Sentiment v Obligation

I know I have written about this subject before but it is one of those issues that are worth revisiting every now and again. Especially for those struggling with it or who have only recently started reading my blog and don’t have the time or inclination to start at the beginning. I know I wouldn’t have that sort of time up my sleeve.

I think most people who read my blog would have a certain number of true sentimental items in their home. These items are often things like baby ID bands, a child’s old teddy, the glasses you toasted with at your wedding, Grandma’s engagement ring… We all have special things that we feel we will never part with. There is nothing wrong with keeping these items after all we are decluttering our homes and if these items are dear to us then they aren’t clutter.

However there is are another kind of  “sentimental” clutter that can pervade your homes. These are  items that we fear have more sentimental value to someone else and we are only keeping them to avoid feelings of guilt or betrayal. Or to avoid that awkward moment when the person who gave it to you notices it is gone. Sometimes this may be true but quite often it is a fear dreamed up in our own mind and the other person involved really wouldn’t care or even remember that they gave it to you in the first place.

Take a look around your home in fact grab a pen and make a list of the sentimental items in your home that you would rather not keep. I am sure you can probably list them all without even looking. These objects are often easy to identify. They are the items that you feel obliged to keep even though they have outlived their usefulness to you or perhaps in some cases never actually had any in the first place. They are usually items given to you as a gift, an heirloom that has been handed down through the family or something made for you by another well meaning person.

The good news is it is actually possible to part with these items with minimal damage to your relationship with the giver. I have managed to give away many such things during my decluttering mission. And believe it or not I have not lost one loved ones affection because of it. Here are a list of some of those items…

  • A calendar holder my father made for me – It was very nice and I am sure another person would love to have it. It soon became apparent that it was not suitable for my needs because I couldn’t turn the pages with out taking it off the wall and pulling the calendar out. I am a person who likes to write my appointments on my calendar and this was just too difficult with this style of holder.
  • A silver tea set my parents gave me for my 21st birthday – I just didn’t like to clean it and it only ever sat there looking pretty and was never used to serve tea.
  • A crystal duchess set my sister gave me for my 21st birthday – It is a bit dated now and I haven’t used it for years.
  • A wooded 21st birthday key plaque my Godfather made me – It has warped over the years of varied weather in the multitude of places we have live and would no longer hang straight on the wall.
  • A granny rug made by my husbands grandmother which didn’t suit my decor.
  • Wine glasses given to us at our wedding.
  • A bead spinner my MIL gave me – I actually gave it back to her and she was happy to have it.
  • Shot glasses that were my Grandmother’s – I gave them to a friend of the family who collects shot glasses.
  • And that engagement ring of my grandmother’s ~ Although I had no plan to let it go it occurred to me last year that my sister is more inclined to wear such things so I decided to give it to her. She was very pleased.

I am sure there are many more things but I can’t think of them right now. Yes I did feel a little guilty parting with some of them and yes I had to give it some serious thought before doing so and yes all of the people involved still talk to me. No most of them wouldn’t even realise that the items are gone and if they do so they aren’t so rude to ask. And no I do not regret it because I should not have to keep something I don’t want in my own home.

So don’t be confused between sentimental value and obligation. If there is something in your home that you no longer and maybe never did want you have every right to remove it. Hand it on to someone else who will appreciate it more. In some cases that may mean handing an heirloom on to someone else within the family. In another case you may want to offer the item back to the person who gave it too you. Maybe you can sell the item or maybe donate it to charity. Either way you should not feel obliged to keep it there.


Allow yourself to declutter something someone gave you, that you don’t really want, but have hung onto out of obligation.


