• How to Downsize Sentimental Things: Get in the Giving Spirit

    How to Downsize Sentimental Things: Get in the Giving Spirit

China sets, mixers for first birthday cakes, and that old table where you had family meals. The sentimental value of the objects we own is very difficult for people to let go of, especially adult children who might be thinking about losing you for the first time. But it’s not impossible to downsize sentimental things.

It’s difficult to let go of objects we associate with happy memories, but the object has less use to us as it once did. And often, we don’t even want these objects, we are just worried about letting go of the memories. 

“If I l Lose This Item, I Will Lose This Memory”

Fortunately, that’s not really how memories work. Though the object might trigger you to think about a moment or represent a cherished experience, you (not the object) holds the memory. 

If you are looking to declutter or downsize, one of the biggest obstacles is getting over this sense of loss when we choose to let go of these representations. We find that an effective method for letting go is to change the way you think about “stuff.” 

Don’t Hold on to Gifts Just Because They Are Gifts

One of the ways sentimentality can get the better of us when it comes to things is when they are gifted by other people. Maybe those people are already gone or in poor health. Maybe it was given to us by a child or grandchild and we don’t want to hurt their feelings by letting it go.

It can be helpful to break these sentimental things down into three different categories to help you separate emotionally from the objects and consider them more objectively.


 If the object has financial value, that should give you an incentive to let it go. Though this might upset them a little, it is important to explain why you are downsizing and asking them if they want it. It’s because the object holds a lot of sentimental value and you would like it to stay in the family even though you don’t have room for it.

These are the things that you can later resell for financial gain. The financial incentive might make it easier to let go of things you have the impulse to keep.


Gifts can be very sentimental but are usually just trinkets. If the gift giver is no longer with you, don’t let nostalgia (or more likely, guilt) get the better of you. Things are just things, and feeling guilty about letting them go won’t help you reach your downsizing goal. You can’t add the complexity of guilt when analyzing the value of your sentimental clutter. Again, the object is only a representation of a memory or feeling, there is no part of the person you love in the object. You have that part. Let the object go. 


When it comes to papers and photographs, scan them so they can all be held in one place. We know you love the drawing your child made for you when they were five, but it can give you just as much joy as a digital copy. After scanning, keep these things together in this category.

Embracing the Giving Spirit:

One of the biggest issues for letting go of sentimental things is the feeling of loss. So, what do we do to counter this fear?

Embrace the Giving Spirit. Essentially, don’t think of the item as something you’re losing but something you are giving. Someone else is getting a piece of that happiness, spreading the spirit that the object represents. This also works if you sell the item, donate, or even recycle. As long as you are putting it out in the world and giving someone else the opportunity to create happy memories with it. There is no obligation to keep things you won’t use, especially when someone else could benefit from it.

Sell It

Take a look at the things you put in your financial category and start planning your yard sale. This one is pretty straight forward.

Donate It

The things in your sentimental pile might be easier to donate since you know they will continue finding use. There are many places you can bring your knick-knacks for rehoming. Surprisingly, many thrifts and second-hand shops will take old family photos.

Recycle It

If it needs to be recycled or thrown away, it’s hard to conceptualize how it is spreading a spirit of happy gifting. However, if you have scanned all those kindergarten drawings and school papers, you can certainly recycle them. If you haven’t read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that’s alright. But one of the things Kondo recommends is taking time when deciding which items to keep and thanking those that you don’t. Give the item a moment, thank it, and then let it go. This may make it easier to recycle papers you have been attached to. 

If you’re still having trouble parting with it, compromise with yourself and take a picture. You can compile all these pictures into a scrapbook or digital copy and keep the representation of the memories without taking up as much space. 

Time to Tackle Those Feelings

Now that you have a plan, it’s time to get cracking. Plan a weekend and which room – or even just a closet – you want to start downsizing and work your way from there. The sentimental value of some objects doesn’t have to keep you from your downsizing goal.

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Twin Towers is a continuing care retirement community in Cincinnati, Ohio, with independent living homes, assisted living, rehab services, and more. We’re focused on supporting the vibrant and active lifestyles of our residents so they can age well. For more information, contact Twin Towers online or at 513-853-2000.