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When it comes to decluttering and getting rid of meaningful items, there are two schools of thought: You can acknowledge you’re not using them and that they have no purpose, then chuck them; or you can get pretty emotional and make excuses for holding onto them. I’m a big proponent of getting rid of stuff, but I get that it can be hard. Here are a few ways to let go of meaningful stuff while giving yourself space to get in your feelings.

Cull your sentimental items respectfully

I like this advice from Be More With Less, since these three ideas give you room to cherish, respect, and say goodbye to the mementos you want to part with.

First, build up to the big stuff. I’ve been on a major decluttering mission for a few months now and I didn’t start on day one by tossing out my stack of old birthday cards. It’s easier to throw out receipts, garbage, broken items, and junk—so do that. You can follow a technique like the calendar method, giving yourself a certain amount of items to throw out every day, working up to throwing away anything with emotional value. In this case, think of your brain as a muscle; it needs to be trained to get rid of things. You have to work up to this, not dive in right away.

Next—and I really like this one—express how the items make you feel. Take pictures of them. Write about them. Invite a friend over to help you and tell that friend the story of the item, why you held onto it, and what it’s meant to you. Holding space for the item (and maybe even making new memories in the process) is a good way to honor it, even if you know it needs to go. When I’m getting rid of old photographs, I snap quick pics of ones that mean a lot to me but I know I’ll never really go digging through a physical album to see again. Let the item live on through a story or photo, so you can let go of the real thing.

Finally, for anything you’re really having a hard time letting go of, use it one final time. If it’s cookware from your grandmother or a nice necklace your ex gave you, use it. But do it intentionally. Enjoy the item, be mindful while you use it, and recognize this will be the last time you do so, so you’d better make it count. Give it a little sendoff and be grateful for all you got out of it.

Of course, if any of these items are in good condition, you can donate them, too. There can be a sense of joy that comes with knowing that even if you can’t use or store something, it can live on with someone else who might really love it.

Why taking time to throw sentimental items works

There are a lot of techniques out there that suggest you make snap decisions about throwing things away when you’re decluttering and I tend to agree with them. The longer you deliberate over something and the more meaning you drag out to attach to it, the less likely you are to get rid of it—and since you can’t live in the past and that doesn’t help you in the present, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Still, that can be hard. It’s not fun to let go of old macaroni drawings, not because you want to display them, but because it means accepting your children have grown up, you know? Giving each thing a sendoff and an intentional goodbye could be the answer you’re looking for when “just get rid of it” doesn’t cut it.





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