If you have a garden purely for aesthetic reasons why not grow plants that require little or no watering. Purifying water uses a lot of energy and chemicals so the less we waste the better.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Stuff x Emotions ~ A guest post by Andréia It seems funny to talk about emotions and feelings when talking about inanimate objects that can be replaced, but we place emotion and feelings on stuff all the time. It can be good or it […]
  • What Really Matters in your Life Often someone else will turn on the television while I am in the room but I am not really watching it. It is however hard to ignore news broadcasts about all the natural disasters that […]
  • Day 364 Sentiment v Obligation I know I have written about this subject before but it is one of those issues that are worth revisiting every now and again. Especially for those struggling with it or who have only […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. I’m a long-time reader, but first time commenter. Your post really struck a chord with me today and I just had to say something. I recently had a birthday and my mom proudly gave a novelty kitty lint roller. She’s convinced that she still has to get me things for my birthday, but told me that she didn’t want to give me something I would just “throw away.” It was a sad and proud moment for me. I was proud of her for getting me something that I could use, but sad that she thinks I don’t value her gifts and just get rid of them. Of course, this was after she noticed the wine bottle opener set that she got us last Christmas on the wine rack and at the ready.Thanks for the always amazing posts!

    • Hi AMSmith and a belated welcome to 365 Less Things. Don’t be sad I am sure your mother doesn’t think that you don’t value her gifts. My experience is that many people just don’t feel comfortable not giving gifts. It is a lifelong learned habit that is just really hard to break for them. Especially when someone they love is celebrating a special occasion. Why not give her some suggestions of gifts that you would enjoy that isn’t stuff that she could happily give you. I love to receive chocolates, gift certificates for massages, manicures and pedicures, to be taken out for lunch for my birthday or some other special outing. I am sure you have things like this that you enjoy that you could suggest she get you rather than material things. I hope that is helpful and thank you again for your comment.

  2. Idgy of the North

    Thanks for this, Colleen. I am working at feeling less guilt about not wanting an “heirloom” from a family member. I have an antique desk that was my grandmother’s (mid to late 19th century). When I was a teenager, I asked for the desk. Twenty years later, we received it, but it no longer our taste and does not fit well in our home. In discussions with my aunt, it turns out me grandmother bought it from the elderly daughter of the original owners. Not sure why I feel guilty about donating or selling something my grandmother bought at a yard sale! When the snow here eventually melts, off it will go.

    • Hi Idgy of the North, I bet you were thankful to find out the desk hadn’t been in the family for years. That must have made it much easier to let go. It is amazing what a load off your mind it is when you finally part with something that’s presence has been a bother to you. I hope the snow clears soon so you can enjoy that peace of mind.

  3. Colleen I really enjoyed this post and I am impressed of sentimental items you have let go of. As long as I have been married to her son, my MIL has always proclaimed that I am not a sentimental person and therefore no use giving me anything. Initially I was a bit taken aback, although I do acknowledge I’m not an overly sentimental person and certainly not in the same league as other people (no names mentioned) then I realised I’d be given a ‘get out of jail free’ card as I wasn’t bestowed with stuff that I truly wouldn’t want anyway. I realised along the way there is actually a difference, I do have items which I am sentimental about but they are items which have been generated in my life and only I or those extremely close to me (ie husband and kids) that know the story of the item and why I have kept it. Then there are sentimental items which other people ‘gift’ us with. As much as you appreciate their generosity, it isn’t necessarily something that connects with your heart. Does that make sense?

    • That makes perfect sense to me Moni. I have had plenty of items that were sentimental to me that I changed my mind about ounce I realised that they weren’t necessary to remind me of the loved one they represented.

      • Colleen – and I’m thinking the need for that sentimental item may wane over time and if so its ok to no longer classify it as having sentimental value. But this post has clarified to me that what I keep for sentimental reasons has to have sentimental value to me or my immediate family (while they’re living in my house) and not for anyone else’s opinion of sentimental value.

  4. Colleen, this is a great post. My mom still has a number of sentimental items that she keeps. I don’t mind. As long as she is happy I’m okay with it because they are in the glass shelved area of the built in hutch. They will be gone quickly after she passes because I don’t remember them being in my grandparents house and I have no connection to them. I have to say that I am not very sentimental. I think it is because over the years we have moved so much that things have changed and come/gone so there isn’t much that is that old and passed down. I’m glad because we don’t get things given to us that we don’t want.

