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.

Reviewed on September 20, 2018

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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  1. I think that would work for “normal” people but at least for me, one of the things that shuts my ADD brain down is what I call “badgering,” but my sister without ADD says it’s how “normal” people help each other remember things. It goes like this:

    How did you get there?

    Sorry. I wasn’t paying attention, so I don’t know.

    Well… was it this side of the freeway or the other?

    I just told you, I don’t know.

    Okay, well, did you take a right on 5th or a left?

    I TOLD YOU I DON’T REMEMBER!!!!! Badgering me is not going to make me remember!!!

    So… when I have a friend help organize, and that friend keeps holding things up and saying, “Do you want to keep this? Do you want to keep this? What about this?” I lose all ability to make decisions. I just want to stuff a pillow over my head to shut out the badgering about stuff that, if I was capable of deciding, I would already have decided.

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