Letting Go of Sentimental Items

You guys.  This is it.  The very LAST category in Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”  It’s probably pretty obvious why this is the last category one should sort through; it’s the hardest.  While going through every other category of item in your home you learn to hone your joy-choosing skills, making it easier once you get here.

I’ve been excited to do this for awhile now. It’s been interesting that the deeper I got into this process, the more eager I was to get to the next category. It’s almost like the “un-tidied” things were just SCREAMING at me to pare them down, too. For me, sentimental items were no different.  I found myself thinking about items in this category frequently, knowing decision time was coming.  I can see now that I needed the time it took to get to this point to feel peace about letting go of some of it.

Ok, so down to business. I started sorting through sentimental items by making a pile. For me, this category consisted almost entirely of picture albums, pictures, letters and cards. And old yearbooks.  Plus a few other random items.

Going in, I had some goals.  At the end of this session I wanted one very pretty box in which to keep letters and cards and notes and such, and one large photo album to condense my lifetime of photos (in addition to our separate wedding/honeymoon albums).

I started with pictures. So many pictures. Looking back on a fun adventure or party or

sentimental sorting
Sorting pictures

occasion with friends & family via pictures is one of my greatest joys. A fantastic tip KonMari shares is that in each group of photos from an event, you can probably choose just a few that will accurately reflect and sum up the joy of that event/memory. Challenge accepted.  Still skeptical, I began to sort.

Turns out she’s right. I only needed a handful from each event to spark a memory and the accompanying joy.  Also, it’s amazing what you see when you really start looking through your possessions with a critical eye.  I saw so many blurry, bad pictures! I know that I treasured every one of them at the time I took them, but I was actually surprised to find how MANY pictures I had that just…didn’t spark joy in me anymore.

As I chose pictures that sparked joy, I began to sort them according to life phase. Childhood-High School, College, Post-College.  I counted how many photos I had in each pile and put them in chronological order for my new photo album. In the end, I chose to keep and treasure 285 pictures that represent my life from birth through engagement for the new album. And of course, I kept our wedding guest book, and wedding/honeymoon albums.  (I also have CDs with all of our professional engagement/wedding photos and a ton of pictures stored on my computer.)

After pictures…yearbooks. I have been contemplating what to do about all my big bulky yearbooks almost since I started going through my stuff. Here’s what I decided today: these do not spark joy in me anymore. But I didn’t necessarily want to lose my school pictures forever.  So I decided to take pictures of each yearbook and my (and my brothers!) photo in each one and store them on my computer.  I e-mailed my high school and my college asking if they’d like them for the library.  If they say no, I will be recycling them at a local facility that accepts public drop-offs.

Next, I dug into cards and letters.  I will admit that I did sneak a peek at some of these while sorting through office supplies, but this time I went through everything thoroughly. I kept most of it and got a special box that sparked joy to keep them all in.

sentimental cards and notes
A teal box with golden pineapples on it?!  Be still my heart!

Finally, I had two home-made VHS tapes.  One had my junior prom and a trip to Hilton Head on it, and the other is a video my friends made for me after I left for college.  I wanted to keep them both, but have no way to watch them.  So, I started looking into how to convert them to a DVD.  Turns out, a lot of places do this!!  But the prices are different at different places.  I settled on taking them to Costco ($19.99 there vs $24.96 at Walmart and $34.99 at Walgreens).  You can fill out a form online, then just take your tapes and the form and drop them off at the photo counter*.  Easy as pie! (Except for the whole “going to and finding a parking space at Costco” part.  That’s always a pain in my ass.)

The only other items in this category for me were my childhood blanket, favorite stuffed animal and wedding dress. I decided to keep those during past categories, and did not feel a need to make a different decision about them now!

I went from a huge pile of old, falling apart photo albums and stuff shoved in an ugly shoe box to a beautiful collection of things that truly spark joy.

So that was it!  I completed this project in several little sessions over 2 days.  And may I just say…this was hands down my favorite of all of them. The thankfulness and joy and gratitude and even sometimes love I’ve felt for all the “things” I’ve touched and made decisions about up until this point…pales in comparison.

To be able to sit on the floor and touch, relive and re-enjoy my lifetime of precious memories was such a profound experience. No matter what is in front of me, there’s so much in these albums and this pretty box to be thankful for.  The past may live in the past, but those memories we choose to cherish will live forever.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a picture taker. When I was looking for a quote to put on the front of my new photo album, I came across one that said, “We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.”  How true this is for me, and probably for anyone who loves pictures.

And when you sort through your “return tickets” (be they pictures, cards or letters) you will undoubtedly find moments that you don’t feel a need to return to. Those are the moments I remembered with a grateful heart, and let go.  It was freeing and lovely all at once.

Finally, should you be embarking upon a similar journey, I highly recommend listening to Adele’s “When We Were Young” on repeat for the entirety of this session. It makes for EXTRA mushy sentimentality. I almost couldn’t stand it. OK, fine…it was borderline torture.  Don’t do it. 🙂

Until next time,


*If you’re in the Atlanta area, note that the only Costco that still converts VHS tapes is the Brookhaven location.

2 thoughts on “Letting Go of Sentimental Items

  1. Well done. I’m still on papers. But I have a lot. And some papers had cross-over appeal and could be considered sentimental items. I have other categories that the book does not address so it may be awhile before I really get down to the truly sentimental stuff like baby pictures. I have to do tools, paint and painting supplies, sheet music (a hard one for me) and CDs. The CDs may be next because I need space to work on the other categories. And I might have to redo clothes. I did clothes at the same time a family friend dropped off boxes of clothes as hand-me-downs. So I was really getting rid of other people’s clothes. I got rid of a lot of mine, but I think I got so tired and overwhelmed by the boxes of clothes that I kept some things that were just wearable rather than joyful just to be done and get those boxes of clothes out of my house. i get a lot of other peoples stuff — clothes, CDs, kitchenware, antiques/family heirlooms. And that has to stop. That Adele song is often on repeat in my car. Beautiful. For my tidying I actually followed her advice and put on instrumental electronic music low in the background — soundtrack from The Social Network.

    Anyway, well done.


    1. It sounds like you are doing great! I would encourage you to keep plugging through the categories one by one and allow yourself the freedom to make “mistakes” in what you keep. Now that I’m “done” I realized a need to revisit some older categories because I knew I kept things I shouldn’t have. But trust me when I say it’s sooooo much less exhausting to wait until the end to revisit rather than worrying about it now. It’s a process! Have you read her second book, “spark joy”? That helped me while going through all the “kimono” categories and also made clear which categories she did not include that I needed to (like painting supplies and pet supplies).


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