Holding on to Sentimental Things


MBFGW Grandmother
Do you feel sentimental about your stuff?

I love this scene in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Toula’s about to get married, and the grandmother brings in one box of her most precious things to share with her granddaughter.

Inside the box are old photos, heirloom jewelry, and a wedding garland.

These keepsakes have been carefully chosen and treasured, and each item carries significantly personal meaning.

But what if instead of one simple box, the scene in the movie had taken place here:

MBFGW at storage

In front of her storage unit, with all of her life’s possessions carefully boxed and stored so that one day her granddaughter could inherit all of it and always remember her.

Not quite the same feeling, is it?

When it comes to keeping sentimental things:

the fewer things you keep, the more special they are.

The opposite is true as well: too many sentimental things become less loved and more burdensome.  Keepsakes are meant to give an inspiring glimpse and momentary remembrance of the past.  They aren’t meant to be a full historical archive that will consume someone’s current life.

Do you need to lighten up your sentimental keepsakes?

Here’s how this works:

Keep: love letters your husband wrote when you were dating
Don’t keep: cards and letters from former boyfriends

Keep: an invitation from your wedding
Don’t keep: the paper napkins and matchbooks embossed with your name

Keep: your baby’s hospital hat and bracelet
Don’t keep: your baby’s stroller and car seat

Keep: a photo of your 3rd grade softball team
Don’t keep: the trophies and medals awarded at the end of season pizza parties

Keep: a birthday card from your granny
Don’t keep: every birthday card from your granny

It’s hard to let go of sentimental items, believe me, I know. But we really don’t need all of them. What would be your keep / don’t keep items?

Images from Time Warner and LizMarie

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. That is such a brilliant post. I love the picture. Can just imagine the conversation “And here, just for you, I have kept my second favourite ironing board”…

  2. Great post. That is one of my favorite movies! I just finished cleaning/organizing in my attic. What a chore! You have some great ideas here!

    Rachel’s last blog post..Dealing with Toddler Milk Allergies

  3. smallnotebook says:

    Second favorite ironing board! – oh that’s so funny kirstie!

    Rachel, I’m definitely going to check out your milk allergies post.

  4. Great post. I hate storage units and garages that are so full of stuff (read junk!) that you can’t park in them. I just don’t get how people could want to hold onto stuff that they don’t use or in many cases can’t get to easily.

    Nancy’s last blog post..Baseball, Hamstring & Ginger Root

  5. Nice post! Yes, simplifying is great. The only department where I can’t throw anything at all is letters. I have some boxes full of letters from my best friend, back when we were really close. Each letter is a piece of those years and unique and I’ll gladly keep them (in my old bedroom though).

    On the other hand I feel very silly when I’m keeping clothes because they remind me occasions when they were bought or worn… occasions which I can remember well without keeping stuff!

    • Lily,
      I understand completely about the clothing. I did find a solution that works for me though – make a quilt, pillow, or wall hanging out of your favorite clothing pieces – especially if you never wear them and won’t wear them again. I find that those types of projects help me feel much less guilty and I then have a keepsake that serves a purpose instead of taking up space in my closet.

      Great post on whether or not to keep sentimental items!

      Susan´s last post…Stay-cation Ideas

      • My son was had t-shirts from years of attending camp, being in musical theater, juggling, missions trips, etc. I cut the fronts of the shirts and made a quilt for him to take to college. Nice transitional item for him, too.

        Thanks all for your great ideas!

  6. This is SO important for me as I go through the kiddos’ clothes. I can’t keep every cute thing. Packing all the littlest child’s give away clothes in a plastic bag so I can not see them and give them away…

    Avlor’s last blog post..Bento with what you have!

  7. (bad grammar for me – it’s so I CAN give the clothes away…)

    Avlor’s last blog post..Bento with what you have!

  8. Hi, I’ve been following your blog for some time now and I totally love it! Great posts, great ideas, great tips. If there’s one thing I couldn’t throw away is my grandmother’s cards – they are all too special to me.

  9. smallnotebook says:

    Thanks Sandra! Letters are a big deal. Cards with only a signature are not so important to me as letters.

    Nancy, it’s so easy to fill up available space, but yes, most people never get their stuff out once in goes in storage.

    Lily, I have a special shirt from college that I keep. I feel like it’s ok since it’s only that one.

    Avlor, baby clothes are really hard for me to let go of. Maybe in a few years when there are more, it will be easier.

