Dealing with Sentimental Clutter

Believe it or not, summer is almost over. It’s back-to-school time — and for clean geeks like me, that means it’s time for some serious organizing.

With two kids entering sixth grade and one starting third, our house is about to fill up with new clothes, new supplies and new stacks of homework and art projects. So, this is the perfect time of the year to practice that other ABC you might know: Always Be Clearing.

The rule in the Porter house is that if you want new stuff, you’ve got to part with some old stuff. Pretty simple, right? Well, it’s simple in theory. But it’s not always easily done. Call it sentimental clutter or nostalgia junk — some things have memories attached to them, and it can be truly difficult to let go.

So, let’s talk about how to deal with this emotional challenge. With the first days of school upon us, this seems like a good time to focus on kid clutter, but these 5 rules can definitely be applied to plenty of other sentimental stuff taking up space in your house.

  1. Make decisions immediately.
    When your kids bring home backpacks full of papers, you know you can’t keep every bit of writing or artwork they’ve created. A few special pieces can be framed and displayed, but most of it has to go. So, decide what to toss and what to treasure as quickly as you can. The longer you wait, the tougher those decisions become, so make a habit of stopping the accumulation before it ever gets out of hand.
  2. Set a lasting example.
    Every parent knows that the toy struggle is real. It can start before you even welcome your child home, and it only grows and multiplies with siblings. Almost always, donation is the answer. Even when the toys in question are well-loved, just think of the end of Toy Story 3 (and grab a tissue if you need to), and remind your kids — and yourself — that old toys can become new again when they bring happiness to another child.
    Make donation a priority in your family by gathering clothes, toys and household items on a regular basis, and it will naturally get easier for everyone to part with possessions. And what could be better than setting your family up for a lifetime of giving back?
  3. Make it fun.
    When kids have to give up some stuff, tears are not unusual. So, try to keep things light and happy by taking on only one de-cluttering project at a time, and by setting up games or challenges along the way. You can ask your kids to help sort their old toys by size, type, or character, or try timing them to see how fast they can fill a small box with clothing donations. Basically, the message should be that passing on the stuff they’ve outgrown can be fun — it definitely doesn’t have to be painful.
  4. Document what you donate.
    Before you give away particularly beloved toys or pieces of clothing, I recommend taking a moment to photograph them. Get creative, and have fun! Capture the details you’ll want to remember.


    Of course, you can also document all the art and writing your kids do. When you’re going through those backpacks this school year, keep your phone with you. If you love something, snap a photo. Now, not only can you easily share these masterpieces, but you can preserve them without taking up physical space.


    Whether you keep these photos saved to the cloud, on a photo-sharing site like Flickr or on a hard drive, you can easily create a thorough, organized archive for each of your kids.

  5. Treasure what you keep.
    When you choose to keep a sentimental object, you don’t have to hide it. What good is that cherished toy or adorable newborn onesie if it’s buried in your closet or boxed up in your basement? If something is special enough to keep, don’t just pack it away — enjoy it!

Here are just a few ideas for turning nostalgia junk into awesome keepsakes:

  • Gallery wall — Create a one-of-a-kind memory gallery with framed fingerpaintings, images of favorite toys and other objects, or even shadow boxes filled with tiny newborn clothes.
  • Coasters — Display your kids’ cutest drawings and prevent water rings on your coffee table by making photo coasters. Order them through a photo printing service.
  • Pillows and blankets — Stop tripping over kids’ stuff, and cuddle up with it instead! You can easily have an image of your child’s artwork printed on a blanket through any number of photo labs. Or, get super crafty and upcycle some clothes. Try turning T-shirts into toss pillows or making sweet memory quilts.
  • Plush creations — Okay, so this does add just a bit to the toy issue, but I can’t resist sharing this with you. Did you know that you can have your child’s drawing turned into a plush toy? It’s true. And it’s amazing! Check out Childs Own or Budsies — they will totally melt your heart.

With the holidays just around the corner, I’m looking for even more ways to take on our endless organization challenges. So, please share your ideas! How have you dealt with sentimental clutter in your home?