Decorating and Being Sentimental {how to deal with things you don’t love}

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Decorating and Being Sentimental {How to deal with things you don't love.}

Once there was a young girl who saved All. The. Things. Movie ticket stubs, every friendly note or scrap of paper, all souvenirs big and small, chewed pieces of gum from 7th-grade crushes. {Just kidding about that last one, because that is gross!} And she had a large, junked-up walk-in-closet to show for it all.

Decorating and Being Sentimental - you can't keep everything!

Or in this case, it was the guest bedroom. Thankfully it doesn’t look like this anymore.

And then this girl got a little older. And she began to learn that while she should probably keep some of The Things, if she continued on this path of collecting All The Things, then one day she’d be on the show Hoarders.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Decorating and Being Sentimental - you can't keep everything!

So, after some lesson-learning time, she gleaned that memories are not things. It’s OK to maybe have a few small collections that are worthy of display and pieces you love, but boxes and boxes of crap will serve no one. So she pared down The Things and could breathe a little easier because her closet was now used for clothing and not a storage unit.

This girl may or may not have been me. :)

I was once a sentimentalist to the core. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe in having things in your home that you love and help tell your story. Things that connect you to your loved ones and have special memories attached.

I mean, that is the definition of what makes a home a home, right? It tells your story. But, I’ve been known to keep things around that I didn’t like just because “Aunt Susie” gave it to me or because I bought it on that special trip so many years ago.

Let me give an example.

Decorating and Being Sentimental - you can't keep everything!

I’ve had these three black and white prints for 15 years now and they’ve been with me everywhere. I’ve had them hanging in my living room for almost a year now. But, I don’t really like them. At the same time, I couldn’t bear to get rid of them!

You see, they have a memory attached to them. I lived and studied in China the year after high school. I remember in the last few months of my time there, sitting down and intentionally deciding that I would buy some art to take home with me. My friend Amy and I made a special trip to a far away part of town and I bought these prints, thinking I would keep them with me for the rest of my life.

But styles change and decor preferences change and the prints from China just aren’t “me.” So, I finally got up the courage to change them out. I wanted more color in my living room, and so I took them down. And you know what? I LOVE the new art. {It’s from this art book.} It’s so me.

So now, instead of walking by and having an internal struggle and a negative reaction to those prints and their memory, I now walk by and smile because I love the pretty pictures!

Decorating and Being Sentimental - you can't keep everything!

Sentimental Rule: Keeping something you don’t love because it once belonged to a great-grandmother or because you bought it as a keepsake 20 years ago is not a reason to hang on to it.

 What to do with sentimental stuff you don’t love.

1. Paint it. Or repurpose it into something you do love. If you have a piece of furniture from your grandmother and hate the color, then paint that sucker! Add your own story to the piece and just add a new layer to the family history.

Chippy Painted Barstools

2. Just get rid of it. I came across some small magnets the other day that I’d collected from various trips. I’m not using them anymore and don’t have any intention of using them in the future. So, I threw them in the yard sale box. I have some fabulous pictures from these trips that will keep these memories alive. I don’t need magnets sitting in a box, too! So, throw stuff away, give it away or sell it. {One way that has helped me get rid of a lot of things has been my twice-yearly yard sale.}

10 Tips for Having a Successful Yard Sale

3. Create a Year Box. Not a yearbook, a year box. If it’s extra difficult to get rid of something, then stick it in a box and set an alert on your phone or jot it down in your calendar to check this box in a year. If you haven’t missed said thing, then get rid of it. If you still can’t live without it, then display it somehow or paint it/repurpose it. {See point #1.}

4. Take a picture of it. {And then get rid of it.} My friend Jackie gave some great advice recently in one of her free webinars. {She has an amazing blog, by the way, and great decorating advice.} She said if you have a piece of furniture that it sentimental, for example a rocking chair where you rocked your baby. Then make sure you have a picture of it before you get rid of the item. Hopefully you do have a picture of you rocking your baby and can let go of the large item and know you still have those special memories.

5. Store it. And if you really can’t get rid of something and can afford to rent a storage unit, then store it there. Or ask a relative if they want to hold onto it. You don’t want to have a home filled with clutter and not be able to enjoy living in it because of too much stuff. So, get it out of the house.

