The KonMari Method: Organizing Sentimental Items
Organizing sentimental items can be tricky, but the KonMari Method helped us complete the process quickly and easily, decluttering and tidying up our meaningful mementos!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
It seems like everyone is talking about “tidying up” this year, with the release of Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show by the same name in January! I loved watching the show myself and seeing the transformations from cluttered to tidy!
I first read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up back in 2015, and immediately dove into the tidying process, organizing our clothes (and learning a new way of folding), clearing out our books, minimizing our paper, and decluttering just about every area of our house since then!
Organizing Sentimental Items with the KonMari Method
But one area I hadn’t really touched on yet– because I hadn’t really tackled it yet– was sentimental items. Marie lists this category last on her list when she talks about going through each area of the home to declutter because sentimental items and mementos are often the hardest items to part with.
Admittedly, we had thrown most of our sentimental items into boxes and bins and left them in the basement where they were out of the way, and we didn’t really think about them most of the time. When I decided to take on the project of organizing our entire basement in the month of January, sentimental items were one of the first things I began to sort through.
When we started, Donnie was actually the big winner, with several boxes of items that he needed to go through.
Most of the boys’ and my items were in this one (very dusty) bin, which was packed to the brim with stuff!
Donnie and I each took it in turns to make a big pile of all of our sentimental items as Marie suggests, and then went through things one by one, determining what was meaningful enough to us to keep (aka what “sparks joy”) and what could be discarded. It was kind of a fun walk down memory lane!
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Tips and Tricks for Decluttering Sentimental Items
Decluttering can be tough in and of itself, but when it comes to mementos that have a special meaning behind them, it can be especially difficult! There were a few simple things I figured out during the process that helped me choose what to keep and what to discard.
I Kept One Item that Represented a Collection of Items
I had a few collections of items that I kept because either the person who gave them to me was meaningful or the collection itself had meaning to me at one time. For example, my late grandmother had given me a bunch of angels, which were meaningful because they were reminders of her.
But they stayed in a box, packed away. I never looked at them. They weren’t really my style to display. Many of them were broken or worn or dated looking. So rather than keep the entire collection just to keep them, I chose one angel that was really special to represent that connection with her, and I let go of the rest.
A side effect that I didn’t really expect was that now that one angel seems even more special because it is just a single representation of something I cherish, whereas the collection was just too much to deal with so I kept it packed away.
Albums Are a Great Way to Represent a Period of Time
In a similar way to what I talked about with collections, I found myself appreciating scrapbooks and albums like baby books because they often took the best, most memorable photos and items from a period of time and arranged them in a logical way.
Rather than having 1000 photos from my high school years to go through, for example, I simply kept a scrapbook that my mom had put together for my graduation that accurately represented the most important moments of that period of my life, and I could discard most other things from that time because they already were accounted for in the album.
These are most of the sentimental items I ended up keeping, including baby books, albums from high school and college, and our wedding album.
I did have a #momfail moment as I was going through our mementos, realizing that I had created two baby books for Connor (age 10) when he was an infant and Caleb (age 7), didn’t even have one! (Is that the typical second child treatment or what?! ?) So we ended up printing a selection of his baby pictures and putting them in an album so he would have something to represent the first few years of his life!
[Side note– I realized that there was also a significant shift between the time I had Connor and when I had Caleb. Instagram didn’t exist when Connor was born, but by the time Caleb arrived it did, making it easier to keep a digital record of his milestones. So I’m blaming that for at least part of the reason he didn’t have a physical baby book until now, lol!]
It’s Helpful to Set a Limit to Shoot For
Whenever we decided to take on the project of decluttering our sentimental items, I went to Target and bought four sturdy plastic bins, one for each member of our family. As we were decluttering, I kept in mind that ideally, all of the mementos we wanted to keep would be limited to the one bin per person. (I knew that since our boys are young, their bins would have extra room in them to add items as they get older.)
These bins are from Target, but these exact ones aren’t currently on their website. These are the same size. I made the labels with my Silhouette cutting machine + adhesive vinyl. The font I used is called Crushed.
