For Jennie, it was her collection of Swarovski figurines. Collected over decades of travels and gifted by family and friends on birthdays and holidays, her collection numbered close to one hundred animals, Disney characters, flowers, and other objects housed in glass cabinets in her dining room. For her husband, Mark, it was his sports memorabilia. Framed photos, autographed balls, trophies, jerseys, ball caps, and even an original Fenway Park stadium seat, lined the walls of his study.

The problem? Jennie and Mark were downsizing to a condo half the size of the home where they raised their children. They didn’t have the space to keep most of their furniture, let alone their extensive collections.

Your Kids Aren’t the Answer

“Every time I bought a new figure or received one as a gift, I never thought about having to part with them,” Jennie said, “I guess I assumed one day my daughters would have them, but they aren’t interested.”  

Mark was a bit more pragmatic, realizing his daughters would not feel the same attachment to his sports collection. Still, the idea of parting with so many prized possessions caused him more distress than leaving the house he shared with his family for fifteen years.

“I was excited about the move, the downsizing,” Mark said, “Not having a big yard to take care of or the expense of maintaining a large house? I couldn’t wait. But when it came to deciding what we could take and what we couldn’t– that was when the anxiety set in.”

Jennie and Mark held some loving but lively discussions over their collections and ultimately decided that each would keep their five favorite items. Hers now resides on a shelf in their bedroom, while his hang in the hallway wall in their new condo. They donated the remaining collections to an auction benefiting their local emergency shelter.  

Whether it’s a collection of souvenirs, family heirlooms, childhood mementos, or your children’s artwork, parting with items that hold great sentimental value can be quite stressful. It doesn’t matter whether the items have monetary value or not; in fact, often the most difficult things to part with are worthless in terms of money, but priceless in sentimental value.

Misplaced Meaning

Our memories reside within us, not within our possessions.

Psychologists say that letting go of sentimental items can be more therapeutic than hanging on to them. When we keep things for sentimental reasons the items occupy both physical and mental space in our lives. It’s healthier to focus on your memories and not the items that represent your memories. 

If your focus is on items, “things” can start to become more valuable than the intangibles in your life. Think of it this way, if you were to lose your sentimental items to a robbery, fire, or flood, you may feel as if you have lost everything when in reality, those things were merely representative of your memories, which you can keep forever.

Letting go of physical stuff also helps to bring your focus to the present. Sometimes having continual reminders of the past keeps people from living in the present. If you are continually dwelling in the past, you may be more prone to depression or have difficulty dealing with stressful situations in your life. 

One way to break that pattern is to develop a gratitude practice. Focusing your gratitude on each present-day helps you realize that while we can always cherish our memories, we don’t need the past to be happy in the present.

To help you part with your childhood teddy bear, your children’s baby teeth, or your grandmother’s spoon collection, we’ve put together some ideas to make parting with sentimental items easier: 

Scrapbook

Take a photo of each piece, or groups of items, and paste them into a scrapbook. Write your memory of where each item came from and why it is special to you. This way you can take a trip down memory lane without keeping the actual items.

Go Paperless 

Photographs, newspaper clippings, recipe cards, letters, and other paper mementos can be digitized and stored on a flash drive for safekeeping with services such as Legacybox.com.

Find Like-minded Collectors

Before you drop your collection off at Goodwill, take a little time to find another collector in your area who would be happy to “adopt” your collection. Knowing that someone else will cherish your items as much as you did can help lessen the pain of letting go.

Let Go of Guilt

People often hold onto an item they don’t want or need because someone special gave it to them. Learn to let go of the guilt associated with getting rid of gifts you can’t use. Appreciate the thoughtfulness of the giver but pass the gift on to someone else who can use it or donate it to charity.

Start Easy

If you have a lot of belongings to sort through, start with the easier decisions and work from there. Often people find that once they get some momentum going it feels good to let go.

Play Favorites

Like Jennie and Mark, you might keep a small number of favorites and let go of the rest. For example, if you are ditching the family china, keep one teacup and saucer to display or use. If you have a bin full of your children’s school memorabilia, pick one piece of art or writing by each child to be framed or put in an album, or combine several into one collage.

Don’t Save it for Your Kids

You may have depended upon hand-me-downs from your parents to start your household, but today more adults can buy their own furnishings and set up a house long before they register for wedding gifts.

Forget about holding onto your china, crystal, and silver tea service– no one wants them. You might be able to sell service pieces to a site such as replacements.com or through a consignment shop. You are also doing your children a favor by getting rid of belongings that may be painful for your children to sort through after you are gone.

Compromise with Family

It’s not uncommon for one spouse to resent the others’ collection while holding onto their own. It’s important to recognize that, while you may not understand your husband’s need to keep a t-shirt from every 5K race he ever entered, he may feel the same way about his t-shirts that you do about your wall art quotes. Decide together on a reasonable number to keep.

Write Your Memoir

What better way to immortalize your life than to write it all down. Keep the memories fresh but discard the stale cheerleading sweater. A memoir doesn’t have to be newsworthy, and it doesn’t have to be published. You can write it in journal form, in first-person, or as a collection of stories. It can span your entire life or focus on particular events or phases. Writing your story can be very therapeutic and can help you release your hold on tangible items.

About Deb Ingram

Deb is a health coach and award-winning health and wellness writer covering plant-based nutrition, fitness, sustainable living, mental health and relationships. Deb also writes for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and manages YouOnPlants.com, helping people eat more veggies. She lives near her daughter in St. Petersburg, Florida, and travels often to Southern California to visit her son. Deb enjoys nature parks, restaurants with vegan options, movies, and the end of hurricane season.

View all posts by Deb Ingram

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