  10. Thanks so much for this post! I attach sentimental value to so many things–and am trying to break the habit!

    Mama Koala’s last blog post..CVS 9/21

  11. I keep a box of really special baby things (handmade by someone etc.) because I think my kids will enjoy them someday. But there are all those other outfits and cute sayings on shirts that I just can’t seem to part with, some of them are stained in places so its not even worth donating them. I decided to cut out the pieces that were cute or scraps from adorable skirts etc. and keep them to make into a quilt someday. Then I can keep one useful thing that will remind me of when my growing kids were just sweet little babies. :-)
    Another thing I have done with some of the baby things like the crib, toys, even the cupboard full of sippy cups, is take a picture. Then I will make a small scrapbook reminding me of these days with a house full of little kids and all that colorful plastic junk. It makes it much easier for me to get rid of all that stuff if I know I still have memories of it.

  12. smallnotebook says:

    I love that idea Francis.

  13. I love your blog! What a great post, I think we all have junk in our trunk.
    I was over at my mother in laws this weekend and it reminded me why I should get rid off stuff. It is so cluttered she saves everything! It is stacked all over cupboards ect… You can not open a drawer and find anything it is so stuffed full of junk. Plastic soda pop/water bottles, cool whip containers, mayonnaise jars, washed baggies, so much junk!

    I like to be frugal but how can it be frugal when you can’t find what you are looking for without wading through piles of junk!

    (The picture of the garage you show from the movie actually looks great compared to how my mil garage looks!)

    I think all I need to do is post a picture of the clutter and that will keep me from accumulating “stuff” that is easily replaceable or no longer used.

    New blog: http://downwithdebt.today.com/

    downwithdebt’s last blog post..A nation of payment buyers

  14. Perfect timing as I was just trying to find clothes to give away this morning and having a hard time letting go of some of them.

    To continue your theme:
    Keep: concert (and event) photos and ticket stub
    Don’t keep: concert (and event) t-shirts (when they’re not being worn anymore)

    Keep: best of the best photos
    Don’t keep: blurry, unflattering, duplicate photos (even better delete from the camera before uploading to the computer)

    Keep: treasured books and reference books (parenting, health)
    Don’t keep: old textbooks or baby books (once you’re past that stage)

    Suze’s last blog post..Nice surprises

    • When you’re deleting pictures, be sure to look at who else in the picture–if it’s a good shot of someone else, then crop the “unbecominglies” out and save the good stuff.

  15. Rachel, I do have a few clothes that really have a special meaning – T-shirts from California, my favorite top from the 90s, the clothes from “our” first date and such – but sometimes I attach too much meaning to bland things :)

  16. God's Dancing Child says:

    Wonderful post and very true! I could not agree with it more!

  17. I can’t really say, cause I’d be the lady with the crammed full garage. Although so far I’ve been lucky to not create an emotional attachment to a garbage can or an ironing board, ha.

    Jessica’s last blog post..Weekend Roundup

  18. smallnotebook says:

    Suze, I am so in agreement about only keeping the best photos.

    Lily, there’s a little coffee table book called “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman, and I bet you could relate to it. It’s got a little sketch of each outfit, and the author writes about what she was doing when she wore it. It’s fun to see the outfits from each season in her life.

  19. Great list! Judging by the keep vs don’t keep, I’m doing pretty good. I do have a couple of trunks I should go through and considering I’m using the time in our current home as a “go through everything I own phase” it is probably that time.

    Tsoniki’s last blog post..One Year

  20. That’s great advice.
    I keep one bin per child of keepsakes, and I make sure to LABEL the items in it and WHY they are important. Otherwise, they’ll say “nice cross,” or “cute outfit.” They’ll never know the importance behind them should something happen to me.

  21. I truly admire your discernment. You’ve drawn excellent lines between what to keep and what to toss.

    I’ve found that since my daughter was born, it’s been so much easier to toss many of the “emotional” items from my young adulthood. Sometimes you have to enter the next big phase of life before you’re ready to let go of a past phase.

  22. This is a timely post for me; I was planning to post (at one bag nation) about some of the silly things I’m hanging onto, for example: a heart-shaped box with lovebirds on top from my high school boyfriend (haven’t seen him since the 80s); my wisdom teeth (yep); and my Italian “mood cube”!