At the end of the decluttering process, both Donnie and I kept all of the items that were truly meaningful to us, and we each actually have room to spare in our bins! Having the bin gave us boundaries to shoot for as we were thinking about how much stuff to keep, and it helped us more accurately evaluate what was truly important.
When our boys get older and have homes of their own, I will be able to hand them one well-curated bin full of meaningful items that represent the different phases of their childhood, rather than boxes and boxes of random stuff they’ll have to go through and just throw away later.
What sentimental items did we keep?
When I shared a sneak peek of our process in my Instagram stories, I got a lot of questions asking what types of things we kept, so here is a quick look into each of our bins:
I used smaller bins within our larger bin to help corral small items and keep them tidy. Donnie did a stint in federal law enforcement right after we were married, so one of his smaller bins holds items from that time. The other small bin is a mixture of a few school papers, childhood clothing items, and fishing items from his grandfather.
Donnie also kept some yearbooks, a Wheaties box from when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in the early 90s (which is extra special now because our son Connor is obsessed with hockey!), and his medal and number from the Harrisburg marathon.
Admittedly, my bin had the most stuff! But in my defense, most of my items were albums that take up a lot of space! 🙂 I kept a quilt that my grandmother made me, and this adorable Scrabble board gift from Donnie from our first year dating anniversary!
Along with the albums I mentioned earlier, I also kept yearbooks, my “big sister” t-shirt from when I met my sister for the first time, the Bible that my grandmother carried at her wedding, and two diaries that she kept that documented each time I visited her.
For Connor (age 10), we kept some photos that hold meaning for us, along with his baby books, some baby clothing, and a few awards he’s gotten.
We also have an invitation from his dedication, tickets from one of his first Penguins games, some newspaper clippings where he’s mentioned, and a few school notebooks and special art projects.
For Caleb (age 7), we kept his newly created baby book 😉 , some ultrasound photos and videos, and a few clothing items.
He also has a few special projects and notebooks, as well as a yearbook and his dedication invite. We will, of course, continue to add to the boys’ bins as they get older.
Note: I have a separate process for the boys’ school paperwork, which you can read about in this post.
It’s Not “One Size Fits All”
Ultimately, we’re all going to have a different comfort level when it comes to the number of items we want to keep– particularly sentimental items– and that’s okay.
People have various levels of connection to their belongings. The one thing I noticed over and over on Marie’s show, Tidying Up, was that different people struggled with getting rid of different things.
For one person, clothing may have been easy to go through but paperwork was difficult. For another person, decluttering the kitchen may be a breeze, but a shoe collection may hold sentimental value for them, so those were harder to work through and get rid of.
No one has the exact same experiences, connection, family, needs, or likes and dislikes. What we choose to keep works for us, and what you choose may be more or less, and that’s okay too. There’s no one “correct” amount of “stuff,” but there is usually a place that you and the other members of your household can find that is the right amount of stuff for you.
If this post was helpful, be sure to pin the image below so you can reference it easily as you tidy up your own sentimental items!
[Psssttt… Get 100 brilliant ideas for organizing every room of the house here!]
Do you have any tips and tricks for decluttering sentimental items? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Love how you did this. I need to redo my sentimental category and make it fit better into the one bin i allow for it.
Thanks so much, Ellen! Hope you’re having a great week! <3
Thank you for writing this post. I actually have had this book for years and have never read it. I will be digging it out to read today. This post is very helpful as we will be going through all our boxes this month to organize for your January challenge.
I hope you enjoy it, Julie! I really did find it so helpful!
Parting with anything sentimental has always been a struggle. While I routinely clean out and organize every other area of my home, I have never been able to bring myself to crack open those bins of artwork and school papers or to pare down a huge bin of baby clothes stuck in an upstairs storage area. I think about it, but just never get brave enough to do it. You have inspired me to take action! I like how you put it that there is no correct amount of stuff to keep, but that you have to determine what’s right for you personally. I may not be able to get it down to four bins, but I can definitely toss at least half of of it. Thanks for the inspiration to take a trip down memory lane and to make it easier for the rest of the family to do the same without dealing with the overwhelming volume of stuff!
So glad it was helpful for you, Nicole! Happy organizing! 🙂
Thank-You for all your insight into this very personal part of organizing. It’s one thing to go through dishes or books but sentimental things can be a private very emotional thing. I need to do this in my basement and I’m not looking forward to it.