Decorating and Being Sentimental {How to deal with things you don't love.}

And in the end, sometimes the ties to our things overrule all decorating rules or styles.

Last summer, after my grandmother passed away, I specifically asked for some of her ceramic bowls and boxes that used to sit on her dresser. I wanted to use some of them in my own home and be able to remember her with them. I also have several blankets that she made, as well as a few miniature pitchers that she collected. These are treasures to me that I will never get rid of. And no matter how my home or styles change, I will display them proudly.

How do you deal with sentimental pieces in your home?

Are you more inclined to part with them easily?

Or do you tend to hold on to them no matter what?


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  1. Lindsay says

    Can you tell me where to purchase the pillows or fabric of those pretty turquoise/white floral pillows? Love them! Great post.

  2. Michele says

    I think your ideas are all good ones. Another way to deal with sentimental items as you grow older is to hand things down to a younger generation who have fewer possessions at this stage of their lives and appreciate the family history or stories that go with them.

  3. says

    Hi! New to your blog and I love your writing style. Great post topic too to talk about and think through. I have gotten really comfortable with throwing things away over the past few years (moving 4 times in 5 years will do that to you!) I agree that things don’t equal memories . . . sometimes those things enhance those memories, but even without the things they memories remain. I think my favorite tip is about taking the picture before you give an item away. We are rocking our last baby in our well-loved rocker, and I’m sure before too long we won’t have use of it anymore. I am definitely going to take a picture of it before it goes anywhere though to help remember it (spit-up stains and all!). Have a great day!

  4. says

    Such a lovely post with such useful information. I will pass this along to the hoarder in my life 😉 It’s not me…it’s someone I know….who looks and acts a lot like me {okay….it’s me!}. I wanted to thank you for sharing this at Project Inspire{d} ~ this is my feature of the week!

    I hope to see you again tonight ~ hugs, mb

  5. says

    I love the idea of keeping something sentimental but changing it up to fit your style! What a great idea! I have WAY too much stuff so I’ll have to remember this when I do my spring cleaning!

  6. says

    Love this! I’m so into organizing myself. I currently live in a small space so it is really important to only have things I really love ~ no clutter! I’m visiting from Whimsy Wednesday Link Party. I would be so honored if you would share this at Brag About It Link Party on VMG206.

    ~ Megin of VMG206

  7. Gail says

    I never keep something I don’t love. Because no matter who gave it to me, how much it cost, etc., it can never love me back. If it cannot love me and ai don’t love it, why would I let it take up space, dust it, etc?

  8. says

    Great post, Laura. I had to laugh at the “Hoarders” reference. In my earlier years I could have gone that route. Fortunately, my late husband and I moved around a lot and it didn’t take too long before I realized if I didn’t let go of all that sentimental stuff I was going to have to pay big bucks in moving expenses. I’m remarried (4 years) and my husband and I just retired to Oregon. Before my last move from Colorado to Oregon, I packed our car with all my old family photos, things passed down from relatives (except for a few things that I like and knew I would display), and drove to my son and DIL’s home. I unloaded the boxes and told them they now belong to them and they can decide if they want to keep those things or toss them. And that either way, I would be perfectly fine with whatever they decided. And I am. They were happy to have a chance to look through everything and be able to decide now what they want, and not after I’m “gone”. It’s so liberating. ~ Nancy

  9. says

    These have got to be the most brilliant tips for getting rid of sentimental belongings! I used to keep things from family members because well, they were from family members that are no longer with us. Those things started driving me crazy whether because I didn’t like the item or I didn’t have room for it. I used to feel like I had to ask another family member if they wanted it and if they did and didn’t have space that I needed to store it for them for some future date. I realized that while it might be nice to do that, it’s not required but I definitely shouldn’t be the one storing it. I hardly have space for my own things let alone anyone else’s. I also used to think I had to keep a passed on item in its original state…my views have changed so drastically and i don’t think our loved ones would want us stressed out by an item that was once theirs. LOVE this post!

