What Are You Holding on to?

Decluttering sentimental items

So far this year I have rid our home of hundreds of unwanted, unneeded items. Some big, some small, some expensive, some cheap, some important, some meaningless. And I’m proud of how level-headed and realistic I’ve remained. The attraction of a slower home and a simpler life have been strong enough to keep me focused. To see the bigger picture.

And then two cheap Made in Taiwan ceramic figurines, a tacky piece of the Berlin wall and some empty cardboard boxes turned me to tears.

Because sometimes, things are more than things, aren’t they? At least that’s how we feel.

The cheap figurines? Hand-me-downs from my grandmother, to remind me of her when she’s gone. 

That tacky piece of the Berlin Wall? A gift from my Dad when he was on a business trip, to let me know he was thinking of me.

The hundreds of empty jewellery boxes? They are dreams and hopes for my self-founded business. They are also the failures that saw me close the business down.

And we hold on to them.

But in this quest for a simpler, slower life, we need to realise that things are just things. They may remind us of the grandmother once she has passed away, or the love of our father, or the dreams we once had.

But the knick-knacks? They are not my grandmother’s memory.

The Berlin Wall encased in perspex? Not my Dad’s love.

Those empty jewellery boxes? Not my ambition, my intelligence or my dreams.

They are just things. And not even beautiful or useful things. They are things that are a weight on me. Because I don’t love them. I will never use them. But I feel that I have to keep them because someone I love gave them to me. Or because I invested so much time, energy and money into them and what they represent.

So they weigh heavily.

But do you know what I discovered when I finally let go? When I eventually tossed 251 jewellery boxes in the recycling bin?

We can be light instead. We can feel free. Free from useless clutter. Free from failures. Free from whatever we’re holding on to.


Believe me, I understand this is infinitely harder to act on than it is to write.

Confession: I still have the ceramic figures and the Berlin Wall. Which is OK.

But it’s OK because I’ve gone through the process. I truly understand they are not the love, the memory, the realness of the people who gave them to me.

And for you to know what is OK to keep, you need to go through the process too. So tomorrow I will give you three questions to ask yourself when decluttering sentimental items.

But in the meantime, answer this question, “If I was completely free, what would I let go of?”

16 Responses to What Are You Holding on to?

  1. I have so many things around here like that! And you’re right, most of them are just ‘things’. But because they’re special to me, or given to me by special people, I don’t want to part with them. But a lot of the time, I don’t have anywhere to put them either.
    I’ve just joined up to your Bootcamp Brooke…..I really do want a less cluttered home. I’ve always thought ‘cluttered home, cluttered mind’, and that’s the way I feel a lot of the time.

    • Awesome! So glad to hear you’re joining Bootcamp Tracey. There’s quite a lot of us in the first group.

      I know I feel a bit out of control when our house becomes cluttered – I think the Bootcamp will have a tonne of helpful ideas and tasks for you. (Let me know if there’s anything specific you really struggle with too – I’d love to cater some of the tasks to specific troubles that readers have.)

  2. I have been decluttering lately too. It is just these type of items that I get stuck on as well.
    I read an idea to take a photo of these items to hold on to the memory. I’m still to do this. In the meantime I am working on the easy to get rid of clutter. It is a great feeling of being organised:)

    • I have heard the suggestion of taking photos, and I think it’s a really great idea. Particularly for things that might be damaged or that are bulky but still sentimental. Or even things that re downright ugly, yet still sentimental. (We inherited an…interesting…blue velvet recliner from Sparky’s grandfather. A photo of that would be great. ;)

  3. Hi Brooke, have signed up for Bootcamp but have already started a few small de-cluttering projects to get the ball rolling. My problem is that my husband is a bit of a hoarder so it can be quite difficult to actually get things out the door. He’s pretty good in that he mostly hides his crap in the girl-free zones (shed, his cupboard & drawers) but it was quite the commando operation to get rid of those 300 pegs left with us from a soccer carnival 4 years ago LOL. Really enjoy your posts.

    • Thanks Dee.
      It’s hard when one half of the partnership is a hoarder. I used to be the hoarder between Sparky and I! Now I’m the hardcore minimalist. (Not really!) Maybe once he sees the positives in the rest of the house, where you’re able to declutter, he might start to come round.

