Tips to Declutter Sentimental Things After the Death of a Loved One

The grief from losing a loved one can manifest into a large collection of things that trigger sentimental memories. When these things prevent you from moving on, they've become sentimental clutter. Sentimental clutter is one of the most difficult types of clutter to sort through. Here are a few tips to get through it.

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Letters, postcards, pictures, locket, and pocket watch with sentimental attachments

The loss of a loved one is an emotional journey that can have a profound impact on your life and well-being. Besides missing your loved one immensely, you may experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

That’s grief and it can manifest in actual illnesses and health issues. It can also cause you to hold on to things that belonged to, or remind you of your loved one. Holding on to a lot of these things causes clutter.

The Stages of Grief

Some will tell you that you’re just working through the five stages of grief as documented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying and that it will pass. They might even tell you that you’ll experience those stages in the order of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

In his article Why the Five Stages of Grief Are Wrong, David B. Feldman Ph.D. explains that not only is there no particular order to the stages of grief, but some people will not go through all of them. If you’ve lost a loved one, you may know exactly what he’s talking about.

Regardless of which stages of grief you actually go through, it can manifest in many ways. In order to preserve the memory of a loved one, you might hold on to a few mementos as a reminder. In some cases, you might even keep several things. If those things aren’t useful and you don’t really have the room to keep them, they become clutter.

Clutter with Sentimental Attachments

Sentimental clutter can weigh heavily on you. It can potentially keep you stuck in your grief and have negative impacts on your health and life. It can affect your mood and your entire outlook in a very negative way.

If you’re hanging on to a lot of things for sentimental reasons and feel like you’re not progressing through your grief, it might be time to let go of the clutter. It’s probably not going to be easy, and it’s not likely to go quickly.

Clutter with sentimental attachments usually includes a combination of pictures, letters, greeting cards, trinkets, and clothing. It might even include elaborate collections of various items.

How to Declutter Sentimental Things

Sentimental attachment is one of the biggest decluttering roadblocks, but luckily there are several ways to deal with it. Here are a few that seem to be the most helpful. I would encourage you to keep trying different things until you find what works best for you.

Phone a Friend

Ask for help from a friend you trust. One that can help you through your emotions but still provide an objective view of the physical things you’re hanging on to.

A friend can help you talk through the reasons your hanging on to things and help you figure out how to let go or preserve them in a different way.

If you get stuck and just need a break, a friend can help get your mind off of the task at hand by chatting about something unrelated for ten minutes or so.


Minimize the number of things you keep, especially if there are several things that are similar in nature.

You don’t need all fifty sets of salt and pepper shakers that made up your grandmother’s collection. Take pictures of the entire collection, then pick two or three of your favorites to keep.

That way you have small pieces of a bigger collection, plus a way to see and remember the entire collection.

Save the Memory, Not the Clutter

Preserve the memory, not the object you’re associating the memory with. Your memories don’t actually reside in the object, they live in your heart and your head.

If you can’t part with the object completely, repurpose it into a smaller piece or collection that you can hang on to.

Instead of keeping all of those letters and your grandmother’s favorite blouses, you can have the letters transferred on to fabric and sewn together in a memory quilt or wall hanging. That way you still have the memory but don’t have to hold on to all of that paper or clothing.

Hold On To the Memories, Not the Grief

Hold on to the memories of loved ones by keeping a few sentimental things and taking pictures of the rest. Don’t get stuck in your grief by holding on to a large amount of sentimental clutter.

Ask a friend to help and support you while you consolidate and repurpose sentimental things.

For additional information on decluttering your home and life, visit and sign up for the midweek check-in newsletter. See you there!

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