What To Do With Sentimental Items (And How To Store Them)

There comes a time in everyone’s life where they just can’t stand to have those boxes of stuff taking up any more space in their closets, garages, and maybe even the space beneath their beds. You’re probably familiar with that feeling too.

We can’t count the number of times we’ve opened a dusty box of memories determined to free up space, just to find those special long-forgotten objects (like your grandmother’s dish set).

But at some point, you either need to face the memories and determine a new life for them, or get right with the fact that they’re going to keep taking up space, rent-free in your home.

If you’re ready to do the former, read along. We’ve got nine tips on how to store your not-so-easy-to-store sentimental items.

1. Learn to let go of sentimental items you don’t need.

a woman thumbing through an old book

A good rule in general and the first step in storing sentimental items is: letting go.

We’re not saying it’s easy, but it’s necessary.

Once you’ve decided to take a look through special belongings, take a deep breath before you dive in. Make sure you’re in the right mindset and ready to let go. Some things might bring up difficult memories, and that’s okay.

Remember: You are not your stuff!

When sorting through sentimental items, some things you’ll immediately see and think, “Why did I hang onto this for so long?” Other things you’ll come across might take you a moment to figure out if you’re ready to let go.

For each item, ask yourself:

  • Why am I holding onto this? Does it, as Marie Kondo would say, spark joy?
  • If it conjures up memories, could I still remember it without the object?
  • Does this object still have life? Could someone else get something out of it?
  • Does someone else I know need it more?
  • If I had an image of it, would that be enough?
  • Can I repurpose it into something useful?

We find it’s easiest to separate things into three piles:

  1. Give away/donate
  2. Keep (use sparingly)
  3. Unsure, for things you need another moment to think about

Once you’ve sorted your sentimental items into categories, it’s time to figure out the best way to either give them new life, or send them on their way.

2. Give sentimental objects to friends.

hands giving a holiday gift to someone

This is a win-win situation: You get more space in your home, and your friends save money on stuff they were going to buy anyway. Baby toys, baby clothes, band t-shirts from exes, artwork, and furniture are just a few examples of sentimental objects that can easily be given new life.

Even though you might have sentimental attachment to an armchair doesn’t mean your friend does. And if your friend is moving into a new place, giving him/her your sentimental items (as long as they still have some life left) is good for both of you.

This is especially true for baby stuff. Although you might want to hang on to some things, like one specific toy or a special outfit, a friend with a new baby could benefit from hardly-used, second-hand clothing.

Also, strollers. Basically anything baby related that babies grow out of fast and hardly use, you might want to consider letting go of.

If you’re ready to give, but your friends don’t really need anything, donating is another great option.

3. Donate used items to charities.

makespace offers free goodwill pickups for storage customers in nyc, chicago, and dc

You can donate clothing, furniture, dinnerware, and a whole lot more to charities and other organizations that help people in need.

Not sure where to donate a specific item?

Check our comprehensive guide on where to donate clothes, books, furniture, toys, cell phones, and more.

If you have stuff that’s too hard to keep emotionally, someone who doesn’t have that attachment will be able to use it in a practical way.

And it might make the process of letting go easier if you know someone will be benefiting from getting your lightly-used stuff inexpensively or for free.

Pro Tip: We partner with Goodwill. So the next time you’re handing over MakeSpace bins and other items for us to store, fill up the shiny blue MakeSpace + Goodwill bag with anything you’d like to donate. We’ll then drop off your donation to a local Goodwill — at no extra cost to you.

4. Ceremoniously trash unwanted stuff.

people sitting in front of a bonfire

Sometimes we hang onto sentimental things that are sentimental in a bad way.

Maybe you’re hanging onto love letters from your 9th grade boyfriend, like I am. Maybe you can’t let go of the paintings your partner made for you, or the sheet music of the song he/she wrote you, or perhaps a burger wrapper from your very first date.

Printed photos that are too hard to keep? Journal entries from a tough breakup? Cards from past Valentine’s Days?

Ceremoniously trash them. But do it safely. We definitely don’t condone lighting anything on fire … definitely not outside, in a controlled, well-ventilated area …

Make whatever you do into a sort of ritual. Bring all your unwanted love stuff to a dumpster, close your eyes, tell your ex you finally release his/her energy, and then dump it.

You can even bring friends and make a party out of it. You’ll feel a lot better, and that stuff won’t be taking up any more space.

5. Prioritize the items you do keep, and decide where to put them.

a woman's hand writing "my plan" in a notebook

Okay, as mentioned before, no one said this would be easy. Sometimes you just can’t make up your mind on whether or not you want to hang on to an item .

Instead of just shoving everything back into its box and letting it lie dormant for another five years, prioritize.

If you need to keep everything, figure out what you want displayed, what can go in hiding, and what can go in more long-term storage.

Ask yourself the hard questions like: Do I need all these Mickey Mouse sculptures my grandma gave me displayed on the coffee table?

Probably not.

Things like dinnerware, tchotchkes, and stuff from relatives or loved ones fit into this category.

Reducing clutter on surfaces, in cabinets, and on walls can be a big step.

6. Take photos of sentimental objects to preserve their memories.

hands using an iPhone to take a picture of a photo

If you feel like you need the object to remember the moment, but you just don’t have the space anymore, take photos! (You can even take photos of photos.)

Just make sure you store the photos somewhere secure, and back them up too. It’s best to keep them on two different hard drives and somewhere in the cloud, to make sure all your bases are covered.

Now you can take a trip down memory lane whenever you want without sacrificing space in your home to do it.

7. Reach out to the person who gave the item to you.

hands holding an iphone 6 plus

Another option, if you feel more attached to a memory rather than an object, is to reach out to that person. Of course, sometimes you’re unable to. But if you are able to, emailing or calling the person with whom you shared that special memory can be better than just hanging on to the object itself.

We’re not saying this is the easiest option, but it might be the most cathartic. Once you’ve reached out to the person and taken a photo of the object, let go of that object.

8. Breathe new life into old sentimental things.

diy flower artwork

Aside from the “ceremoniously trash stuff” tip, this might be the most fun option.

If you’re artistically or DIY-inclined, and don’t feel precious about the sentimental object in question, turn it into something new.

Press some flowers from your significant other. Turn that old love letter into a collage. Build a mixed media sculpture out of your old stuffed animals. If you have some plates your ex gave you that you absolutely hate, take a hammer to them and make them into something you do love.

Let your imagination go wild on this one. It might even feel therapeutic.

9. Let MakeSpace store the stuff you love but don’t need in your home right now.

 

We get it, sometimes you just can’t bear to part with that special item. If you know you want to hang onto it, but you can’t stand it taking up any more space in your home, we might know someone who can help.

Us, we mean us.

We’ve got you covered with those special items you just can’t bear to let go of. We make it easy to store your stuff by supplying the durable bins, the heavy lifting, and the driving.

If you have old photos, follow these rules for making sure they remain undamaged in storage. And here are some tips for making sure fragile items stay as safe as possible.

Next, schedule a MakeSpace pickup, pack your stuff, and leave the rest to us. It’s self-storage if self-storage could be self-less, painless, easy, and any other positive adjective you can possibly think of.

And with all the time you save from not buying boxes to pack, not driving to a self-storage unit, and not heading back when you need something, you’ll have more time to call the person all those sentimental items remind you of. While looking at photos of said sentimental items because we can also create an online catalog of everything you have in storage.

This article was written by Hannah Van Arsdale, a freelance writer and dog person based in Portland, OR