Q: “How Do I Get Rid of My Sentimental Clutter?”

Decluttering your home of sentimental objects — your child’s art work, gifts from loved ones, family heirlooms — can be particularly difficult for adults with ADHD. Organizing expert Susan Pinsky offers three questions to ask to help decide what should stay and what should go.

Q: “I am decluttering but having a hard time parting with my kids’ artwork, bric-a-brac from my late mother, and other mementos. What should I do? Rent a storage unit, or just live with these items?”

A: Heavens! Do not rent a storage unit. This will be cumulatively expensive in both finances and labor (emotional and the “bills-to-pay” variety).

When it comes to weeding out nostalgic items, keep in mind these three questions:

  1. How big is it? (Size matters.)
  2. Would I buy this today?
  3. Does it have a home?

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A former client of mine was holding onto a six-foot roll of linoleum left over from the first house she owned. She took the “size matters” decree to heart, and cut one square inch from the roll. We stored this in an “Object Memorabilia” box along with other small mementos. As you consider size, prioritize sentimental items that are small — or find a way to shrink them.

In terms of kids’ artwork, this means letting go of the dioramas, ceramics, and posters (after taking photos) — and housing the best of the rest in a box called “Paper Memorabilia.”

As for gifts and bric-a-brac, it is the thought that counts. I’m certain that your mother would be appalled to think she had eternally yoked you to an item that doesn’t fit your needs or taste. If you wouldn’t buy it yourself today, honor her love for you by refusing to turn her gifts into your burden.

And as you process, consider whether you have an appropriate home for any item. If you like your mom’s end table, keep it and get rid of your current one. If you decide to do this, it doesn’t count as a sentimental item, but a needed item that happens to also have emotional value. By the same token, any item that is kept strictly for sentimental reasons must be small enough to fit in its home — a dedicated “Object Memorabilia” or “Paper Memorabilia” box.

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How to Get Rid of Sentimental Clutter: Next Steps

Susan C. Pinsky is a professional organizer specializing in ADHD. The mother of a child with ADHD, Pinsky lectures frequently on organizational issues on TV, on the radio, and in print. She is the author of Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD and The Fast and Furious 5 Step Organizing Solution.

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