    • Moving around sure does help a person get over owning stuff. It is funny that it wasn’t until our “final” move was pending that I came to realise this fully.

  5. I am so guilty of this, probably one of my worst areas in the decluttering journey. Logically, there is no one after me to give a hoot about “family” stuff, so I don’t know why I hang on to things that come to me through the family that I don’t even like or use. Argh.

  6. Hi Colleen, I enjoyed reading this post. I think that the idea of sentimental clutter has to be revisited over and over again, because it often seems to be one of the hardest sticking-points (along with the “just in case” clutter). I am becoming much better (greatly helped by articles such as yours) at letting go of unwanted gifts/sentimental things. I tell myself that I really wouldn’t dream of dictating what objects other people keep in their homes, so I shouldn’t accept being treated like that myself. And I know that none of these objects feels remotely sentimental about me, so why should I feel anxiety over them?

  7. Thanks for a brilliant post Colleen, I am going to keep it and re-read it as required! I was astonished the other day when you wrote about the embroidery piece you made when your daughter was born and when she didn’t want it you ditched it! I would have firstly been so upset my daughter didn’t want it and secondly would have stuffed it back in a drawer! Reading about what you have done with sentimental items makes me gasp but also gives me permission to do the same when I am ready. Thanks for some wonderful inspiration!

    • Jenni,
      On the flip side of that, wouldn’t you agree that Colleen and her daughter must have a very loving, close and honest relationship for that exchange to take place. That is the kind of relationship I have with my thirty-something daughter. If you keep in mind that these are “just things”, it will be easier for you.

      • Thank you Kimberley. I think my daughter and I do have such a relationship. I wasn’t the perfect mother and she had her quirks too but all in all we get along very very well. I am very proud of both my kids. They turned out quite well considering all the conflicting parental advice that was thrown at me through the years. We all survived mostly in tact. 😉

      • Hi Kimberley,
        Thanks for your response, yes I agree with you and I am trying to also teach myself and my children that we don’t have to keep everything, even if it is sentimental, it really is “just things”!

    • Hi Jenni, sorry to have given you palpitations that other day over the embroidery. Its OK, I kept the daughter although she has left home now. 😉 At some point I just came to the realisation that I wanted to reduce the clutter more than I wanted to keep it and that sure makes it easy to let go.

      • Glad to know you kept the daughter! I can imagine what you mean about wanting to reduce the clutter more than keeping things, it must be a great relief! I shall keep trying!

  8. Great post Colleen. I’ve certainly become much less sentimental over the years. I am now conscious of my elderly parents increasing frailty and over the last year or so I have worked at letting go of stuff they gave me I am not keen on, because I know it will be 5 times harder once they are gone. That leaves me with plenty I do love that connects me to them.
    Still got a few pieces to go…
    It helps too, that once you become aware of the dangers of sentimental attachment to things you don’t really love or use, it becomes easier to turn things down when offered I the first place.

  9. Great post Colleen. Hello everyone. This is my first time commenting but I have been reading old posts and comments for a while. My daughter moved out on her own about a month ago and one of the things I sent with her was my “good” flatware set. My grandmother had given the set to me (I had picked out the pattern and loved it then) but I only used it maybe once a year or when I needed to wash dishes. Also the pattern was very ornate so it really didn’t suit my style anymore. Due to this blog and all the comments I was ready to let it (and many other things) go. Thank you! Also, I’ve help 2 other families this past year clean out they’re loved ones homes after they past away and I’m ready to get my home cleaned out so my family doesn’t have to go through with that. Also Coleen, I have an embroidered picture frame that my sister made for my oldest son who is now 35. I had thought about a week ago that I should get rid of it because I’m sure my son won’t want it. I set it back down but I’m going to toss it. It’s just thread and a little bit of material, right?

    • Hi Cheryl N and welcome to 365 Less Things. It sounds like you are doing very well with your decluttering, letting go of some serious sentimental clutter. Well done you!