I know it can be so difficult. Sending hugs your way as you tackle your basement! <3
Great job Abby! With our build halfway done I am looking forward to going through stuff and deckuttering, organizing and putting our new house in order. Thanks for the great suggestions and hints.
Ooh that is so exciting! Congratulations on your new home!
I was trying to declutter some of my grown kids stuff that had never been thrown away and they had never taken. I asked them first if they wanted any of it then I took pictures of some of the items as a way to remember them without actually keeping the “stuff”. I have a hard time discarding mementoes so this helped me clear out but not totally lose what was a part of their lives. Haven’t done anything with the pictures yet but I’ve made a start! When I did away with the items I didn’t feel totally uncaring!!
That is great, Linda! Sounds like you have made awesome progress!
Abby that yellow baby book is the same one I have from when I as a baby! Must have been a popular one! Great post I need to get organized and you are always so helpful!
Haha! That’s so funny… must have been popular! 🙂
As a former Creative Memories consultant for 13 years, I have over 50 completed scrapbook albums. They take up an entire bookshelf. Suggestions?
I would say that it depends if they still hold meaning for you. If they are still really important to you and that’s your “thing,” I don’t think there’s a problem with holding onto them. If just the photos are important, you could remove those and consolidate them into a photo book or box or scan them and organize them digitally. (We like Google Photos for that.) If you don’t mind going digital, you could also take pictures of your scrapbook pages and save them that way too.
A really helpful post, Abby. Thank you. I also find it hard to purge the sentimental items, but found decluttering in phases works for me. I give myself permission to keep what I want today, as long as I commit to revisiting it at another time. That way I get another opportunity to purge when I feel ready, time has passed, and the pressure is off. Each time I do this I feel a little less connected to some of the items. The recurring check in has been key. B
That is a great method for sentimental items, Brenda! Time really does make it easier to let things go!
My daughter died 15 years ago. I also lost my only sibling at a fairly young age. My parents and my husband’s have passed also. We are the designated keepers of their items. With the loss of a child, mementos and photos are emotionally and physically painful to go through. So I revisit and revisit. Purge and revisit again as my heart will allow.
I am so sorry for your losses, Gwen! Hugs to you!
This is SUPER inspiring, Abby! Thanks for breaking down exactly what was in each bin, too. Mark and I also went through the KonMari method a few years ago…but stopped at “sentimental items” because it just felt too overwhelming. But seeing how you were able to tackle it and get everyone’s items into one bin each makes it feel do-able to me. Thanks for giving us this inside scoop, your tips, and most of all, your encouragement!
Yay! So glad it was helpful for you, friend! You can do it! <3
Hi Abby! I just watched Marie’s show, Tidying Up and am stoked about getting my place organized.
The area of tidying up paperwork is gonna be a real challenge for me. Have you posted anything about organizing paperwork?
Hi, Susan! We’ve gone paperless in our home so that is our way of organizing. If you are interested in that method, you can search “Paperless” on the blog and you will see all of our posts. I did write a post about organizing kids’ paperwork here: https://justagirlandherblog.com/how-to-organize-kids-school-papers/. Hope they will be helpful for you!
I am doing this right now!!!! I started watching the show a couple of days ago and it is hard to believe how much “stuff” I have!! We have a truckload to go to goodwill. ORGANIZING SENTIMENTAL ITEMS has been so hard for both my husband and I but we will get there!
Yay! So glad you’ve taken the plunge! It really is life changing! Enjoy! 🙂
I attacked out clothing drawers several years ago with the Konmari method and it works. Hubs is able to find his stuff and didn’t have to dig around to see what he wanted.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take the process through the entire house starting with papers. Its a task but worth it. Tha
I agree, Leanna! So worth it! 🙂
Super helpful post, Abby. And, yes, not having an album for the second, I think, is the ‘norm’. I have hardly any pics of Nika as a baby/child (and I don’t have social media to blame…. not even a tiny bit!). Ugh… I still deal with guilt about this! 😉 Thanks for sharing these ideas and tips, and for sharing on Homestyle Gathering, sweet friend!
