How To: Let Go of Sentimental Stuff

Death asks us to let go of the people we love. And the letting go doesn't end with the loss of a person, either. We'll be asked to do countless tiny releases in the days and months and years afterwards; our relationships, our memories, our sense of self, and our sentimental stuff.

Photo by  Alex Holyoake  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

Last weekend I was deep in KonMari decluttering and came across a box of old clothing I had saved for various reasons. Some things I had hoped I would one day mend or alter (didn't happen), some things I thought one day might be useful (haven't been, yet), and then some things I simply hadn't yet been able to part with. There were the wrap gift tees from films and shows I had worked on, which I still know I will never wear. The jeans with a ripped pocket and the skirt I thought I might actually like if it had a different hem. And then there was the dress I wore the day before my father died, in our second to last photo together.

It shouldn't be that sentimental. I wore hundreds and hundreds of dresses with him, and in photos with him. But after you lose someone, suddenly everything they ever owned or touched or maybe even just existed next to can become deeply meaningful. 

It shouldn't really be that hard to let go of, either. It's not my style anymore. His death changed that in me, along with so many other things. It's not something I want or need. It's not tied to an especially meaningful event. But it's tied to him. I wore it with him. I spoke to him in it. I hugged him in it. Some particle of him may be buried deep in the fibers, some microscopic piece of him, still present on this earth.

Having gone through the process of letting go of a human being, letting go of a dress or any other object shouldn't be a challenge. And yet it can be - for me, at least. So if it's time to let go of something sentimental, here are my suggestions on how to let go, gracefully.

Photo by  Toa Heftiba  on  Unsplash

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash


Before making any big decisions, do a trial separation. Put the sentimental item or items in a container and set it in the back of the closet or under your bed or in the garage. Set a time limit: if after six months or a year you haven't pulled it back out or thought about it, maybe it's really time to let it go.


A picture's worth a thousand words, and probably even more feelings. But perhaps it isn't the stuff you want to hold onto, it's the memories. So, create a more permanent memory with a photo of the item: it can be highly stylized or a simple snapshot; it can be something you spend a lot of effort meticulously creating or something quick that captures what is important to you. Either way, a photo takes up less space, both physically and emotionally. 


It's very likely that it's not the item itself that means anything to you - it's the story behind it. It's the huge emotions it brings up, of how you felt in it or since it. So write that story down. It can be meant just for yourself or something to share with others. You could even include the photo with it, if that's helpful. Proper spelling and grammar are absolutely not required, but a heartfelt tribute to the memory and story behind an item may be even more meaningful than the item itself. 


One of the (many) very hard things about death is that it puts an abrupt end to possible futures - but your sentimental items can still have one. While you may not need or want something anymore, it could be perfect for someone else in your life. Gifting it forward will allow it to live on, creating its own new stories, new memories, and new futures.



What has helped you to let go of sentimental items?