    Vintage Mommy’s last blog post..Just the Facts: About Vintage Mommy

  23. the post made me laugh and cry– having been married to a dear man for nearly 42 years who was a keeper I have many items of remembrance- sadly on July 21 this year dear hubby lost a hard battle with cancer- now as I go through his things and our things and my things I am tossing and keeping and remembering——-I now only keep little things and things to use now- not to save for that ”some day” or for company- today is the day to use the good silverware and the good china- your company will come and go but family is forever- and I am giving some of papa’s things he enjoyed keeping to family now so they too will have some remembering things

    • Dear Meme ~

      Just wanted you to know that I’m pausing to pray for you…

      lovingly, HveHope

  24. smallnotebook says:

    Jill, I think you put into words what I’ve been feeling lately about “the next big phase of life” making it easier to let go of things.

    Meme, I always learn so much from your comments. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I don’t keep much at all! My kids have too much stuff! (and it’s probably my fault – I buy the crap!)
    My problem – I keep “skinny” clothes – just incase I ever fit into them again – which never happens!

  26. You’ve got my vote, for sure!
    Last week I was in Malmö, Sweden, for the European Social Forum, volunteering as an interpreter. There, somwone, not on purpose, broke my suitcase. I’d been travelling around Europe with it for over 8 years, more than 30 checked in flights! I almost cried when saying goodbye to it, and I felt so childish that now I’m ready for a big decluttering project. More on my brand new blog, http://www.wetakeiteasy.com

  27. Thank you for this. The one that really hit home was about keeping one card from your grandma. I have every birthday card – ever. And I’m 36. Yes, it’s time to let go of a few things.

    Stacy’s last blog post..Respite

  28. These suggestions are great. I’ve been paring down stuff from my childhood/adolescence/early adulthood, and it’s emotionally hard to do. One approach that helps – take a digital photo of the beloved doll, t-shirt, or whatever and keep that in a scrapbook. It’s still a little bit of clutter, but it doesn’t feel like throwing away memories.

  29. This post is just what I needed to hear. I am so ridiculously sentimental when it comes to my stuff. Thank you for inspiring me and encouraging me to only hold onto the most meaningful stuff. That analogy from My Big Fat Greek Wedding was PERFECT!

    andi’s last blog post..hello autumn

  30. I’m curious about items such as stuffed animals. what’s the best way to retain their memory, short of keeping them in a tupperware for the rest of your life? I have pared mine down to one box, but I feel like that’s too much. yet when I go to throw them out, it’s like I’m a kid again and the animals are real, pleading to stay. and so they do.

    • Me too. and mine are too old to give away now. And I reallly hate to just throw them out. ALL of them are in mint condition!

      Any help ladies?

      • Perhaps an idea might be to find a child that you feel certain would love them? Maybe one ‘cuddle’ (our name for stuffed animals) per child? Maybe a child you know? Or one you would feel comfortable ‘adopting’ your cuddle(s)

        • Well I did it. I Freecycled all but one printer paper box. If you knew how many I had to begin w/you would know I did well!

          And I’m happy to say I did it, and wasn’t even that sad about it. I think it was the right time to do it. And the ones I kept are the ones that are very special to me.

    • Hi there! I just came along this thread and also have seen this particular post is a few years old… But perhaps you’ve kept your animals since then anyway! I just saw a great idea for old stuffed animals which I think is so sweet and also practical =! What you could do is buy a cheap wooden chair or a cheap ottoman of some sort and get a glue gun. You can then glue all your old stuffed animals onto the piece of furniture and it ends up looking adorable as well as being something that can still be useful! Best of all, you do not have to part with your beloved old friends :) Here is a photo of one I found! Hope this helps!


  31. You said this so well! Superb post.

    Jennifer’s last blog post..Done.

  32. This post is hilarious! I love it. I will keep that visual with me when I am thinking of keeping a little too much. ;)

    Kari’s last blog post..M sings the ABCs

  33. a small counter-sized laminating machine which works pretty easily is excellent for preserving paper things. this also works wonderfully for childrens art work.

  34. I went and voted for you. You’re at 23 votes now. Just LOVE this site of yours. Thanks for the informing fun stuff.

    Sandie McCarthy-Roberts´s last blog post..Finding Contentment Where You Are Right Now

  35. Hahahahahahahahaha! That is my storage unit! I mean really, here it is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perspicacious/17300862/. I would like it to be known for the record that we only kept it for a couple of months, as we made the transition from an apartment where the lease had run out to a long-term housesitting job. Haha, too funny. :)

    liz @ perspicacious´s last blog post..Ack, mold in my closets

  36. Liz! I can’t stop laughing. I knew it was temporary storage, since you had captioned it “all of our earthly belongings”. It just happened to be the only cc photo of a storage unit on flickr.
    Love it when funny things like that happen.