  10. says

    Hi Laura, I’m at the same point in life as you are. Realizing I really don’t need all this crap just because it’s connected to a – one time when I. Five years ago we had a flood and lost A LOT. Since then, I haven’t let go of ANYTHING, well until the past month or so. It’s liberating to see the whole floor in our extra room (well, almost). I love the idea to take a picture of it, then toss it. That seems like it might help ease that sting, lol. Thanks for sharing this, and the great suggestions to help me purge more stuff. :)

    • says

      Thanks Meg! I know losing so much in the flood was a traumatic experience. I can’t even imagine. But I’m so glad that you’re getting to a place where you can get rid of things you don’t need or love again!

  11. says

    Good advice. I am guilty of holding onto things too long because of sentimental value. I understand the internal struggle of not wanting to let something go vs. not loving it anymore.


  12. says

    Thank you for this! But what would you do with a cheap tourist-trap vase bought on your honeymoon as a memento because you were both babies (19 and 21) and didn’t know any better? My husband insists we keep and display it. It is the only red thing in our living room.

    I’m not a fan of little knicknacks, but I’ve kept a hollie hobbie figurine from my great grandmother, and figured out a way to display my grandmother’s souvenir spoons that I inherited along with her china.

    • says

      Could you spray paint the vase in a color you love? That way you can keep it, but it won’t be the only red thing? I think you’d love it more in a favorite color and then you won’t cringe when you see it. :)

  13. Dawn says

    Thank you for this post–you saved me from myself! I had recently started taking pictures of things before parting with them and that has helped but I still need to go through many things and just let go.

  14. MoniqueDC says

    Also consider DONATING items that are useful. They may make a difference for someone else. I recommend reading the book AFFLUENZA. It comes from a PBS documentary about the obsession (yes, obsession) Americans have with STUFF. It is easy to read and should be in your library. It will give you a new perspective. Enjoy, M

    • says

      Yes, I think I mentioned that, but it’s a great reminder. We donate a lot of stuff to a small thrift store near our house that does a lot for an under-priviledged community. It feels great to be able to get rid of our stuff AND help others in the process!!

  15. Diana says

    This is perfect! I’ve been working on cleaning, organizing, and purging and I also struggle with the sentimentality thing. You’ve given me a good kick in the pants to add more to my garage sale pile. Thanks!

  16. says

    Laura, This is such a great post (and I was totally thinking that way before you mentioned me – thank you, by the way). These are such great tips. We can carry memories with us forever, but don’t have to be weighed down by physical reminders of those memories. The thing itself is not the memory. Also, such a great point to think ahead about the mementos you do collect on trips or from loved ones, so that they hold a memory and fit your tastes!

  17. says

    Great post, Laura! I am a bit of a pack-rat myself. And I struggle with some of these same feelings… for instance… my aunt gave me a tea light holder for Christmas a few years ago. It’s a grouping of owls, and I love owls, but they way they’re painted isn’t my style. I’d love to spray-paint them to a fun bold color, but I’m also a little afraid that this might offend my aunt. Though, she doesn’t come to my house very often, so she’d probably never seen them! But still, I feel a bit torn!
    I love your tip about creating a Year Box!

  18. Lori says

    This is a great post! I really enjoyed reading it. And I really like your new framed prints! Did you put the old prints from China into a scrapbook? I do have quite a bit of stuff boxed in the basement on shelves, but I need to go through it. This post really helped !

    • says

      I did keep them, although they aren’t in a scrapbook. They are sitting in a closet until I find the time to put them into my memorabilia trunk. They don’t take up much space, so I’ll keep them a little while longer. I may still get rid of them at some point. :)

  19. says

    You can scan any photos (or prints) you don’t want to keep and put them on a DVD to look at whenever you like. I am a true sentimentalist so I bought a very decorative trunk and put all my must- keep memorabilia in it.

    • says

      Hmmm, such good advice. I also have a trunk that stores mine and my husband’s memorabilia. Every now and then I’ll go through it again to see if there’s anything I want to get rid of or display instead of keeping it in the trunk.

  20. says

    Excellent post! I recently boxed up all the decor in my dining room because I realized it was stuff from my mom’s house and really wasn’t me. I wasn’t ready to part with any of it so I boxed it up and stuck it in the garage. Maybe I’ll try your “year” suggestion on it. :) Thanks for the encouragement.