items and save them to your computer where they take up much less real space.

Today’s Declutter Item

Oddly enough this item holds sentimental value for me. I rarely use it these days but I feel a little indebted to it because of its years of good service. Do I have space in the kitchen for it, sure I do. But my kitchen become more user friendly with every item I remove form it. The less cramped my cupboards are the easier it is to find the useful items I use regularly. So I am breaking my ties with this item and letting it go.

Rotary Grater

Something I Am Grateful For Today

I am grateful for the cluster of little shops up the street from my house. It is within walking distance and when I have no idea what to have for dinner I can go up there and ask the friendly butcher what is good today. Then I can go to the little greengrocer to buy any veggies I need to go with it. I could also go to the Sara Lee outlet for a cheesecake dessert. It is all very convenient when one doesn’t have the car and I am helping keep the “little guy” in business.

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. Excellent, excellent advice and I couldn’t agree more. Getting rid of one sentimental item and realizing I don’t miss it has provided even more motivation to get rid of others.

    Also, for items that help trigger memories, but I didn’t feel the need to keep, taking a picture of the item, or scanning them before purging them works great.

    • Hi Candi,
      I always forget to write that advice about photographing and scanning although I have mentioned it many times in other posts. I will go now and add it as a tip at the bottom of the post. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Love your blog. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and wasn’t able to find in numerous books and web sites on decluttering. I don’t need the “organisational” tips that most of these books and sites offer but the multiple insights that you provide on “thinking about stuff” in a way that makes it easier to let go. And your advice on how to sell stuff on eBay or how to recycle also makes the letting go easier when stuff is too good to just “chuck in the bin”.

    And what perhaps makes your site work for me when others don’t, is that it is written by a “commonsensical” down-to-earth Aussie. Bless you, Colleen!

    • Hi Gisela,
      I am glad you found my blog and that it is being of help to you. Clutter build up quite often is more about emotion than anything else, whether that be through sentimental attachment right through to just not being able to bring yourself to tackle the task of physically getting rid of things. That is why once the easy stuff has been rejected and ejected one needs time to come to terms with detaching themselves from the remaining items emotionally.

      Common sense has to play a big part in the detachment in the end because emotions are of little use to the process. I am glad you find me down-to-earth because that is how I see myself as well. Just any everyday person trying to help others clear their homes of clutter.

      Good luck in your quest Gisela and I hope we here from you often with updates of your progress.
      Regards Colleen

  3. This is an area of clutter that I have to be ‘in the right frame of mind’ to deal with. If I am not in that ‘place’ then I may as well not even start! So I often store those sentimental items together in one place so that when the mood does take me I can deal with them quickly and efficiently.

    • Hi Cathryn,
      that sounds like a sensible plan to me. So long as you don’t ignore it totally then there is hope you will reach your desired goal in the end. I think you will find a lot of people feel the same way about this that you do. I for one deal with these things when I am good and ready and that is the best time. There is usually plenty of other stuff to work on in the meantime.

  4. >>>it is more trouble to care for it than I care about it.<<<

    Boy, that sure does bring some perspective, doesn't it?

    That's happened to me with several items I haven't parted with yet, only because they were given to me by my grandchildren or my husband.

    I agree with the poster that says you have to be in the mood for dealing with sentimental clutter. You can't just start hoeing it out willy-nilly, or you might have some regrets.

  5. Hi Colleen,

    Great, fun and inspirational blog! My story is probably one of classic clutter. My father-in-law died in the early 90s, so my mother-in-law came to live with us until she died a few years later, then my husband died four years after that and, two years later, my son moved overseas so I was left with a house full of great sentimental items, on top of my own collection of many years … all of which I’ve lived with until recently, when I decided I was ready to part with most items.

    So any tips and tricks for decluttering are most welcome. I’m a great fan of Freecycle and I donate regularly to recycle centres and op shops, but I’d particularly like to know where I can have old photos and films (and there are quite a few) converted to dvds at a reasonable price in Newcastle. I’m also in the process of scanning many negatives, photos and important documents onto my pc … another work in progress.

    Like you, I enjoy travelling, so would like nothing better than to downsize my home and travel without having to worry about any clutter left behind.