Aw, thanks for hosting, friend! Have a great week! <3
I always appreciate your organizing posts. Up to this point, I will read and kind of save the thought for later, but we will be building a house this year and I DO NOT want to move our clutter. I have been dreading tackling the sentimental things, so thanks for the ideas!
So glad it was helpful for you, Courtney. Moving really is motivating to finally cut the clutter, isn’t it?
This is such a helpful post. Thank you! I, too, have been doing the KonMarie method and am struggling with sentimental items. I love your approach to keeping one thing from a category so it takes on a more special meaning without the excess clutter. I also need to finish and make some baby books. I’m not a scrapbook person but I plan to order photobooks with an envelope pocket inside the cover to hold a few special things (handwritten notes or letters from friends/family, hospital bracelets, a couple of baby cards, the annual holiday card, etc.).
That’s a great idea, Molly! So glad the post was helpful for you! <3
Such a beautiful way to organize stuff you don’t wanna throw.
Thank you, Mariyam! Hope you’re having a great weekend!
I’ve heard about Marie Kondo. I was way to scared to try it as a mother of a 1 year old boy. Your 4 posts explain her methods very well. I am tempted to try. Guess I’ll start with sentimentals. Thank you for simplifying this for me.
So glad it was helpful for you, Natasha! Happy organizing! 🙂
I think having a digital photo frame is a great way to display all your photos. Then you can get rid of the actual photos. My son spent hours scanning and loading photos and gave me one. It was fun to watch!
Yes! That’s an AWESOME solution! I love watching them, too. 🙂
Abby …. How amazing that you have your Grandmother’s bible and diaries! And, the quilt that she made you is adorable. If you want these items to last for generations to come, I suggest you research preservation techniques for the paper items (bible and diaries)? Textiles like the quilt also require special attention.
Thank you for all your wonderful Marie Kondo-izing tips (as I call the KonMari Method). I’ve made it through clothes and books (none so precious as that bible and diaries). Paper is slowing me down but I keep sorting and sifting. When I get to sentimental items……it will be much more difficult for my husband than I. What I have can easily fit into a 2x2x2 moving box. Previous life in the military taught me NOT to hoard.
That’s a great idea, Rose! I will look into that. Hope you have a great week!
I’m new to you and this process. I do believe it’ll work for us.
However, when I went to get my “free” pages for decluttering our home in a weekend, nothing was free! All items had a price attached to them.
I’d love the free pages.
Hi, Sandy! We do have many free printables. On the post you commented on, there was an offer for a free tidying checklist if you entered your email address. You are correct that the weekend decluttering guide is not free. If you saw that somewhere, can you shoot us an email and let us know? Thanks!
I loved your article about sentimental keepsakes. I did put together boxes for my 2 children when we became empty nester’s.
However, my children tell me that do not want any of our stuff when we die. Even family heirlooms. On the the other hand my daughter wants me to write on the back the story of the item so she will know what to get rid of. They don’t want our house either.
I have ADHD and the thought of decluttering is very overwhelming.
It can be so tricky to declutter sentimental items! I would just take it one small box or bin at a time. Rather than trying to think of it as one huge project, try to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks and just try to work on the small amount of items right in front of you without worrying about the rest. If you can tackle small bits and pieces consistently, it will really add up. You can do it!
Great article! We are in a huge state of flux here. All of our parents have recently passed away, our kids are grown and in the process of setting up their own lives and we are contemplating retirement and possibly moving. I have gone through most everything and donated or thrown things away, but the papers and things I kept for the kids is overwhelming! I tried one day to go through it and quit after about 10 minutes. This article is inspiring me to give it another shot. Your story of your grandmother’s angels has helped me put things into perspective. Thank you for the insight! I hope to be able to give you a progress update later this year! God Bless!!
I’m so sorry for your losses, Pam! I’m glad the article was helpful. Hugs to you as you go through this process!
This article came at just the perfect time . We are adding a bedroom in the basement which claimed part of our storage area. I knew it was time to get our stuff organized. My last pile to go through is the sentimental one. Thanks for your great ideas!
P.S. Go Grovers!!
So glad it was helpful for you, Deb! Love to hear that! Are you a fellow Grover?! Love it!