Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Can I Purge Mildly Sentimental Items to Keep My Life More Manageable?

Items that have sentimental value are harder for adults with ADHD to get rid of — but they build up clutter all the same. Here’s how to clear up space, without losing sight of what’s really important to you.

Q: “I would like clear tips on cleaning out any area that is piling up with sentimental or perceived valuable items, be it paperwork or used goods (clothing, kids toys, etc.). I have lost my garage and office! How can we stay organized and toss things while dealing with anxiety about throwing out things that are still useful in our disposable society? How can I keep some sentimental items, but toss the rest?” —ClaytonGal


Hi ClaytonGal:

I feel your pain. Holding on to things because they have a sentimental attachment is truly tough. The wonderful Judith Kolberg came up with this feeling she calls Tactile Sympathy. What it means is that, when we touch our things — especially those that have meaning — it may set off an intense emotional response. In other words, our emotions can be getting in the way of making practical or even logical decisions regarding keeping or disposing of stuff. Perhaps that old recipe you never made has special meaning because your grandma sent it to you. And when you hold it and touch it, those specials moments and memories come flooding back.

So try this technique to counter your emotional response to your stuff: Work with a friend, your husband, or family member to de-clutter. Have them hold up each of your items while you make all the decisions. By putting some “distance” between you and your things you may put some distance between sentimental vs. practical reasons for keeping them.


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