    • Hi Jane,
      thanks for dropping in to leave a comment and welcome to 365 Less Things.
      There are many stories like yours where elderly parents move in and or pass away and things accumulate. It is inevitable to lose parents when they get old but to lose your husband as well must have been a terrible blow. Things must have gotten particularly lonely for you when you son moved overseas. I can understand that it took some time before you were ready to let go of all those reminder or loved ones gone. But a some point the clutter becomes more of a burden than joy and things have to change. Good for you for making the decision to make your life easier by letting go. I hope that my blog will help will that letting go process.

      As for those photos and films ~ my husband has been in charge of that side of our declutter efforts and he actually sends our film strips and colour slides to an on-line digital imaging company called Precious Memories Digital Imaging. He has found them to be good at what they do and cheaper than anywhere that he has price in town.

      Good luck with your decluttering and I hope you have success with your digital imaging needs.

  6. Colleen- I have been reading scores of online articles and blog entries about decluttering for the last six months. I must say you have said the most important things I feel I have gathered in all this time in just one short entry.
    I appreciate your use of the word “disassociate”. How I have been doing this for myself and our family is something I haven’t read anywhere else and would like to share with you. When I keep things boxed away and periodically retreive them they seem to eminate a certain magic, making it harder to let go. So just recently I have been unpacking the objects and enjoying them and seeing if they retain this appeal for me as the days go on. I am telling you 9 out of 10 don’t, and I have been able to recognize the few true treasures I have left. Taking pictures does help, since some items I have kept for visual appeal. Thanks!

    • Hi jbc,
      first of all let me extend to you a warm welcome to 365 Less Thing and thank you for leaving such a great comment. I love this idea about getting those rarely viewed objects out of obscurity and give yourself time to get over the novelty and get into reality as to whether of not they really mean anything. This really is a great approach which I will put into practice immediately. Thank you!

    • jbc, how true it is and how well you put it about unearthing these things and the magic they seem to have! Your suggestion to take them out and see if the magic lasts is what I’m going to try with mine. I have the feeling that I’ll be better able to let them go – after all, if they were all that wonderful, why did I put them away?

  7. wow – I somehow missed this series until now. I am impressed…
    a huge THANK YOU colleen, for putting the feelings that everyone has and knows into nice articles. and thanks to the comments, they are as helpful as the original post.

    I just recently (after reading your blog for motivation) decided to finally get rid of my red doc marten boots that I wore when I lived in scotland for a year. I walked every scottish meter in those shoes and I loved the look of them on my feet. I kept them for 7 years in the closet in the basement, trying to wear them and learning with blisters that there is a reason why they are in the cupboard.
    I had the idea to make a picture of them and then throw them out 2 weeks ago. I think I will keep that strategy for a lot of things that I have. it turns the process of giving it away to a ritual – sort of. like the family picture before the end of the party. 😉

    I just found another category that some people have: “too pretty to use” – I went through a friends clothes (she is a shopaholic, I hope recovering) just recently, and tshe mentioned not just once that this and that item are “too good to wear”. I dont understand this at all, I think its as stupid as when people keep the easter chocolate bunny, instead of eating it… but she has several items. and when I asked her about it, she had also kitchen items that she would never use, in order not to break them as they are so pretty and new.
    I told her to wear and use every item that falls into that category, otherwise I will get rid of it for her. and: a week ago I got a message that she got compliments for the new jacket she wore now more often, thanking me for that… 😉

    • Hi Lena,
      I am glad you discovered that post on sentimental clutter, and yes the comments are just as helpful as the post itself. I am also glad it lead you to decluttering those uncomfortable boots. I have two pair of Keen shoes that have traipsed with me through Europe several times that I will be sad to see go with all their memories but I am looking forward also to justifying a new clean pair. So when the time comes I will gladly fair-well the old pairs and herald in the new.

      As for the too pretty to use category, don’t worry we have been there before but perhaps it is time to revisit that one. I am pleased that you have managed to be a good influence on you friend. Lets hope you can influence her into a little less consumerism as well. If you can convince just one person into a more sustainable lifestyle you can be very pleased with yourself. Good luck, the power of suggestion can be a very powerful thing.