  37. Just reading through this as I try to unbury myself from my piles. I found a nearly full box of napkins from my wedding 14 years ago! They are the exact size as the napkins I regularly use so I pulled them out and we’re using them daily.

    Emily´s last blog post..my craft studio aka “the rat hole”


    • I tend to keep the cards that have written notes in them. If most just have signatures, then I only keep a few of those.

      If the cards mean a lot to you, you don’t have to get rid of them. Maybe there is something else in your home that you can get rid of instead, so you can clear space by letting go of something you don’t care so much about.

    • ginger gower says:

      Scan them into ypur computer and save them there. If you are afraid of losing them in a computer crash, save them to a CD.

    • I’m terrible at getting rid of things, but even when I improve, I will keep personal, meaningful cards, letters.

      A suggestion, though: How about making a collage of them, bits and pieces, favorite images, and some special words? If you have that as a piece of art, you’ll actually see it, too…not just have papers in boxes.


  39. Great post- looking forward to more, and looking back at previoius posts! have a great day- Laura

    Laura´s last post…Ancient History- Homeschool Begins

  40. Sara Taylor says:

    I love your site! I’ve been keeping up with it for a few months, but today wanted to catch up on some from the past. Now I’m trying to think of a kind way to present this list to my mother-in-law… :)

  41. This is a big help as I work to transition from a house to smaller apartment. My suggestion: scanning. I’ve been scanning concert ticket stubs and various paper-related stuff. It’s similar to taking a picture of a toy, but works better for paper stuff.

    Now, what to do about all those old letters…

  42. I’m in my teens now, so I don’t really know how older people feel, but if possible I wish to still own this house I have lived in for my entire life up to this point when I grow up. I feel that It’d remind me of my childhood when I’m older, and when my parent’s have already gone.

  43. ginger gower says:

    I acquired the office of someone who while she was still living and hoping to return to work. She had had the office a long time and had personalized it greatly with many of her favorite things, and also a lot of things, like old books, that she probably felt she should not dispose of for various reasons. When she passed away, the family was not interested in her things. After all, they were not the things she kept in the home. So one of my coworkers packed all the stuff in boxes and delivered it to the home. I am sure that they felt confused about how to deal with these things. It was pretty instructive to me: If I know that all that stuff is basically meaningless, it is just going to be a burden to others someday, and it is mostly not giving me much joy to hang on to my ancient copy of, say, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” then it goes to Goodwill or whatever. Why wait to bag the clutter?

  44. I’m moving, so packing, and this is just the gentle kick in the ass I needed. (I really don’t need to the baby shower thank you with my college roommate’s sonogram of her son.)

  45. Susannah says:

    This is definitely the area where I have the most trouble (that and my hubby’s stuff that I can’t do anything with). I have a full box of a lifetime of cards and long letters from friends and relatives. I’ve gone through it once; I dread going through it again. I know how important letters can be for future genealogical research, as my mother does a lot of that sort of researching. And I have a hard time throwing away a 10-page letter written in the actual hand of an old college friend. Ugh. Where to draw the line?

    • Letters are the easiest to deal with – simply scan them and save them on your computer. My problem is books. My hubby loves old books and has a large collection. Then there are his professional/reference books. Many are obscure and not available at a library, unless you count the Library of Congress, so he has his own working library at home.
      He did donate 3 boxes of his 1970’s-80’s sci-fi books when a local youth program put out a call for books earlier this year. 25 boxes to go…

  46. just barely found your site and have been here for more than an hour already. I like everyone else am sentimental, I’m working on decluttering.

    For a long time I just didn’t know what to do with my wedding gown. I knew my daughter wouldn’t want to (and didn’t) wear it but couldn’t make myself get rid of it.

    I finally figured out what I’m going to do with it. I’m going to have it cut up and baby blessing gowns made for my grandchildren! I’m hopeful that the “tiny” dresses will just add to the memories of the fabric.

  47. Too true! Lost my brother (my only sibling) in September 2008 and Dad just six weeks later. Became Mom’s conservator, and have been (for almost two years now, what with the full-time job and all) sorting through 50 years of our family living in the same small home (with nary a spring cleaning!). So hard to let go of “things” in order to make room for the memories. If you have children, do them a favor NOW. Teach them by example to become more about less:
    more memories/experiences and fewer souvenirs, more accomplishments and fewer ribbons/trophies, more kind actions and fewer physical gifts. At the end of life, the stuff means little. The love means everything.

  48. Oh man i completely agree. If only i could get my girlfriend to read this. I have a shoebox, that’s it. She has sentimental stuff all over our house!

