“Having or arousing feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia, typically in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way”
It is possible to disagree with the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a word, right?
Okay, the first part of it isn’t too bad. Yes, sentimental feelings can be sad as well as tender or nostalgic. This being the case, I believe it’s imperative to have happiness in there somewhere i.e. ideally there would be pure happiness, maybe happiness tinged with sadness and (at a push) sadness tinged with happiness.
Not sadness on its own though. That would just be sad.
But exaggerated and self-indulgent? I disagree. Not to the person feeling it anyway and that’s what matters. The sentimental feeling has been invoked for good reason. It’s real. You have every right to feel it.
Having said all of that, the feeling may need to be gently questioned. Unpicked slightly. Mulled over and probed. Just so you can be sure it is what you think it is.
That’s where a decluttering expert comes in (find out about the story of A Tidy Mind)
When working with clients, sentimental items are, hands down, the most challenging category of possessions to deal with. If I am with someone in, say, their kitchen and we come across a sentimental item (and I immediately know this is the case because there is the inevitable pause and change in atmosphere) I ask the client to place it in a box already laid out, ready for such items.
Decluttering is a muscle. The more you use it the stronger you become and the more weight you can bear. The beginning of a decluttering journey is definitely not the ideal time to deal with sentimental items. Better to tackle them at the end when you are practiced. Prepared and primed for the game.
Now, there are certain issues within this area that I come across time after time. So much so that I feel compelled to share them with you right here. Perhaps it will give you some food for thought when it comes to your extra special belongings:
If you forget it exists, then it doesn’t
Let me tell you a little story that happened in the early days in the life of A Tidy Mind. I had been working with A for a few days. We were into our stride. We had momentum. We were in her loft. I uncovered half a stick in one of the boxes. Yes, really, that was the only description I could think of at the time. It truly did look like half a stick. “Am I ok to put this in the recycling bag” I ask (although my hand was already slowly moving it towards its potential fate, even then I did not and would never assume)
“Oh gosh!” exclaimed A, a smile spreading and eyes like saucers.
“Oh…..wow!!! THAT is……”
And the rest will remain between A and I but it’s safe to say there was a long and meaningful story behind that half a stick. Seeing it immediately triggered positive memories in A. In fact, it was a fantastically sentimental item which ended up being displayed on the mantel piece on a delightful little tray. In other words, it was appreciated in the way it was supposed to be.
The point of the story, of course, is that it’s futile to own a meaningful possession should it be buried in the bottom of a box and ultimately forgotten about. Your sentimental items should be proudly displayed in your home where possible. Allow them to do their job: to bring you joy and increase your satisfaction within your home, on a daily basis.
Give yourself a clue
A was always going to remember the half a stick. However, we can’t expect ourselves to remember the source of absolutely everything. Children’s artwork is a prime example. Sure, at the time you think it will stick in your mind that your little cherub created this masterpiece when they were 2 ¾ but, in reality, you won’t. Write on the back, the date and a little description. Your grandparent self will thank you in years to come.
Being selective does NOT make you a bad person
It makes me sad that many clients feel they need my permission to let go of certain items and even then they struggle with guilt. They often feel disloyal and cold at the thought of discarding excess photos of their family members or belongings of those who have passed away.
Please remember: the memories are not inside the “things”. They are inside us instead.
If you keep numerous items relating to the same person or era of your life, they will just take away the meaning from each individual one. Far better to choose the most special representative item and say goodbye to the rest.
Some people don’t like to discard photos intact for privacy reasons. In that case, may I suggest shredding or incinerating? Now you’re free to actually enjoy those carefully selected sentimental possessions.
Make it more than the sum of its parts
I have seen some truly beautiful ways of creating a use out of a sentimental item where there previously wasn’t one. This is all about giving the possession a new lease of life, appreciating it and bringing it back to the present.
• P’s grandmother’s ring was too small for her so she had the stone and gold made into a necklace. She now wears it daily.
• S’s now grown up son’s old Babygro was made into a cushion cover. It’s always placed on her favourite chair.
• M wasn’t going to wear her wedding dress again! So she had it made into a christening outfit for her daughter.
• K just couldn’t part with her Dad’s old coin collection. She made it into a striking framed wall art and the most special one of them all is now a key ring so she sees it all the time.
Don’t forget to adequately preserve
The point of keeping a possession for sentimental reasons is just that. So it will keep. Things do degenerate over time so take precautions. Here a laminator can be your best friend as it’s an easy peasy way to make cards, photos and drawings last forever. You can also use airtight containers to store anything from cigars to newspapers. If it’s worth keeping, then it’s worth preserving.
How does it make you feel? Really?
In sessions, we call this the “flood feeling” The initial feeling that floods through us when we consider an item. It’s instinctual and felt as a “pang” It could be a pang of pleasure or it could be one of pain. It may be a mixture of both but one will initially flash and that’s the one to notice.
My client, Z, was keeping her wedding photos. She had divorced her husband some years ago but said she wanted to keep them “because we had some happy times”
Me: “How do these photos make you feel now when you look at them?”
Z: (pause) “sad….unsettled…..uncomfortable”
In that moment, I think both myself and Z realised that although, yes, there had been some happy times in her marriage, the happiness wasn’t in those photos. If fact, they held negative feelings. There was zero value in keeping them.
Take note of how you actually feel rather than how you think you should feel. The answer to whether or not to let go is there. You only have to listen.
Assume you won’t keep cards
Ahhh. Cards. We receive a lot don’t we? Imagine if you kept all of them. Well, a client of mine, L, actually did. The thing is, L is such a beautifully spirited person that she put great value in every single card anyone ever gave her. She even thoroughly read those generic printed messages inside and digested them. As if the giver had thought of those words themselves.
It’s worth remembering, the purpose of a greetings card is to convey a greeting. Once it has done that, in the vast majority of cases, it has served its purpose. Remember that the more cards you keep, the less time you have to enjoy the few extremely special ones you will receive over the years. Maybe the ones that have a sentimental message written by the sender and are from a unique occasion. Once L realised this, she was able to recycle 90% of her cards.
I hope the points I have made convey my true feelings about sentimental possessions. Their function is to keep treasured (and positive) memories alive. So when we look at them, we experience the meaning and this adds true value to our lives. Just because I’m a declutter consultant, doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t keep anything! But keeping everything or even most things can be counterproductive.
If you do choose to keep an item, there’s nothing stopping you from modifying it to suit a different use. Ensure you preserve it properly and keep it accessible so that it will trigger the memory in the way it should. Keep it within your consciousness. That way, the possession will do its job.
To facilitate you in keeping the special memory ignited.
Thank you so much for reading,
A Tidy Mind.
Ps. Many clients come to me following the bereavement of a loved one. They want someone impartial and professional to help them sort through and make informed decisions. I combine and empathetic approach with getting the job done effectively. Read more about how we can help with decluttering when someone has died.