      • hey colleen,
        yeah I feel good about those boots now. Its like waving goodbye to an old friend 😉

        the “to pretty to use” thing was completely new to me until I decluttered with my friend. She asked me to help her on the clothes and some other stuff she had in the attic of friends stored for 2 years (!) and never looked at. I helped her with that, questioning her sentimental values over and over and over again. She had a pretty hard time I think, going through all of this stuff, but I somehow kept the spirit high. During that we managed to tidy up and furnish a new office/guestroom in her house during the decluttering process.
        We filled around 3 boxes of stuff (from decorations and handcraft-materials to books and CDs) and around 5 huge sacks of clothes… thank god she loves fleemarkets, so I told her to do that the next weekends. And before she hasnt earned any money she isnt allowed to buy anything new.
        its fascinating that she is taking my advice (more given as a joke) so serious. I think she just needed someone to kick her in the ***, and now she got “the hang of it” – and she is happy… Those things were bought in a period of her life that was hard on her and she was far away from happy. I think she “treated” herself with purchasing pretty stuff. it not just filled up a lot of space but she lost a huge amount of money on that as well… I think she is eager to change her lifestyle into something more sustainable now, she just needed the start of it. I think help from a person who is not related to the possessions can make the process easier…

        • Hi Lena,
          you may not realise what a beautiful friend you have been to her in this process. You have possibly helped her make a big change for her in her life. What a great influence you have had and a strength for her resolve to move forward. I am sure she will be forever grateful to you.

  8. Dear Colleen,
    I’m a new member, and haven’t posted before. I promise not to be so long-winded in the future.
    I’m at my wit’s end as to the clutter in my house. My mother, who lived through a depression and a world war, was terrified of getting rid of things. Probably because she remembered when everything was hard to get, and clung to everything that might have the most minor of uses. Unfortunately, she actively encouraged the same feeling in me, and I find it so hard to get rid of anything whatsoever. I have a huge deep freeze and two other fridges (food of course, was the thing my mother most worried about), and they’re all full. That’s not my problem though – it’s the old sheets, and the over 2,000 books I have, and old vinyl records, and CLOTHES – I’m sure you get my gist. I bought a “de-cluttering” book, but it was very religiously based, and though I have no objection to any religion whatsoever, it really wasn’t what I was after. I found this site on “Simple Savings”, where I’m a long-term member. Another member had written about you, and I had a real “YES” feeling about it, and was signing up about 5 minutes later. The letters I’ve read, and the two articles of yours I’ve read, give me real hope. However, is there something for a rank beginner to read? I haven’t learned to navigate the site yet, and need this little bit of help to get me started. It seems a bit much at the very beginning of my journey to throw or give away things like trophies etc. lol lol. I HAVE managed to get together a big bag of very serviceable clothes, which is going to the Salvation Army this morning, and I’m very proud of myself. A BEGINNING ! ! ! ! !
    So far, this is a fantastic site, and really will give me a vast amount of help. I’m actually totally HELPLESS on my own.
    Thank you very much for this “light at the end of the tunnel” – I’m thrilled ! ! ! ! !
    All the very best, and a big hug to you.
    Always, Leah.

    • Hi Leah,
      you are so welcome here at 365 Less Things and I wish you all the best on your declutter journey. And it is a journey that will have its ups and down and turns and byroads but ultimately it will lead you to your destination. First lesson is don’t be in too big of a hurry to get there this is a road trip of discovering and learning so appreciate it for what it is and don’t look at the big picture. You may want to do more than one thing a day to begin with since you have a lot of stuff to plough through but just so long as you are doing something everyday that will get you where you need to be. If you can dedicate at least 10 minutes per day to this venture it will pay off in the end. Lesson 1a is to start with the easiest stuff first ~ as you make progress your desire to declutter will overtake your desire to keep stuff and the task will not get any harder. That may sound strange and you will notice I didn’t say easier but what seems like it might me harder will become the easy stuff as your journey progresses. Experience and acquired knowledge always makes thinks les daunting. I have never concentrated on one room at a time I just notice things during my daily meanderings through the house (cleaning, putting away the washing, using things) and just target them as the next thing to go.

      I think I need those two pieces of advice are the best two to get you started. I have had a lot of new subscribers lately and maybe I should write a post welcoming them all on board and share what i am sharing with you. So stay tuned for more good basic advice on how to get started.