  49. I recently had to clean out my parents’ home, since they have both passed away. My mother had not yet reached the hoarding stage, but she wasn’t that far. My motto became, “Take a picture!” I made sure I took photographs of every sentimental item and only kept those most precious ones.

  50. Thanks, Rachel! This is great. You inspired me to write my own thoughts on this:


    And I mentioned and linked back to you, of course.

    Keep up the good work!
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…Most popular posts of February 2011

  51. I immensely enjoyed both the post and the comments.
    It seems that I have a slightly different kind of syndrome, which no one has mentioned yet. I can’t let go of the things that have sentimental value to me, because I want to be able to touch the things that passed through my loved ones’ hands even when I’m no longer able to touch the people. Example? The black Japanese bowl, my absolute favourite for years, now chipped as hell, because it slipped out of my partner’s hands when he was doing the washing up. He died in summer last year, and whenever I want to feel his presence, I hold the bowl in my hands. It’s a substitute of touching him.
    I have several similar items, but, thankfully, they’re limited to just one box. Anyone else having this problem with sentimental clutter?

    • I don’t think those special things count as clutter, especially if it’s just one box.

  52. I have no problem letting go of most “stuff”, but I’ve been on the fence about my old yearbooks (every year from K-12) and my old journals. I had a chance 8 years ago to re-read the journals. Boy, how I wish I would have marked the noteworthy pages! I’m not feeling motivated to re-read them and although there are some meaningful entries, most are not. The yearbooks (I graduated in 1983) have been looked at a handful of times since then.

    One additional area that’s come up is the momentos my Dad is giving me that my Mom had kept. The most recent includes Mother’s Day cards and other cards I had given her. She’s been gone now for 4 years, and although it was fun looking at these cards again, I’m questioning the long term logic of keeping them.

  53. I have just discovered your site and Oh how I am enjoying it. I am such a clutter bug…but sites like yours have really helped me “slim” down. I was the type to keep all of granny’s cards. LOL! They are now gone!!! That image of the storage area really hit me hard. In the future…My son would be horrified…and I can only imagine what his future wife would think.

    My husband gave me a beautiful dark wood mahagony box about 2 feet big. It has a plaque on the top that says a blessing for our family plus a lock and key. It is gorgeous and now holds only those very special treasures that I would want to pass on to our son someday. Plus in my dresser draw, which I cleared out of old clothes that no longer fit, I have our family bible in which I record all the important things in our family life.

    We do have lots of books and antiques, but I finally bit the bullet and bought bookcases to house our collections. I also FIND A PLACE for everything which makes a huge difference. And everything is in it’s place. No more things out on counters, floors, tables couche, etc. It’s all put away or it’s gone. And I keep only the nice stuff that I like. If I don’t like it, it goes to friends, our Church, or Goodwill, etc. Oh…and all those projects i *thought* I would get to someday…gone! And all that exercise equipment I might use one day…gone! And now, rather than feeling overwhelmed…and like a huge failure for not using/doing those things…I feel free. Now we actually get outside, walk the dog, play, etc. It’s wonderful!

    I also wanted to mention something about your ideas about paring down our schedules. I couldn’t agree more. People are way over scheduled. I love it now that our family has tons of time just to be…just to be together.

    I will share something with you that really gave me a wake up call. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but it made me wake-up! But best to wake-up before something like this. Two years ago, I found out that I have a very rare blood disease. I was shocked. But it made me realize what is important in life and I really scaled back. I have a great doc, and take very good care of myself, and am confident I will live a long time…but to be sure that I do not over tax myself or my family…and to make sure that we always put family first…I follow these priorities and one rule…

    My priorities…

    1. Pray daily to strengthen my relationship with God.

    2. Focus on caring for my family by slowing down and enjoy living in the moment with them.

    3. Give myself all the time needed to properly cook for my family so that I can provide nourishing meals for them and me.

    4. Visit my aging parents regularly.

    And my 1 rule…

    Carefully evaluate any future endeavors based on the four priorities listed above. Learn to say “No”. This is the best advice I ever gave myself. :-)

    Thanks for the great job you are doing!

    Love and God Bless,

    Mary @ Mary’s Nest´s last post…Culinary Her-story History

  54. Love this post, it is in my favorites list and I come back to it regularly. I have also sent the link to my sister and to friends needing help in this area. The picture makes me laugh and is worth a thousand words, it has helped me let go of alot of my sentimental clutter…less is so much more! thanks!