      Either way though, 300 pegs from a soccer carnival – that’s a good decluttering haul!! ;)

  4. Excellent post! So hard to separate what is real from the material item.

    Dont forget about things like freecycle.org – perhaps someone could have put those jewellery boxes to good use??

    Thats my major problem I HATE waste and seeing things go to landfill so things like swap shuffle share, and freecycle.org really help me to minimalise as I see the things I am not using go to good use.

    • I’m with you on the waste, Shannon. (Although Freecycle is a great tip, and one I’ve never really explored. Note to self – do that!) Believe me, I tried to sell the boxes and tried to give them away. No takers, because they were all branded with my jewellery label logo. It was a hard lesson to learn, seeing those resources go to waste, and one I’m determined not to repeat.

      Thanks for the suggestions though – I feel another post series coming on. :)

  5. Well for me it would be boxes of sewing bits and pieces. Cross stitch patterns that I will not get around to stitching. It must go but, Oh!!! it’s sooooo hard. I’m in on the boot camp too and I’m planning on putting those blinkers on my eyes and just tossing. Oh’ to be free of all that stuff and guilt.
    Blessings Gail

    • Craft items and hobby bits and pieces are hard, aren’t they? I just donated all my beautiful Japanese washi paper (hundreds of rolls) to my daughter’s pre-school. I figured they will get far more use of it than I would having it in the cupboard. But the idea of unfinished projects or times when we just bought too much are hard to face.

      (I can tell you I felt awesome afterwards though! Again, letting go feels so good!)

  6. Hi! I’ve just come across this while looking up a minimalist lifestyle. I think this is really great and have joined up for the boot camp, although I have been de cluttering a lot these past few months, ESP clothing since hearing of the factory in Bangladesh ( that produced joe fresh clothing) that collapsed in April. Been doing alot of research on the fast fashion and has led me to de cluttering my wardrobe and making better choices for purchases of better value and striving towards products not made in china ect but instead in my own country and buying only what i absolutely need. Still along way to go for the rest of the household , ESP with my husband who has shoes he’s had since long before I met him and I’ve never seen wear that he won’t get rid of.

    :) best of luck to you all on your journey through life

  7. Hi Brooke, I came accross your help and tips. I just love your tips on de-cluttering. I have made a note to go over what to do. Paper work first on list. Esp what Need keep/put aside, what to file, best of all What to TOSS. Then I seen your help on the sentimental clutter. I have a lot of work ahead of me. With all your helpfull tips and advice on loads of lifes trials I,ll get there. Thanks soooo much. You should be on TV, honistly

  8. Brooke,
    I see that in summer of 2012, when you posted this great article, I was in the midst of one of the most awful times of my life. Clearing out my mother’s home( my family home, where I grew up), to sell it. Mom was in a nursing home, so we had to sell. We were inundated with sentimental items! Useless items, useful items, lovely items, hideous items, photos, photos, photos, memorabilia from any number of places.
    I could write a book about what happened.
    My family went through it.
    Aaaand, went through hell.
    I could have used your direct encouragement back there. Thankfully, I had just enough help to get through it.
    My mother passed on last year… I still have a lot of the memorabilia in boxes in my attic. Some items I have displayed. I did manage to carefully edit, switch up things, to use the things I do like. Or, did like…
    I became the curator of my family museum. Which is what my parents, and then my mother, had become. Her parents, his mother, her uncle, his aunt, all their things made their way into my home. The house I grew up in.
    I grew to hate the stuff, more and more as I became more and more responsible for my mom’s well being, and her health, her house, and her life. She was overwhelmed by the stuff, too. Oh, she loved a lot of it- but by no means all of it! Far from it. The sheer amount was a huge burden, and the best things were shoved away, not being used and enjoyed.
    I don’t want to make that mistake.
    After an estate sale, a lot of the leftover items( still waaaaay too much) were donated to a thrift shop that supports a cause she supported. Which honored her.
    It even hurts a bit to write this…
    In spring, 2015.
    I am making a good case for your process, Brooke.
    What I went through, and am really still going through, and surely what my parents went through, are all tough examples of the outcome of DOING THE OPPOSITE of your process.
    I am hopefully not too late in the game for better plays, or a new game book altogether!
    Thank you for this. Thank you for reading this.

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