      One more tip. If you want to start reading from the beginning of my journey where I begin to discover the joys of decluttering open my web page scroll down the right side until you find the Search bar just below the facebook and twitter buttons ~ type in day 64, hit search and it should show you some choices below ~ click on the link Starting at day 64 and that will take you to my very first post. Start working your way through my story. Don’t waste too much time reading though, just a little each day, because you should be spending your time declutteing.

      Good luck Leah, and just remember if you have any personal questions that you don’t want to share with others please feel free to contact me through my contact page by clinking on Contact Colleen just below the word Things in my blog title.

    • Hi Leah,

      Just know that you are not alone in this. There’s a huge generation of us who live in a time of prosperity but grew up with our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences and fears from war/Depression/immigration. What I hope you will find as you progress is that getting rid of stuff is also letting go of your fear and opening yourself to the possibilities of the future, not the anchors of the past.
      Good luck. We’re here with you. Wendy

    • Hi Leah

      As I regularly go back through Colleens pages, I have fould one that might also be helpful, look up day 113 where she has put lots of ideas

      Wendy W

      • Hi Wendy W,
        thank you for helping Leah out. Here is the link to day 113. Every now and again I get a request to participate in a blogger networking thing where they want me to link to seven post of different categories. I find it all too hard to plough back through them to find post that fit the categories. Perhaps I need a great reader like you to pick them for me. I have written so many now it is a bit hard to pick one I am most proud of, the most popular, one that didn’t get the recognition I thought it deserved…

      • Hello Wendy W,
        Yes, Day 113 sort of puts me at my ease. I get panicky quite easily if what’s in front of me looks too big to tackle. Of course – there is TIME, isn’t there? The tiny things I’ve done in the last few days would honestly have seemed enormous to me, just last week ! ! ! I’m making sure that I stop when I’m fed up, and tell myself “there’s always tomorrow”. My character can easily fall into procrastination, so it will be important for me to do at least one thing a day, but not to be annoyed with myself if I don’t do overmuch.
        Thank you for suggesting Page 113, Wendy – it really picked me up again ! ! !
        All best wishes, and a hug for you. Leah.

  9. Welcome Leah,
    I second the comment from Wendy B, we’re all in this together and we all found this site for the same reason, we all have clutter in one way, shape or form, no matter what the task start little & slow and you’ll build momentum and confidence to let go of whatever you need to let go! I like to chip away at things as I find them and if there is one tip I can give you it’s keeping a tab on what you get rid of. Everytime you post here let us all know how you’re going, eg: day 1. 15 magazines,
    day 2. 4 t-shirts. The Mini-missions are fabulous for getting you going. I found that as I pared down my items and opened up space I was counting things as they left, for some reason it gave me a lot of satisfaction to see the number of things adding up on paper, or screen as they went out the door! Now deep breath, and smile, this is your first day of ‘Living more with a lot less’. You go girl & we’ll be right here to cheer you on.

  10. Hi Leah,
    Hang in here. You are sooo not alone in this. Colleen’s “one item, or 10 minutes a day” system really does work. Because she doesn’t get “heavy”, it’s very easy to stay with her on our journey, and if you start with the “why am I keeping this, I don’t really want it?” things, you will be at it long enough for a new mindset to develop! I’ve been at it all year, probably the world wouldn’t see a great difference in my home, but every time I open a cupboard or drawer, finding what I want is ever-easier, and things so very much less crowded ….. just a little at a time – often – is the answer.
    Good travels on your “journey”.

  11. Hello everyone,
    Thank you so much for the welcome. I DID take the load of clothes to the Salvation Army – and have to chuckle at myself that I don’t even remember some of the things that went in the bag ! ! So . . . how much did I need THEM? I felt SO good about it, too. Clothes are my thing right now, and they are what I’m concentrating on. The ones that have gone were in the spare wardrobe, and I now have to be totally real, and look at the wardrobe in my bedroom, which is so full (and so big) that I can’t find anything in there, anyway. I’ve had a really honest chat with myself about these “treasures” of mine, and I know that there are clothes in there I haven’t looked at for about 5 years, and wouldn’t fit me any more anyway. Some of them are really lovely, brand new, and never worn. I just “wanted” them. Today, I shall take 5 things out, and put them in a bag, and take them to Town on Tuesday – when I shop again. I shall add 5 things every day till then, well I HOPE I will, lol.
    Again, thank you for the lovely welcomes, a little longer, and I shall really have joined you.
    All the best, and a hug to all. Leah.

