Professional Organizer Jill Katz shares her perspective on organizing sentimental items.  

When organizing with my clients, I always save the sentimental items for last. With my eagle eye, I can spot the box of photos, letters or memorabilia from across the room. I quickly make a beeline for those bins and move them out of the way so my client won’t see it. Why do I do this? Because sentimental items can halt the flow of decluttering and downsizing. It can trip up even the most decisive person.

Ultimately, we do reach those bottom bins. That is when I utilize these organizing tips to help my client pare down their sentimental items:

1. Be realistic
When we label all things as “special” then nothing is special. That is why I have my clients rate sentimentals on a sliding scale from one to five. Ultimately, we keep the 4s and 5s, donate or toss the 1s and 2s. The 3s are put in a “maybe pile” and revisited later. The goal is to reduce your sentimentals to a realistic amount that you can admire, showcase and treasure. 

2. Take a photo and create a photobook
Do you have a piece of furniture in your home that doesn’t fit into your decor or isn’t your style? You can’t use it but you keep it because it belonged to your father and it was his favorite chair. Take a photo of it. In fact, create a photo book filled with pictures of sentimental pieces with a description of the stories behind them. The memory of the object is preserved while decluttering your space. 

3. Create a t-shirt quilt 
Most people have a pile of T-shirts in a drawer or closet that they don’t wear anymore but that they can’t bear to give away. Those camp t-shirts, Vacation T-shirts, or College T-shirts can be made into a quilt that is both functional and memorable. Arlington T-Shirt Quilts & AcrossCountryQuilts are two resources to use.

4. Give it one last spin 
Do you have a fancy set of china that you inherited from a loved one but that isn’t really your style? Or maybe it was yours but you are downsizing and don’t need tableware for 16 anymore. Throw one last party and use the china or dinnerware. Take photos of everyone using the product. Keep the photos and give away the china. This can apply to many items besides china such as music, clothing, or holiday decorations.

5. Donate or sell functional items 
A major motivator to downsizing your sentimental items is to give them to someone who can use them. If you have objects that are sitting around gathering dust, consider those in need that would benefit from those items. Or if those items have held their value, consider selling the object and donating the proceeds to a charity you or your loved one cares about.

7.Think about your legacy 
This is a big mental challenge but an important one. Who are you and what makes up your identity? Are you a Writer, A Parent or Grandparent? The items you keep should remind you of who you are and what you might want to pass down. For example, a box of recipes might be an important representation of your role as nurturer to your family. Or a newspaper article that describes an important contribution you made to your community could be a great reminder of your identity. If you worked for 30 years as a lawyer and your company gave you a memento when you retired, that gift could be a keepsake you would like to display.

I hope these techniques help you on your downsizing journey and into the next step of your life. Remember- sometimes you need to clear the clutter in order to create the mental and physical space to treasure the items that are truly important to you.

Jill Katz is a mindful Professional Organizer and the Owner of One to Zen Organizing. She specializes in clearing the mental and physical clutter for those with anxiety, ADHD or Chronic Disorganization brought on by major life transitions.

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