Reduce Clutter | Sentimental

How to Reduce Clutter – Sentimental Items

pile of old slides

Reduce Sentimental Clutter (varandah)

Reduce clutter if you want to simplify your life.  Clutter takes up valuable space, is expensive to move, and most times you don’t even look at all of it. Many Professional Organizers like myself will tell you to declutter sentimental items last because it is more emotional and detailed work. What types of sentimental items create clutter for you?

  • Photographs, slides, videos
  • Collectibles, souvenirs
  • Trophies, plaques, awards
  • Children’s art work
  • Baby clothes, toys
  • Wedding gifts
  • Birthday and special occasion cards, old letters and postcards

If you want to reduce clutter from the sentimental items you’ve held on to for years you are not alone.According to therapist Dr. Robin Zasio, “Sometimes it feels like we should save things simply because they were given to us, not because they’re meaningful or useful.” (2011). We hang on to sentimental items because we feel a sense of responsibility and anticipated guilt if we let them go. These items sit in boxes, storage containers, albums and baskets. They take up space in cupboards, on shelves, garage floors, space under the beds, in closets…all of which could be clutter-free. Imagine what that space could be used for (or not,) if it were clear!

At a time when many of us are thinking about simplifying our lives and downsizing our homes it is useful to revisit which items you really want and need to keep. You literally can’t take them all with you if you plan to move to a smaller house and travel more. If you have difficulty letting go of sentimental items here are some organizing tips designed to get you started:

  • Limit the quantity
  • Display them
  • Repurpose them

Limit quantity to reduce clutter- be realistic

As your San Diego Personal and Professional Organizer I want to assure you that you don’t have to let go of everything, whew!Limiting the number of similar items that you keep can help you streamline your inventory.


  • Photographs, slides, videos – Purge the blurry ones and duplicates. Set a limit on how many photos from each event would satisfy you. Maybe 6 instead of 24 from the birthday party is enough. Maybe 1 view of the same bridge, museum, church, etc. that you saw on that trip is sufficient.
  • Collectibles, souvenirs – Again, set a limit for those you have and maintain that limit for the future.
  • Trophies, plaques, awards – Is 1 trophy per year or event enough to help you retain great memories?
  • Children’s art work – How old are the kids now? Set your limit on how many you will keep; let the “kids” help you decide which ones.
  • Baby clothes, toys – Ask yourself what you are saving them for. If they bring pleasant memories you can keep a limited number of them, perhaps 1 or 2.
  • Wedding gifts – How long have you been married and never used these items? Use or donate them immediately. There is no reason to save them for special occasions…NOW is special.
  • Birthday and special occasion cards, old letters and postcards – Pleasant or unpleasant memories? Discard the unpleasant. Limit the amount of cards from the same person.

Display them to reduce clutter- enjoy them


  • Photographs, slides, videos – Rotate the photos in frames every few months. Convert slides and VHS cassettes to DVD. Scan photos and create digital slide shows.
  • Collectibles, souvenirs – Create a special place to display these items rather than keep them in storage. Change the display at least 4X a year.
  • Trophies, plaques, awards – Display these in areas that will motivate you and those you live with. Hang your plaque next to your child’s plaque in the family room.
  • Children’s art work – Frame them. Photograph and scan them to create a slide show.
  • Baby clothes, toys – Dress up a stuffed animal and display it on a bed or sofa.
  • Wedding gifts – Display and/or use them (see Repurpose below)
  • Birthday and special occasion cards, old letters and postcards – These can also be framed.



Repurpose items to reduce clutter- be creative


  • Photographs – include an old photo in a card or gift to someone. Use photos as bookmarks.
  • Collectibles, souvenirs – Use smaller items to decorate a table setting or add to a wrapped gift.
  • Trophies, plaques, awards – Trophies make great bookends and paper weights. Plaques and awards can be repurposed if treated to be heat resistant as trivets.
  • Children’s art work – Use them as gift wrap or embellishments. Consolidate them and create collages to frame. Give them as framed gifts to relatives.
  • Baby clothes, toys – Pass them on to relatives and friends who are having babies; add a classic children’s book.
  • Wedding gifts – Bowls make great containers for hand towels in guest bathrooms. Vases are good for displaying small items such as shells.
  • Birthday and special occasion cards, old letters and postcards – These make great bookmarks in recipe books. Send them to the person who gave them to you with a current photo and note inside.