    • Hi Leah,
      well done mate. You have obviously got your head in the right place for this and are ready to tackle your demons. Good for you and good luck with your five a day pledge.

      How do you feel about staying away from the shops and not falling back into bad habits. One of the biggest keys to decluttering is not to reclutter while you declutter. Check out this my guides page for more decluttering tips and tricks

  12. Colleen,
    It’s not staying away from the shops that I need. I go shopping with a strict list, and buy nothing that’s not on it, other than particularly good food specials. I live almost 50 kms away from shopping, and then it’s in a small country Town, so I only go every couple of weeks.
    It’s eBay and the rest of the net that really gets to me. I sit at my computer looking out over my lovely land, and buy away with gay abandon. I mean, I NEED that food processor, don’t I? NOT. And those wonderful cool ponchos are so cheap and so PRETTY. I could do with a couple of them, surely? NOT.
    On the plus side – on day 4 of my being with you, I now have another half bag of things from the wardrobe to go to the Sallies – really nice things, but already I barely remember what’s in there ! ! ! I am ashamed of myself, actually. Seven eighths of the world doesn’t have enough to eat, and I’ve spent all this money (that I don’t really have) on “STUFF”. Believe it or not, I’m an almost rabid Activist, and spend a lot of time on the computer, writing letters and signing Petitions about anything from the demonstrations in Sydney, to saving the Alpha male from a small pack of wolves in Ohio. I am passionate about all this; I wonder if I feel as if I DESERVE all these THINGS for caring about the rest of the world so much. Just a thought that occurred to me as I write here. A friend of mine has suggested that I sell the really nice clothes I don’t want on eBay, and then donate the money I may hopefully get for them to a couple of my favourite animal charities. Thoughts on this idea, please.
    Incidentally, I haven’t bought anything at all on the net since the day I signed up here – it’s beginning to seem ridiculous to me now.
    Thank you so much for this site.
    All best wishes, and a big hug. Leah.

    • Hi Leah Jones,
      internet shopping is an insidious thing and my best advice is to just go cold turkey. You have gone four days now and you already are starting to see what a futile pastime that was. I don’t like the idea of shame or the opposite pride but it doesn’t hurt to be a little ashamed, just enough to make you think twice every time you are tempted to sit down and cybershop. Since you are an activist why not pledge to do the right thing by the environment by not participating in rampant consumerism. Every item that is manufactured is raping the environment of natural resources and pumping pollutants into the atmosphere. If that doesn’t encourage you to stop nothing will.

      As for selling the clothes on ebay and donating the money to charity, that’s not a bad idea. Ebay now offers 30 Insertion Fee Free Auctions per month so there is no risk of throwing good money after bad when things don’t sell. The ending fee is higher but who cares so long as you managed to sell it. If you decide to do this make sure you time it so your auctions end a day or two before your trip into town so you can get the items posted ASAP. There are two drawbacks to this idea though. One is that it may lead you into temptation to buy stuff while you are at ebay checking how your auctions are progressing. And two, the stuff isn’t leaving you house quickly and easily which could become a disincentive to keep ploughing away at it. If you make it too hard it might put you off. If you enjoy selling on ebay though, go for it.
      Your comment has highlighted the fact that you are really thinking about your past behaviour and that is a good thing. Analysing why we do things usually put us on the better path so keep it up. Don’t be hard on yourself when you discover things you aren’t so proud of just be glad that you have seen the error of your ways and rejoice in that knowledge and change direction. I really think you are on the right path Leah so keep it up.


  1. […] have come to the last of the kinds of clutter that Colleen at 365 Less Things discusses that are difficult to disassociate from:  Sentimental Clutter. Sentimental clutter, the […]

  2. […] have come to the last of the kinds of clutter that Colleen at 365 Less Things discusses that are difficult to disassociate from:  Sentimental Clutter. Sentimental clutter, the […]

  3. […] – Declutter a sentimental item that, if you are honest with yourself, you never pay any attention […]

  4. […] have come to the last of the kinds of clutter that Colleen at 365 Less Things discusses that are difficult to disassociate from:  Sentimental […]