Sentimental Clutter 

What?! You call my stuff clutter?

We all have it. In our closets. In our basements. On our bookshelves.

Boxes of clutter. But not just any clutter.

Sentimental clutter.

Several friends have asked me what to do with sentimental items like childhood toys, trophies, etc. So I put together a list of the categories I assign each sentimental item. Ask yourself which category each item fits in, and go with your gut reaction.

If you like it, display it. 

I have a China cabinet in my dining room that I turned into a display case of memories. Items I chose to keep and display are: small scrapbooks, some framed photos, handmade wedding cake topper, video awards I’m proud of, my degree, two of my favorite books of filmmaking, two decorative dishes passed down from Josh’s grandmother.

Most of my sentimental items are displayed here.


If you’re proud of your trophies, get them out of those dusty boxes!

Set limits. 

We do have a small amount of sentimental storage. Josh and I have each limited ourselves to one small box. Mine contains a yearbook, my childhood journals, a drama medal and running medal I’m proud of, and a small pin collection. Whatever your limit is, it’s important that you set one. Limits force us to prioritize and make choices. It also sets a standard for how much space sentimental items are allowed to take up – whether it be one box, one shelf, or one closet.

Pass down. 

This is great because those special items can still be useful to someone else. They can live on rather than sit in storage! Isn’t that more special?

For us this is mostly baby toys and clothes (I keep my absolute favorites for future kiddos but most get passed on or at least rotated with friends). A good friend who is done having kids passed her prized baby clothes down for Shiloh to wear. It meant a lot to be the recipient of these sentimental items. They came with their own story and history.

I also try to give away my extra photos of the boys when I print too many (which I always do) for my scrapbooks. Family members love getting photos of the kids in the mail!

If it’s a family heirloom, let everyone in your family know you’re purging and let them have a shot at it. We very willingly accepted a piano that was passed down in my family after my aunt passed away. It gets played often and it’s history lives on.


Cards, notes, drawings, and paintings can be pared down enormously through photographing. When I’m on the fence about tossing an item, I take a photo before I toss it. All the memories are in that photo, and I’m freed from the actual item. A good photo lets the item live on. Wedding items live on in the photos. I’m glad I splurged on a great wedding photographer! Same with awards. If I already have a photo of me receiving an award, do I really need to keep the trophy itself?


College papers and high school essays can live on in the digital world without keeping the physical papers. Most clutter is paper, which is totally unnecessary! It felt great when I went through my high school and college writings, recycling all but my favorite prints. We recently did this with all Josh’s old writing too. We still have it, but it no longer takes up physical space.

Reach out. 

It’s impossible to purge things that aren’t yours. You don’t know what someone else values and what they don’t. I just talked to someone who was hurt when his folks got rid of his childhood stuffed animals without asking. Ouch! Please don’t do that.

But don’t let other people’s things sit there forever either. Reach out to them. Send photos. Ask permission. If they want something, set a time for them to come get it. It’s important to be sensitive and understanding. De-cluttering isn’t worth destroying a relationship. However, you are not a free storage unit. Don’t hesitate to get in touch and ask someone to pick up their things. If you’re really motivated, deliver the items to them! Do what it takes to free yourself from the responsibility of housing these items.

Trash it. 

If you can’t do any of the above, then it’s safe to consider purging the item.

You’ve explored the other options, and it’s still sitting in a box.

You wouldn’t miss it if it was gone, so it might as well be gone.

I’m giving you permission.

For me this applied to my many awards from high school and childhood. They were given liberally and carried very little meaning to me. They had already been photographed too! The same goes for many sentimental T-shirts – the kind I got for attending events, performing in plays, or running races. I kept one or two that I actually wear, but nearly all of them have been donated or up-cycled into other things. The memories aren’t in the T-shirt.

Josh and I sold all but one or two of our college textbooks, halved our movie collection, and we often purge our book collection. We live within walking distance of not one, but two libraries! There’s simply no need to own them all – we are never without movies and books!

Keep it. 

There’s exceptions to every rule. Some things we’ve kept that don’t fit into the above categories:

My wedding dress – I no longer have my prom dresses, but I do have my wedding dress. I might pass on to someone sometime. A lot of minimalists recommend selling or donating to charity. I can’t bring myself to do that yet.

Josh’s Beany Baby collection – will eventually get passed down to our kids. It means a lot to him.

My “American Girl” doll – this was my favorite Christmas gift growing up. Everyone probably has one toy that was extra special growing up that you want to hang onto.

Josh’s music collection – I would personally prefer to just stick with digital music, but Josh insists (and I get it) that there’s something special about having the physical albums. Bands who stay with us agree as they like browsing the CD shelf and record holder.

Shiloh and Malachi’s first baby hats – I don’t plan to use these again. They will probably be the one unique item that I keep after each kid. Maybe I should consider framing or displaying them somehow.

It’s fine to keep these things, but we talk about them and we limit ourselves. We all aspire to different levels of minimalism. As long as the items you keep are thoughtfully chosen and treated with care (and don’t require that you pay for a storage unit) you are free to hang onto them.


Be mindful of what you’re purging and try to refrain from acquiring these sorts of things in the future. Don’t buy souvenirs when you travel unless it’s something you actually use and need. Focus on memories rather than mementos. You’ll save money too!

If you notice patterns when you purge, take note. There might be certain things that you tend to buy and get rid of again and again – maybe it’s used books or antique dishes. Josh likes old atlases. These thing are a lot easier to attain than they are to purge. Thoughtfully consider this before you buy. Collections can be costly. Consider putting a cap on any existing collections to save space and money. I used to collect a new dress whenever I traveled. The collection quickly started taking over my closet, and I only wore a handful of them on a regular basis. I still have the ones I like the most, but I’ve stopped looking for dresses every time I’m in a new city or state. It’s okay for a collection to have an end!

The bottom line is this: there’s no set rules about what to keep and what to toss, as long as you’re not keeping things out of guilt, fear, or obligation. Only keep what is meaningful to you. I hope these categories and examples are helpful to those of you trying to minimize your memory-laden storage areas. Share your own success and inspiration!

One Comment

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  1. GREAT post!! So helpful. Thanks Emily!!

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